Everything You Wanted To Know About Steam Engines. But Were Afraid To Ask!

Midwest Old Threshers board room

Jim Adams

Content Tools

Route 1 Danville, Iowa 52623

'If we don't start teaching people about steam engines and show them how to run them, our hobby is going to die out'... Everybody who runs or owns engines at our shows has heard or made that statement or other. We, here at Old Threshers in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, decided it was time to do something about it.'

It started several years ago sitting around an old engine one night during the Old Threshers Reunion with my good friend Chady Atteberry from Blackwell, Oklahoma, and others. Chady made the statement that someday, someone should have a school of some kind for people to learn about engines. We talked about it for a couple of years and everyone with the engines seemed to think it was a good idea. However, none of us did anything about it.

Last winter while Chady and I were corresponding, he said their group at Pawnee, Oklahoma, was considering having a school of some kind the next spring or summer. That was in December of 1984 and the next month I brought up the subject at our monthly Board Meeting at Old Threshers. I suggested that being as how the Pawnee group was starting such a school, it might be a good idea for us to try one in the future. Everyone thought it was a great idea and wanted to know if we couldn't set something up in the spring of 1985 ourselves. I was a little hesitant about doing it so soon as there was planning to be done and many other projects to finish, including our 110 Case steam engine.

After some thought, we decided to give it a try. We felt it would take about five nights of classroom work and then a 'fire-up' day after the last sessions were over so everyone could get some 'hands-on' experience. There happened to be five Monday nights in April last year so we decided April was when we would have it. I volunteered to teach the class, at least this first year, because of my background with engines; and also because no one else came forward to volunteer!

Our first concern was if there really were enough people interested to make up a class? The concern was rather short lived when class time rolled around and we had 24 people arrive. Then, we wondered where we were going to put them all.

We had tried to keep the age of students from high school age on up because we felt that any person younger than that wouldn't have a basic 'nuts and bolts' idea of what was being talked about. Maybe, if this school continues, the age limit will be lowered to allow the younger people to attend. But, as I said, this thing was worked up in a very short time and not too much planning was done on my part.

April 1st came. It was the first night of school, and I was nervous. I had never talked in front of a group of people before, and I didn't know how it was going to come off. Then I just thought, visit, I was going to talk about what I loved to talk about best; and that made me feel a lot better.

Wayne Kennedy, standing far right, explains a point to the class in the Midwest Old Threshers board room. The class consisted of five nights of classroom work and a 'fire-up' day. (Photo by Jim Adams)

The 1985 graduating steam engine class poses in front of Midwest Old Threshers 75 HP Case. The students had a great time trying out some of the things they learned. (Photo by Jim Adams)

The first night, we discussed basic engine parts and how they worked together. We then went to boiler design and construction. The second night, we finished up on boilers and started discussing boiler fittings and safety appliances. The third night we discussed feed water pumps, injectors, and basic valve gear functions.

The fourth and fifth nights were used to discuss engine gearing, horse power, and general operation of engines. Each night, I tried to preach safety to them as that was the main reason for having a school... to teach them the safe operation of an engine.

The second Saturday in May was to be our 'fire-up' day. Most of the class was able to attend. We used Bill Sater's 16 HP Nichols and Shepard engine and Old Threshers' 75 HP Case engine. The students had a great time firing up, running the engines, and trying out some of the things they had learned in class.

All in all, the class was a success, and we are hoping the school this year will be just as good. Our class for 1986 will be held the five Monday nights in March, as last year's April classes cut into farming around here for some people.

Many of you probably have different ideas on how a school should be set up and how to teach it. The thing to do is to get something started at your home show. If this idea can grow across the country, our hobby will be alive and well for a long time. Give it a try. It can be a lot of fun. I am sure that several of my students will be at the 1986 Reunion August 28 through September 1.