Rt. 1, Box 1015, Yucaipa, Cal. 92399
Dear Elmer, Aunt 'Lene, Anna Mae, Kitty, and all others of your wonderful family who publish and edit the Iron Men Album and Gas Engines.
While my good hubby has had too many other tasks on his mind for the past few years to continue his series 'Gossip from the Back Shop' I thought maybe I might put in a few words and perhaps entitle it 'From Hay to Space, as seen from the kitchen window.' It is very seldom that I can catch him sitting down for even a few brief moments of rest, but I did manage to get him to pose for fun doing a bit of whittling and philosophically meditating and the enclosed snapshot is intended to show that your resourceful cartoonist Mr. Roy Glessner may be endowed with clairvoyant powers. For 'Bizzer's' shop is much like that in the cartoon, with a canopy workspace on the right hand side under which dwell a Case 22 x 38 thresher and a 20-35 Oil pull tractor. He is still hopeful of procuring a small steam engine with which to stage an old time threshing demonstration in this part of the country. So that is the way I see the back yard whenever I happen to glance out of the back kitchen window. When he is not pursuing some electronic or mechanical problem in his shop, he is cultivating the yard in an attempt to grow fruit trees and garden varieties in a type of soil which was surely intended for manufacturing concrete or some other such thing.
For, while California may have an ideal climate for growing almost anything under the sun, good soil is actually quite a scarcity. Most of it is either decomposed granite or adobe. Often has he wished for a few carloads of that real earth from back in Iowa, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. But he does not really bemoan his efforts, for he says it does keep him young and closest to heaven.
Now I had better get on with the title of this episode. Bizzer, as his favorite aunt nick-named him, was born in Flandreau, South Dakota, almost up against the Minnesota state line. A wonderful threshermans' country in those days. His grandfather published the Moody County Enterprise, as I recall, bless his soul, and declared that Bizzer was born with a monkey wrench in his hands. At any rate, while he was still in his baby buggy, his aunt Grace relates how he would cry if someone would not wheel him down to the railway depot at the sound of a whistle, so he could watch the 'choo-choo' come into town. Biz has told me that his earliest recollection of threshing engines was when he was about two years old. He was playing on the upstairs back porch of Mrs. Wilson's building which also housed the printing office. Very distinctly he recalls that two 'Iron-Men' came along the back road with a steam engine, apparently on their way home and low on fuel. The engine stopped a moment, and one of the men stepped down and picked up a stray board along the roadside. He immediately placed it under the front wheels of the engine, crosswise, so as to divide it into sections which he then put into the firebox. His remarkable memory recalls some other of his toddling days with which I shall not burden you here. But a few years later his uncles were tied to the task of taking him to the real old 5 & 10 stores to look at the great variety of toy Weeden steam engines. Toys like those are not made anymore. About eight years after the turn of the century, the capitol city location fight was ended with the designation of Pierre for the center of affairs of state. At this time his grandfather moved his newspaper to Pierre as the Weekly Free Press. And but a short time after this Bizzer's family moved to the farm in the western part of the state.
Power machinery was rather scarce in that particular section, and threshing and harvesting was done with horsepower. Hence his first contact with such work as pitching hay and grain right along with the rest of the fellows brought him into play with the old Dingee-Woodbury sweep to drive the hand-fed conveyor stacker thresher. I do believe that he can still hear the noisy murmur of all those connecting tumbling rods about which he speaks. This threshing rig was owned by the Young brothers, who later purchased a new Case steel separator and an Advance steam engine which they indicated to be of a 20-72 horsepower rating. Shortly after that, and an era with a little old Russell steamer of about 1898 vintage with a Birdsell huller, the farmers shared in the purchase of a new Case 20-40 gas tractor and a 28 x 50 separator to match. This was during the first stages of World War Number One. For Heaven's sake, is it not something when we must start numbering world wars in sequence, and having to get into every one of them! At any rate, Bizzer was in his very first teens when he was allowed to help with engine work. Oh, he hadn't taken over yet, of course. But his father had formerly worked on the railroad, and at this time moved back to town.
