Haywire Engineering

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Here is a good story taken from 'Power' of February, 1952. It was sent to us by Hardy Lindblad and Gilmar Johnson of Frederic, Wisconsin. It was sent in 1955 and we held it so it would cure. The fact that it mentions Charlie Harrison and his 110 Case makes it human. You will enjoy it.Elmer

MARMADUKE SURFACE glow's office is getting ready for all kinds of interesting people. Ever since his far-flung friends learned that he went into the consulting business, old shipmates and buddies keep popping in.

Yesterday I walked over to his office and there was Charley Harrison, chief engineer of the Mansfield Leland Hotel in Mansfield, Ohio. We learned that Charley Harrison has a hobby of collecting antique steam threshing engines. He now has eight of them. Charley was showing Marmy and his visitors newspaper clippings and photographs.

'These photos show how I moved my latest 20-ton iron horse all the way from Fargo, North Dakota,' Charley was saying. 'She's a 110 hp. job and stands 13 ft. wide, 22 ft. long and 14 ft. high to the cab's top.'

I squinted could hardly believe my eyes. The threshing machine looked more like a young locomotive.

'I'll bet you never operated one of those monsters,' I said to Marmaduke, wondering if he had.

'BILGEWATER ON THRESHING-ENGINES,' roared Marmy, leaning back in his swivel chair and propping up his feet on his desk. 'I cut my eye-teeth on these contraptions. Why, I learned more about boilers out in the wheat fields than I did in boiler rooms.'

'How come?' I asked, sitting down while the old boy wound himself up.

'Back in 1907', bellowed Marmaduke, 'I signed off an Alaska steamship out in Seattle, I had been down below in engine rooms so long the ship's doctor suggested I hit the wide open spaces and soak up some sunshine. So I headed for North Dakota. Scuttle but had it that threshing-machine engineers were in demand as the season was just starting.

'My first job was out in the middle of a 2000 acre farm, miles from nowhere. If you think marine engineers are on their own out at sea, you haven't run a thresher in the wide open spaces.

'That threshing engine was a giant. She carried 125 psi and stood a good 12 ft. high. The boiler had a straw-burning attachment. That was a horse on me, but I always said you got to operate all kinds of equipment and burn all kinds of fuel before you can call yourself a steam engineer.

'Two water boys were assigned to me. Each drove a team hauling a tank wagon. The tanks were filled from slews. In case you swivel chair engineers don't know it, slew water is snow water that lays on the ground all summer. It's highly alkali and gets a boiler to prime.

'The threshing season lasted only a couple of weeks, so I wanted to make sure that boiler and engine would keep running without a hitch. I started to give her a close inspection, but the boss was needling me to get up steam. Said he had a big gang on the payroll.

'First thing that I noticed was that her try-cocks had been removed and the holes plugged. She had a gage glass but did it or the steam gage work?

'I flushed the old mud out of the boiler and filled her by unscrewing the filling plug on the shell near her stack. Then I poked a stick down to check the water against the glass. The glass didn't read correctly. I found it plugged with mud. After taking care of that, I inspected her tubes. Some were plugged with soot, so I punched all the tubes. Then I tried her safety valve to make sure it wasn't stuck.

'The boss was getting pink around the gills. He wanted to know when I'd get up steam. Said he never had an engineer who did so much 'fussing around'. Then he assigned two raw-boned youngsters, one to fire and one to oil.

'We started shoveling in straw. That stuff really roars and brings up steam in a hurry. But I noticed the gage's needle didn't move although air and steam blew out of the open air cock.

'I unscrewed her gage and found the bourdon tube plugged with mud, probably because of constant priming. By soaking the tube in water and poking in haywire, I soon had her back on the boiler. This time she worked and the needle jumped to 20 psi when I opened the gage cock. By the time steam was up, the harvesting gang was raring to go.

'There were 12 bundle wagons for hauling wheat from the fields, three spike pitchers and one thresher man.

'I started the engine. A 9 in. belt ran the thresher, 80 ft. away. With exhaust shooting into the sky, I kept those two water boys going to the slews and back on the double.

'That place was a madhouse. I pitched in to help my fireman and oiler. Everyone worked at fever pitch. The engine was rolling along and the thresher blowing out a mountain of straw and dust. There was no stopping for lunch. And the heat was terrific. Must have been 100 in the shade, but there's no shade in a wheat field

'The boss came around on his horse after a while. He was boiling mad. We lost a couple hours getting started with your monk eying around,' he yelled. 'I asked you to start her up and not build me a new boiler.'

'I didn't argue. An engineer's first job is to know that his boiler is safe. It's too late after she blows up. Even at that, I had warmed her up too fast.

'Things hummed along at breakneck speed until about three o'clock that afternoon. Then the water glass burst. I looked in the tool box but there was no spare glass. With no try-cocks, I stopped firing and let the threshing machine work off most of the pressure.

'The boss galloped up on his horse and wanted to know why in hell I held up the show this time. I told him. That's when he really blew a gasket.

'I've been threshing long enough to know you don't need a gage glass or try cocks to run a boiler,' he yelled. 'I can show you where the water level is and I ain' t no engineer,' he croaked.

'You won't believe this,' continued Marmaduke, looking at his audience over his shoulder, 'but that guy grabbed a burlap wheat bag, soaked in the water and held it against the boiler shell where the water level normally was. Then he pulled it away quickly. For a split second there seemed to be a line, showing the water level. I knew this line was caused because heat transfer through water is about ten times that of transfer through steam. So the moisture left on the shell from the wet burlap evaporated faster opposite the water than it did opposite the steam, although both steam and water had exactly the same temperature.

' 'There's your water line,' the boss gloated. 'Now get that steam pressure up there again and let's get going.' Then he added triumphantly, 'That's the way we farmers engineer out here when we get in a pinch.'

'But that was the last straw for me. 'Just pay me off,' I informed him, 'because I'm leaving this infernal machine as fast as my legs can carry me.'

' 'How come,' stammered the boss, surprised as all hell.

' 'It's because I'm crazy like Mark Twain,' I answered. 'I came out here for my health and I'm leaving for the same reason.' '