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Dave Wallis, Published August 23 2010

Portraits: Kenneth Griffis

Kenneth Griffis wanted a steam engine of his own, so he and his grandfather, Jim Briden, went to the drawing board to design one that they built together. “It’s custom made. No one else has one like it,” says 13-year-old Kenneth, whose mechanical skills were all learned from his grandfather. “He’s always been my teacher,” says the eighth-grade student at Park Christian School in Moorhead. They started working on it in 2007 using parts from other steam engines. It was finished in 2009. “The temperature was 20 degrees below zero the first day we tried it out,” recalls Kenneth, adding, “It was a great feeling of accomplishment. It felt really good.” The single-cylinder vertical steam engine, named Old Smokey, made its debut at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag last year. Kenneth says the working engine, which burns wood and coal, weighs about 3 tons, is rated at 12 horsepower and has 44-inch-diameter rear wheels. The reunion in Rollag this year is Sept. 3-6.