Before the days of strict labor legislation, Bizzer was then to also work at railroading in the operating department, and at the age of fifteen years handled as much as forty-five tons on coal in one day. He fired stationary and locomotive boilers of both coal and oil burning types out of a division point, and when old enough to join the union became a machinist and boilermaker helper in the roundhouse. At that time, choo-choos had progressed in his life from very small engines of the American type to the C & NW Zulus, which were next to the largest engines on that railroad. While hostling engines earlier, he has related how he would take an engine over a switch in the yards, then slowly reverse it while jumping out of the gangway and throwing the switch, then catching hold of the grab-irons as the engine came by. This was supposed to be an efficient way to handle an engine single-handedly. But I can well imagine that the road foreman of engines would have fired both Bizzer and his boss had he ever heard of such antics. After the conclusion of WW/No. 1, Bizzer was stricken by ambition to attend the Sweeney Automobile and Tractor School in Kansas City, where he made the highest average of grades in his time. Following that event, he went to work for the Case Company at Racine and ended up in final testing. New steam engines were pushed from the assembly buildings to the testing floors by a live steamer. If it happened to be rainy weather and the wood block paving became slippery, the steamers were too light on the front end to do such pushing of their cold brothers. This often led to jack-knifing of the ten-foot pike pole used to connect the engines. But the operators on the pusher were very adept at handling an engine under such circumstances, and, instead of stopping or trying to tow which would have resulted in extra operations near the prony brakes, they simply left the throttle wide open and maneuvered their engine by the reverse lever and steering wheel. It became full speed ahead, full reverse to straighten out the jacknife, then full speed ahead again. Biz relates how the Company indicated in their earlier catalogs that their steam engines could be reversed under full load with no damage to the engine. While I am certainly not familiar with even the rudiments of steam engineering, you may wonder at my hubby's patience at telling me of all these things from time to time. So if I get the cart on top of the horse, you must understand the reason. But now we come to the great catastrophe concerning steam farm engines. The Company began manufacturing fewer and fewer steam engines while turning out more and more gas tractors. The last steamer was turned out of shop in 1924 by Case. Biz has a record of its serial number someplace among his memoirs, and it was well in the 35 thousands. At this point I should relate that all Case engines were numbered serially. They made that many steam engines. Many other manufacturers adopted a policy of starting off with a new series each year, usually by the thousand even though they may have manufactured only a few engines any one year. It was a convenient way of bookkeeping, of course. But Biz also relates how the later Case engines were equipped with a 'curved block' on their reverse gear, in an effort to equalize cutoff, whatever that is. It seems there are many problems connected with going from reciprocating to rotary motion. My geometry was rather a low subject. So the handwriting on the wall became very legible, and with the premonition that the most romantic and useful of powers was soon to become something to be found only in the museums, Biz decided that if he wanted to continue with engineering he had better get back to schooling. So far, he had made only the eighth grade. Many times since, he has wondered whether he might not most happily have let it go at that. But ambition moves a fellow ahead, so he was quick to make up his high school in three years and also university electrical engineering, both with honors. But he never forgets steam. Upon graduation, he went to work with GE at several of their plants, and finished the test engineering course there which took him through steam turbines as well as all types of electrical apparatus, and wound up in the electronics laboratory.
When the 'depression' closed down most of the factory, Biz held a permanency with GE but wished to 'Go West' after Horace Greeley. So he followed electronics in California for many years, about 31 to be exact, and then, after some post-graduate college work, became employed with the Air Force as an engineer in its Minute Man Program. He has followed this to this day, and is very active. So much so that he has little time to devote to that finding of utmost pleasure, - playing around with an old steam engine. So I say, he has achieved a very unusual spanse of experience from the time when, as a mere kid he fixed nearly all the motorcycles in the state, fed the horses, slopped the hogs, milked the cows, and rode the range, until he has been given heavy responsibility in contractual engineering for USAF to ensure that the brains of the control and guidance systems would tell Minute Man where to go, and its motors would give it the power to propel it there. The computer electronics of such things are utterly fantastic, and the hydraulic pressures are spoken of in terms of normality at 50,000 pounds per square inch. Biz has even been accused of counterfeiting when describing some of the new-day concepts in engineering. But he labors away every day. Maybe in a few years he can avail of a retirement that will allow of keeping busy with several other of his hobbies, including photography, guns, electronics of which he has contributed many original ideas, and the general outdoors of which he sees very little while working within buildings provided with no windows. He even speaks of taking piano lessons, since he left music with a clarinet in the school band. Then I am sure that he may get around to meeting more of you good folks at the steamups.
But visitors do drop by now and then. Only recently an elderly English engineer who is working at a boiler plant somewhere out near Point Magu dropped by for a chat. This fine fellow related how, many years ago, he was assisting at barn threshing during a very long rainy season. The separator was dry in the barn alright, but the engine was out in the rain and the belt became so slippery it kept coming off. I began wondering why on earth they did not construct some sort of shield over it. But this chap went on to say that the engineer called upon the village blacksmith to make and bolt together two flanges on either side of the flywheel. It appears that the separator pulley was already flanged. Then the rubberized drive belt was taken off and many strands of manila rope were wound around between the two pulleys. This worked to perfection as the manila took right a hold even when wet. The engineer must have been a real rope-drive enthusiast. How do you like that?
I do hope that you good readers are able to make sense out of my sketch. Biz took a few minutes to give it a once-over, and declared he would offer no corrections, since a husband should never, but never, correct his spouse. So I say, this is Hay to Space.