Gossip From The Back Shop


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Route 1, Box 1015 Yucaipa, California

A great pleasure to always look forward to, was to accompany the old master mechanic Mel out on a thresher trouble call. This was especially true when the summons would come in the late forenoon so that there was a couple spare places at the cook shack bench for visitors such as we.

Upon one of these occasions when it became necessary for Mel to arrive on the scene about eleven o'clock and remove a shaker crank for welding a break, Henry Stilhaus had left his son to tend the engine while we lined up at the cook's window. Henry was quite proud of a new side water column he had obtained from a decommissioned Monarch roller and had piped it to his Russell since he was always too leary of the old deck gage after it had once broken and accidentally scalded one of his wrists pretty badly.

Bob Buchner, the separator man, had just filled his wash pan from the dangling gage hose and had jokingly cautioned Henry Jr. that he had better refill the boiler again, as he liked to have lots of wash water before eating Without question, young Henry turned on the injector, looked at his fire, and then sat down on the seatbox and peered at the water gage. W hat he saw began to startle him, as it seemed the boiler was filling at a very rapid rate. While he was a very new man on the job at helping his father, he had never seen the meniscus rise like in this old boiler at that time. Quickly he shut off the injector, lest he have water coming out the stack next; but this seemed to make no difference. The water level continued to climb and in a few moments was clean out of sight in the top of the gage. In wild alarm he scrambled down off the engine and with arms waving he ran yelling to his father that for some strange reason the boiler was siphoning all the water out of the tank.

While Henry Stilhaus was one thresher man who could stash food away with almost any two other members of the team, he was also a good engineer and would never risk one bit of harm to his good Russell. He tried to meet the emergency by carrying his plate of food with him, heaped as it was, but this proved too cumbersome and he was forced to sling it to the winds for Fido to clean up. He sprang up on the platform and quickly opened all gage cocks: but to his wonderment he had but two cocks of water and the top one emitted clear blue steam. He then went around and opened the column drain and also twiddled both top and bottom shutoff valves wide open. Upon closing the drain, the water level settled at half-glass. He turned to Junior alongside in mixed fright and wonderment, and asked for explanation. Obviously, there was none forthcoming as young Henry recalled events leading to all this excitement. But old Henry had learned many things by experience He turned around to Bob who was now drying his hands and admonished him, 'Now see here, Bob, you can have all the hot water you want but if you are afraid of getting a little too much steam along with it, just be sure to open the steam valve wide after you have closed it off. You just about scared the daylights out of my kid here!' One of the hands saw chance to pipe up, 'You were just a wee bit scared yourself, Henry. Too bad there is no more of that good food left.

But it was not so bad as that, for Henry was able to get a nice big refill on his plate, and while he came back to the engine to eat his dinner, he was a bit voxed as he turned to his son and exclaimed, 'You darned idjit, what do you suppose they put those try-cocks on the boiler head for?' Then he reasoned with Mel that apparently the top gage cock was closed off, and trapped vapor had condensed in the top of the column and allowed the water to rise. Probably every Old Timer has had at least one such experience as this.