Fueling the Power of the 1910s – Jamestown Sun

The 1910 construction season was busy with railroad projects in Stutsman County.

Two projects were moving earth to create railway levels with the Midland Continental working on its line from Edgeley to Jamestown and the Northern Pacific building its branch line from Pingree to Wilton.
While steam shovels were sometimes used to dig deep trenches in the hills, most work was done with real power 112 years ago.

One of the many contractors working on the Midland Continental used 200 horse teams. The Pingree to Wilton project contractors employed similar herds of horse labor to move the earth.
And even though there were no gasoline or diesel costs for these projects, there was still a fuel cost to keep things going. Horses can graze on grass for much of their nutritional needs, but animals that work hard, for example pulling scrapers to move tons of dirt, need feed with energy density and of higher nutrition.

Which means oats became one of Stutsman County’s most prized commodities in 1910.

The contractor working at Pingree was looking to buy 20,000 bushels. We can assume that the Midland Continental contractors sought similar quantities.
Newspaper accounts say a bushel of oats sold for 35 cents at the start of the 1910 building season. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $10.50 now.

As the summer progressed and these horses continued to work and eat, the price of oats soared to 50 cents a bushel, or about $15 today.

That’s an increase of about 50% and a demonstration of supply and demand economics. Prices may have even increased, but food vendors began importing boxcar loads from Minnesota to supplement locally grown food.

Farmers and the community as a whole were more self-sufficient in the early 1900s. Farmers grew crops which they sold for cash as well as food for their own families and grain to run their equipment horse farm.

With gasoline and diesel-powered farm equipment, the need for oats has decreased. Apparently there aren’t enough oats grown in Stutsman County these days for the US Department of Agriculture to report.
Kidder County is the nearest county with some oat farming. Farmers harvested about 21,000 bushels there in 2021.

It’s just enough to build the level of a railway line from Pingree to Wilton.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at