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Line shaft display draws a crowd at Idaho shows

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Above: The front end of Thomas Eld’s line shaft display features two grain grinders and a grist mill. The large grinder shown in the center was used by Thomas’ grandfather to custom grind wheat in the 1930s.

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A childhood memory was the inspiration for a popular show attraction in Idaho. "As a young boy, I was fascinated by the line shaft at the local blacksmith shop," says Thomas Eld, Caldwell, Idaho. Today, Thomas presides over a portable line shaft exhibit he displays at nearly a dozen shows each year.

He began the project by accumulating a line shaft and belt-driven equipment at auctions. Then came the "Eureka" moment. "I decided to mount the line shaft on the floor of a trailer," he says. "Then I set the equipment to best line up with the existing pulleys on the shaft and mounted three more pulleys. It took a lot of trial-and-error to come up with the best layout."

The trailer display includes a small grinder and a power hacksaw, both driven by V-belts; and a post drill, a forge, a small bench grinder with steel brush, another power hacksaw (much older than the first one), sickle grinder, large floor-mount grinder and a compressor, all of which are powered via flat belts. The compressor, which is powered by a 1-1/2-2-1/2 hp McCormick-Deering, is used to blow three horns (each with a different tone) and a whistle. All of the other equipment is powered by another 1-1/2-2-1/2 hp McCormick-Deering.

Thomas has simplified the operation by running all of the equipment at the same time. "None of the equipment has belt tighteners or clutches," he says. "If I don't want a piece to operate, I just slip the belt off the shaft pulley. Slipping the belt on and off while the shaft is running is one method of operating the equipment, but it is not approved today by O.S.H.A. standards."

When he demonstrates the post drill, he drills holes in a 2-inch-by-6-inch board, rather than a piece of steel. He uses pieces off the end of a railroad rail when demonstrating the hacksaws. Even the forge comes to life on occasion. "Sometimes I build a fire in the forge and do a little blacksmithing," he says. The display includes a post vise and two anvils.

On the front end tongue of the trailer Thomas has set up a display of two grain grinders and a grist mill. The larger mill is powered by a 3-5 hp McCormick-Deering; the smaller grinder is powered by a 1-1/2-2-1/2 hp McCormick-Deering. A narrow flat belt over the top of the belt used for the large mill runs the grist mill.

The larger grinder is a working family heirloom. "My grandfather used it to custom grind wheat into flour in the 1930s," Thomas says. "At the shows, I clean wheat with a small fanning mill. Then I grind the wheat into flour and give it away to anybody who wants it. My wife and girls also use that flour to bake 'Finn Bread.'" That, too, continues a family tradition. "My mother was well known for her 'Finn Bread' in Donnelly, McCall and Long Valley, Idaho, where I grew up," Thomas adds.

Now in his fifth year with the display, Thomas (a member of the Snake River Antique Power Association Branch 150) sets up at 10-12 shows a season. "It draws a good crowd, and people are fascinated by watching it operate. It's educational for a lot of people."

- For more information: Thomas Eld, 2623 Syringa Lane, Caldwell, ID 83605.