Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
From 1904 to 1908, I served as a machinist apprentice at Giddings & Lewis, who at that time were building engines and sawmill machinery, mostly for western and southern mills. The work included gangs, band mills, reasaws and all the machinery for the mill including large Coreless type engines, shotgun fed and steam niggers, etc. Later, I helped Louis Glass-nap at Dallman & Cooper in the repairing of threshing engines, where I learned something about rebuilding valve gears to get equal lead at each end in both directions. I learned that you can't set a valve for equal lead merely by adjusting the slide on the valve stem unless the valve gear is in fairly new condition. We may get an equal lead in one direction, say for work in the belt, then reverse it and go down the road with an uneven exhaust declaring (for all the world to hear) that the valve isn't set right. This happens because we have transferred all of the error to this direction. Someone could write a book on this subject to cover all the different valve motions.
As for my experiences in machine shops and with steam rigs, more at another time. Machine shops include the following: Giddings & Lewis, of Fond du Lac; Wisconsin Central R.R. Shops at North Fond du Lac; Fairbanks Morse in Beloit; Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific at Omaha; and Electric Wheel of Quincy, Illinois. The latter was in 1912 when the firm was building crawler type tractors.
Setting valves on locomotives or engines having the old Stefenson link would be done by the boys setting the valve for even lead off one eccentric then take the key out of the other eccentric and turn it on the axle to advance or retard it as indicated until the lead was equal then fit this eccentric with an offset key to secure it in that position.
Before we get too far off the subject of steam tractors, there is one pet peeve I must get off my chest. Designers of the older steam tractors provided a crank disc just large enough to accomodate the crank pin with the hub around it and a rim around the whole, with a counterbalance just heavy enough to counter the pin and hub and one-half of the weight of the connecting rod. Later designers called this 'static balance.' There was no attempt to counter the momentum of the reciprocating parts. One characteristic of these engines was their quick response to the governor and the accompanying, even steady motion, something very much to be desired in a threshing engine. When however, the trade began to call for bigger engines and higher steam pressures the designers began to be overly concerned about all this extra thrust knocking out their main bearing, so they tossed all the reciprocating parts on to a scale and then provided a counterweight large enough to counter it. Some of their so called improved engines actually sported crank discs with diameters equal to twice the length of the stroke, with their affinity for authentic sounding terms they called this the 'Dynamic Balance'. The chief character istic of this type of engine is a sluggish response to the governor and consequently uneven motion, a thing very much to be avoided in a threshing engine. It is my firm opinion that it is the power thrust being much more severe and by its alternating stress on the bearing is the 'nigger' in the wood pile. The reciprocal thrust takes over as the power thrust fades out and in the same direction it does not alternate. The Case had a split wheel bearing lined with high grade babbit and of good length in its main bearing. Better bearing and design of this other engine would have solved the problem short of ruining their performance with these outlandish counterweights. Although I feel rather strongly about this, nevertheless, if I stir up a hornet's nest among some who hold contrary opinions I shall be delighted.
Another irritation is valves that muffle and mute the exhaust. The Russell and the Gaar Scott, to mention two with which I have had experience, had valves that did that, although of different designs. I used to stand on the coal bunker with my head above the canopy in order to catch their rhythm to see if I thought the valve was set right. You couldn't hear the exhaust enough to tell standing on the ground. (I assure you that this is only a slight exageration). Threshing with my Russell one day when I was approached by an observer with 'That must be an awfully powerful engine. You can hardly hear it.' But between you and me one of these wishering Martha's labored just as hard as the loud ones, except that some long dead engine designer still had his clumsy hand around her throat so that she couldn't grunt.
Before we leave the subject of valves, an eccentric that is keyed on at the factory should not be turned on the shaft to get equal lead or for any other reason. With the Stefenson link fairly square lead can be obtained by altering the length of one of the eccentric blades by heating and upsetting to shorten or stretch as the case may indicate. First, of course, the bell crank should hold the link in the proper position so we get the same length of throw off the bottom as off the top of the link, usually as a result of wear the link hangs down too far. Using a pair of dividers with one leg against the gland nut, by scraping marks on the valve stem will show this up.
Other types of gear will require treatment according to their nature. The point I am trying to make is that in order to get even or uneven lead depends on the valve gear and not entirely upon what we do inside the steam chest.
