On Feb. 8, 1897, Monday morning, the Minneapolis Journal published an interesting story about one of Sleepy Eye’s Chicago North-Western Railroad depot agents, Mr. Grant Bramble. This is a story where one should have heard it from the “horse’s mouth” instead of just taking someone else’s word for the truth. Lessons can be learned from history, and from actions taken in the past.
Grant Bramble’s pasttime was shooting flies in the old Chicago North-Western depot. Peppered gun-shot holes were made in the depot ceiling by Grant from his sharp, single shot pistol.
Grant was an engineer with an engineer’s license, who also had a passion for steam engines. Of course keeping this all in mind, public interest was heightened by it and rumors had spread of Grant. Rumors were that Grant was working on a model of a steam engine that would surely revolutionize mechanics and the industry.
Little by little, Grant’s so-called little secret broke out to the public. The public learns that Grant’s engine is built like an old-fashioned water wheel and that it would develop tremendous power. It was confidently predicted that Grant’s engine, or rather the small model of the engine, could be placed on a baby’s high chair and yet turn out 100 horsepower. All the time the talk and rumors were going around Grant never made any statements or claims. At the same time, he issued no denials, which was exactly the sort of food on which his fame could grow.
At last the machine was completed and patented and then Grant gave it a test – a secret test of which results were not made public. But that made no difference.
Rumor spread that it was a sensational success and the stories that were told of the immense fortunes that were to be made from it grew every time the engine was discussed.
The rumors put the town of Sleepy Eye very much on the map. Strangers from all parts of the country flocked to our town to interview the inventor and to set out to buy Grant’s patent rights. Newspapers sent correspondents to get personality stories about this mechanical wizard. In the height of the excitement, the Sleepy Eye Dispatch published daily editions filled with rumors, predictions and wild bonanza tales. Yet at the same time, Grant still had not said a single word, but his silence was powerful. Every rumor imaginable was afloat. It was said that Grant had been visited by delegations from Germany, France, Italy and Austria, with huge offers for the right to manufacture and sell the wonder contraption in those countries.
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The most extravagant tale was that Grant had been approached by an English capitalist and that they had offered Grant $5,000,000 for his patent. Another story was that Grant agreed to spend $1,000,000 of that $5,000,000 to beautify the main street of Sleepy Eye and that he would also spend more millions in making the town the greatest industrial center in the northwest. The only limit to the delightful pictures conjured by these stories were that of the miracles performed by the workings of the invention but were not limited to the human imagination.
Keep in mind this entire time Grant maintained his silence. If anyone had questioned him directly on the subject of his engine, he would begin to tell his interviewer about some rare bird he had just seen on the Cottonwood River, but at the same time he allowed himself certain sly intention to the stories, already grown extraordinary.
But much like everything else – excitement must come to an end. Grant’s trial was found out to be a failure. There was no doubt that the engine would work just as the test revealed - but the difficulty was that in three minutes’ time, it used up all water in the boilers of the Sleepy Eye steam plant – certain evidence that it would require all the waters of all the oceans in the world to feed one of the machines built to regular size. It could be considered a Frankenstein monster with an appalling thirst.
After that, Grant’s bubble burst in a real hurry; Grant had known all this time that his engine was impractical, but being a man of practical jokes he permitted these stories to run their course. He never did however, sell any stock, ask anyone for a dollar nor hurt anyone in any way of this hoax, so no one could harbor any resentment. If people wanted to tell stories and add exaggeration to exaggeration that was none of his business he figured. Far be it from him to get in the way of a good rumor.