GOSSIP FROM THE BACK SHOP The Case of the Mysterious Valves

Baker Engine

Here is a picture of my Baker Engine, 21-75 HP, Serial No. 1564, threshing at my old homestead farm in Railroad Valley, town of Alfred, on August 26, 1963. I bought the engine of Mr. C. H. Kleopfer on the last day the NTA Reunion at Montpelier, Ohio. Mr.

Frank J. Burns

Content Tools

Route 1, Box 1015, Yucapia, California.

Courtesy of O. R. Aslakson, New Rockford, North Dakota

When I speak of cases, the first thing that comes to mind is one of those dear old smoky monsters chugging along the farm road and tooting for the water boy to hurry up with that tank wagon, else they just wont make it to Alvin Peterson's before nightfall. Ever see a big steam outfit camped along the roadside for the night, from one job to another?

But this is a bit off the track for this run. I am telling you about old Charlie Anderson, the superintendent, chief engineer, and pooh-bah of the back stairs of the municipal water pumping plant which had managed to keep up the local supply for nigh on twenty years when the population numbered less than two hundred and was now in its twenty-fourth hundred count.

Charlie was an old Swede, and a good one, of course, who had put in several seasons on a thresher engine, steam if needs be said, but who was fortunately on hand when he became overtaken by a game leg and the little town needed an engineer to handle the two new c. c. Corliss engines which were direct-connected to positive displacements pumps. Since this type of engine had many peculiarities not found in any sort of mobile engine, it because necessary for the vending contractor to furnish a master mechanic guide for Charlie during the first month of actual operation.

Charlie at once perceived that his new job was a real specialty; one in which none of the other fellow threshermen in the vicinity would give him any competition. Not if he could help it, at least. For what would he do were he to become suddenly displaced from this enviable position. He was allowed a helper, of course, to unload the coal gondolas from the spur into the bins adjacent to the boiler room. It was a daytime operation, so fires were simply banked at night and the building locked up. It was a twelve-hour job, though, seven days a week. So the city dads had requested that Charlie make an apprentice of his assistant in order to cope with any eventualities.

Also at the Williams Grove, Pennsylvania, on Labor Day, I bought a 20 x 34' hand-feed Frick Thresher with wind stacker and tally-bagger. This machine was never used much, has been repainted, striped and is in beautiful condition. As a feature, I threshed with it, powered by the Baker (we had ENOUGH power), two days at the Alfred Agricultural & Tech. Institute 'Fall Festival.' Everyone seemed thrilled with it. I love to feed a hand-feed thresher.

But Charlie was a bit suspicious, and always found plenty other tasks around for Buddy Wilkins to do after the coal bins were stocked for the present. So he set about voicing his knowledge and authority and embarked on a program of plumbing the likes of which no one had ever seen before. This consisted of making all sorts of runs with various sizes of piping in the basement, and bringing up valve stems and operating wheels all here and there through the floor. Of course Buddy was a young willing energetic fellow recently finished from the grammer school, and he could certainly find no differences with Charlie's wisdom and judgement. The new plant began to sparkle with fixtures, and even sported various colors on many of the hand wheels so that they might be readily indentifiable.

Whenever Charlie had visitors, he always made it a point very often to glance at a meter gage and then beg leave for a few moments to go over and twiddle some valve. This always appeared to ensure proper operation of the plant, for things went on very smoothly for a long time, and it even grew to the point where Charlie would ask Buddy to go over and open the green valve and give the orange one a few turns down. Buddy never did seem to grasp just what this was all about, but he was happy to be learning under Charlie's tutelage and doubtless felt that knowledge and reasons would follow in due time and he would someday be the mainstay of the city's water system.

It seems that all dreams must have an awakening, and the more pleasant they are, sometimes the more rude the awakening. Thus it was that Dame Fortune overtook friend Charlie upon the occasion of one grand summer evening church festival in which attractive prizes were being awarded for the best samples of Swedish culinary efforts. The samples were being consumed concurrently with their judging, and it appeared to behoove every male invitee present to see just how much he could store away. One would thing that the prizes were being offered for the greatest gourmets and gluttens.

All this was progressing very nicely, and Charlie had come around to the pickled herring section after some solid hour's indulgence. But it appeared that a few ornery Dutchmen had been invited from across the tracks also, and by some means or other a considerable portion of their hasenpfeffer luncheon found its way into Charlie's large tray. He must have been unaware at this stage, for he couldn't have made a finer Heinie himself. But an oldster just can't take all this sort of thing in stride. In consequence, thereof, he became laid up for a full week in the hospital and at home. The thoughts of the pumping plant were farthest from his mind, but the city mayor and councilmen were frantic lest the city be left without water. These city father's interrogated everyone around who might know anything about waterworks, and were in and out of the plant itself like a herd of safety inspectors.

But the odd thing was that Buddy tried to avoid all the confusion and simply kept the fires going, the lubricators filled, the boilers full to working level, and started the engines at morning and shut them down at night. Never once did he dare twiddle any of the mysterious valves, for fear of splitting a water main. After several days of uninterrupted good service, the townspeople settled down and forgot all about the intracasies of these mechanical manipulations. And when Charlie was able to return to work he instructed that operations were going to be simplified. He had time to figure it all out, and Buddy would make a fine assistant.