1 am sorry that I got so involved with these opinions but if I can get an argument out of some of you engine men I shall be most happy.
Getting back to the Lamb boys, in the fall of 1896 at our place at supper time at the end of a hot day of threshing on the barn floor, mostly barley, and dusty, the crew was washing up around the well. John, one of the twins, took off his shirt, pumped himself a bucket of cold water out of the well and splashed himself all over with it -hollering with glee, enjoying himself immensely. Now this didn't look right to me so I ran into the house and told mother, 'Look what John Lamb is doing'. She ran outside just as John was stooped over and one of the crew had the bucket raised ready to pour the remaining water over John's bare back.
In all my life, I never heard mother give anyone such a tongue lashing. The half full bucket was set down with the water still in it. 'You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. A bunch of grown men do you want to catch pneumonia,' said mother.
Six years later Tom died, strangely enough of pneumonia, and two years later John died, also of pneumonia. After the twins died, Henry took over the rig. It had the old gear blower and you could hear it for two miles. The sound varied according to whether the load was heavy or light. I can still hear it. Henry was separator man, Dick ran the engine. I can still see Henry through the dust, standing on top of the separator bundles, coming down from the mow. One got the impression that Henry willed every bundle into that feeder himself. He had an enviable reputation as a good thresherman. If Henry couldn't keep the grain out of the straw stack,' nobody could.
After a season or two, Henry bought a new Rumely separator with side mounted blower and attached the old feeder to it. What the agency did with these old geared blower separators after they were traded in I don't know. Nobody wanted them.
About 1907, Henry got married, and Dick took over the rig. Dick was a lonely man, as were all of the boys. He didn't have the heart to work his farm alone so he rented his farm out and moved in with Henry. He helped his brother around the place and ran his threshing rig and his clover huller. Art Brash of Van Dyne, ran his engine until 1919.
About 1916 Dick got married, at the age of 40, and moved back to his own farm. (This is all being told for a reason). These boys had been sheltered from the world as kids and had never learned to give and take with other kids so when they grew to manhood and tried to mix with other people and be accepted by them, they were rebuffed and shunned.
Joe, the oldest, and Mike, a younger brother, who were not connected with the threshing rig, got married early and raised families and apparently had no social problems. But Henry, Dick, Tom and John, and Willie had problems and were lonely men; so by slow stages they sought escape in a place in which many other men in like circumstances have sought it before and since, in the cup!
Willie started for home late one night along the railroad tracks but he didn't make it. An early morning passenger train caught him asleep between the rails, one quarter of a mile from home. Tom died in about 1902, and John about a year later both had contracted pneumonia from exposure.
Henry and Dick had their problems under better control, especially after they got married. They were lonely men though most of their lives.
We may be sure that old Peter Lamb didn't plan it that way and would have done differently had he known. All of these boys are now long gone to their eternal resting place, but the memory of them lingers on. [ especially remember the whistle they had on one of the ten horse. It had a plaintive sound that could be heard for miles. It was different from any other that I ever heard, and there has been only one since that approximated it. It was an old Huber portable When the Lamb boys traded their ten horse, the old whistle was transferred to the new engine so the same whistle was heard in the neighborhood for 28 years. It became a trademark of theirs and I can still hear it.
In the old days of threshing, after supper, when the day's work was done, and the engine man banked his fire and shut off his water glass for the night, he would blow his whistle two or three long toots. He would be answered by some other crew in another quarter, then another would answer and so on from all sections of the campus. Rarely more than one whistle at a time would be heard and often we would hear a whistle coming in faintly from far off in the distance.
You could always tell who was threshing in each neighborhood. Each whistle had a tone of its own and easily identified. There was Otto Fen-ner, Frank Hanson, August Clein, William Schultz, Mike Sentner, the Broameys, Phillip Checobe, Frank A.drian, and of course, the Lamb boys. It sometimes happened that some of these boys would be twenty mile's from home and their whistles would be missing, in which case some stranger would be apt to join the chorus within hearing distance a whistle you could not identify, and you wondered who he was.
Now, when in the last part of September, the old time thresherman takes his ears out into the night and listens for a well remembered sound, all he tunes in is a vast silence except for a little static made by a few late crickets. We can imagine him walking a little sadly back into the house, gazing at a picture over the mantle piece and remarking 'Martha, it sure ain't like it used to be'.