A Tall And True Tale

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765 Sunderland Rd, Concord, NC 28025

I always enjoy the steam and gas magazines. They are next to my Bible.

Since 1937, I have loved steam and I've learned to respect it. I know that it is okay as long as you keep it contained. The danger of steam is when it's not containedwhen it's out of control, it can hurt someone. I have been burned by it, been wet and covered up with soot and ash by it, but I still love steam.

When I would hear an old steam train, I used to stop whatever I was doing and head for the railroad. First to see her go by huffing and puffing, and also to smell the coal smoke!

Now for my tall tale or story:

Whatever you may call it, it's still true, to the best of my memory. This happened about 1937 and took place in North Carolina, Cabarrus County, near Cabarrus Station. At that time we were still having a hard time keeping bread on the table. We had already killed all the rabbits and possum for food. What we did not eat I would box and sell for 15 cents each to a man who ran a wood yard. I never could figure how this man and family ate so many rabbits.

In the year of '37 I began to work at a sawmill, I wasn't 16 years old yet, after our corn and cotton was lay byed. (This is a Southern term used when we stopped plowing the corn and cotton).

The man I worked for was Mr. Morrison. He had two sawmills. One was a portable mill which he moved from place to place. This mill was powered by an old Samson tractor. I sure would like to have that old Samson now. The first day that I went to work Mr. Morrison put me in the bull pan or off bearing. (This is what we call it here in the South.) He was sawing 2 x 10 wood, 20 feet long. So you know what a time I had in the bull pan. The wood weighed more than I did. I would put one end at a time over the belt. Also I carried the slabs and put them on a pile.

Mr. Morrison also had a stationary sawmill near his home. This one was powered by steam. The old boiler on the engine was probably built in the 1800s or early 1900s. Anyway, it should have been junked twenty years before I saw it. The water was always leaking out of it. An older man and I would have to carry water from the branch in five gallon buckets to fill up the boiler. This would take a day and sometimes longer to fill it up enough to be able to see the water in the column.

Mr. Morrison only employed two people and I don't see how he paid us for more than we sawed. We sawed 2000 to 5000 feet per day. He paid us when he had the money, if not we got no pay. Maybe we got $1.50 to $2.00 a week and it was hard to get that. The other man's name was Baxter. His job was to fire the old boiler to keep the steam up. Sometimes he failed with this. The old boiler was in bad shape and sometimes I would kid Baxter about going to sleep on the job. He would burn slabs, shavings and sometimes the sawdust trying to keep 75 lb. of steam up. The old boiler had some flues plugged up or blocked off when it started leaking.

One cold morning, about 20 degrees outside, I asked Baxter, 'How about letting me fire the old boiler?' I was cold in the bull pan. I told Baxter he was doing a good job that I could do better. This almost made him mad and he mumbled and talked to himself, but finally he told me to get myself up there and see if I could do better. He really hoped I would get burned.

This was my mistake. After about 15 minutes of throwing slabs and shoveling everything I could get in the old boiler, she was huffing and puffing. The old engine sure was sounding good. The drive belt from the engine to the mill was going strong when the boss pulled the lever on the mill. The belt would almost go together with the tractor.

I was standing in front of the old boiler, facing the mill and when I turned around, reached up and opened the flue door, looking at the flues, I stepped to one side about the time one of those flues which had not been plugged, blew out the end next to me. Hot water shot out fifty feet to the mill and steam was so bad, you could not see the mill or the boiler.

By this time I had my bearing on the branch and foot log, about fifty feet away. The branch was about twelve feet wide and Baxter said I hit the foot log one time with my feet. I ran as fast as I could until I was about a quarter of a mile up the other hill. I had to sit down and rest before I could return to see what was going on at the mill.

One other time with this old boiler, I almost had a heart attack. I was under the planer, sitting beside the old boiler. I was cleaning the shavings out from the pulleys. The tailpipe or the blow off pipe broke off and steam, soot and ash covered me up. I couldn't see to get out from under the planer. But when I got out I took off like a jet, across the yard into a three corner or stack of lumber. I climbed the side of the lumber stack, through the woods and open field.

This is how I learned the hard way to respect steam. From all this and a few times in the cotton finishing plant and a cement plant, and more. I thank the good Lord that I'm still around. God has been good to me and I praise Him. Some things I never forget.