Illinois Low Water Club

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17837 Lindenwood Road, Lindenwood, Illinois 61049

Sounds like quite a name, doesn't it? I don't remember when the name was coined but I do remember how and why. We members figure it's just about the best club we belong to. Let me explain.

Round about the second time we took our Nichols to the Sycamore show my father-in-law, Howard, bought a camper so he and Joe could sleep at the grounds. They had already met other 'Nichols' men through Howard and Harlan Wade of Wisconsin. When Joe talked to Wade's about getting a casting made for our smokestack, they gave him Paul Andermann's name and phone number. Paul had just got one made for his Nichols. Paul then introduced us to Walter Eikenberry, Larry Marek, and Muggs Yackley. It didn't take long that first night before all the guys migrated to a central campsite to sit and visit. They spent the evening discussing the day's events and planning how to do the needed engine adjustments the next day. Well, they had such a good time visiting with their fairly' new steam friends, the evening meetings went on all three nights of the four day show. To their credit, the men did introduce their wives to each other during the daylight hours. Before long the womenfolk were visiting right along too.

During the months between shows the friendships grew. Plans for engine restoration were shared, discussed, challenged, and tried. Show time rolled around again the following August and campfire meetings started again. By now people knew each other a little better and some good-natured kidding around started. With the wives and kids showing up during the day, we needed some place to set up the picnic baskets. We needed a picnic table and chairs. We got one. Well, that table soon developed into the central meeting place for meals, breaks and campfire get togethers. By now we added more faces to the group; Jon and Kim Gould, Charlie and Joanne Fruit and Denny and Kathy Flink. Everyone seemed to appreciate having an area away from the bustle of the show and close to the engines where we could rest and visit.

Some of our families included quite young members at that time. Occasionally we were able to find sitters and the gals got to stay overnight too. Pretty soon we discovered the musical talents of everyone and the campfires developed into sing-a-longs, story swapping and show discussions. About the third or fourth year the campfire grew. Lots of other campers enjoyed the fellowship time. The Holcomb family decided our group was worth visiting in the evenings. This was why we kept coming. The fun we had teasing each other and pulling some kind of joke on someone got to be a major objective.

More steam engine enthusiasts joined the group over those years. Gary Hennig, Milt Stein and Henry Fruit come to mind. A half-scale Case showed up that year. No one knew the guy but he seemed real friendly. Someone from the group asked him if he wanted to bring his toy engine and 'come play with the big boys'. So Jack Oltman of Minonk, Illinois joined us. Jack was a great hit with the kids, well, maybe I should say the half-scale Case was a great hit and Jack was patient enough to put up with them. Jack introduced Ernie Gerdes to the group a few years later.

The final day of that show found a circle of lawn chairs around the table. Everyone was discussing the past days' events and talking about how they should pack up to leave. No one really wanted to go yet, so no one was moving too fast. As the group talked, the discussion turned to a debate on the 'proper' amount of water in the boiler necessary to get the most energy available for work. Opinions on the question were many and varied. While the discussion continued, Howard got out his notebook and had everyone write their names, addresses and phone numbers. Now they could agree on an idea. Howard was going to make a list and have it copied for everyone. Someone asked him if he was forming a club or something. Next thing you knew, they were teasing each other that now they would need a name for the club. That's when the 'Low Water Club' came up. As a group, they hadn't come to a general consensus on the proper water level, so why not take on a name that sounds questionable? It certainly gets a stranger to ask what it stands for.

Howard used that list of names to contact everyone the next year in the dead of winter. One Saturday afternoon they got together for coffee, donuts and visiting. The next year found the group meeting around campfires at Will County and Sycamore shows. Many of the engines make both shows and that just allowed more time to work together, get to know each other better, have families share meals and develop quite a camaraderie. At Sycamore we decided to have a potluck picnic on Saturday. Boy, what a meal, fresh corn-on-the-cob, barbecue grills 'a going', tailgates full of side dishes. This was too much fun. We had to do this more often. That's how the Low Water Club's cabin-fever-get-together got going.

Come the month of February, we meet at some local restaurant that'll put up with the lot of us. Currently it's the Creston Supper Club in Creston, Illinois. We share a family style meal that none of the wives have to cook. Afterwards we watch videos of steam shows, rehash the past and make plans for the future. I should mention we did take time to set up a few ground rules for the club. They include: we will elect no officers, set up no committees, charge no dues, issue no membership cards, and if anyone tries to organize anything we have ways to deal with those situations. Don't get the wrong idea, this is done to insure we keep having fun. It's at the informal meetings held during show time and mid-winter where we've come up with activities for the engines and engineers. Friendly competitions like the block race, slow race, belting contest and power put out on the fan have started after a group discussion. Now there seems to be an extra incentive for the guys to put on a show.

This past year Sycamore saw us do another belting/threshing contest. A couple of the Sycamore Show officials seemed interested in the idea. That's how Phil Blanchard, Chuck Malsch, and John Carey got more active in the group. I opened my mouth, was put in charge of writing up the rules and should have known it was doomed when I tried to organize something. Wasn't that one of the premises of the group not to organize? Well, we finally got teams together, ran some preliminaries and planned final runs for Sunday. Paul Andermann, Joe Somers, Denny Christanson and Jon Gould made the four fastest times with Paul in first place going into the finals. Sunday rolled around cloudy and drizzling rain. Denny and Jon got to run in the morning with Denny doing the best time of the two. Joe and Paul never got to try because of the rain. So we declared Denny the winner by default. Joe and Paul told him he'd have to work hard next time to defend his title. They were already recruiting other engineers to compete.

The 1990 Saturday potluck turned into a real feast. I decided to borrow an idea from Bellingers out at Cedar Falls, Iowa. You take one large roaster, fill it with meat and vegetables, wrap it in a couple layers of aluminum foil sealing it tight. Place the roaster into the smoke box of a steam engine on top of a wire rack. Now put the engine to work for four or six hours depending on how much meat you're cooking. The engine can thresh, saw, plow or pull on the fan, anything so it stays hot. When you're ready to eat, you go to the smoke box wearing some old heavy-weight gloves and pull out the blackest, dirtiest-looking roaster you've ever seen. Peel off the aluminum foil, pull out the roaster and open it up to the fragrant aroma of tender beef, pork or poultry. Call the group together and sit down to a chef's masterpiece meal. I think this may be going to develop into another Low Water Club tradition!

The club also gets together for individual home threshings between show dates. In July we meet near Oswego for the Wheatland Threshing Day hosted by Paul Andermann and Larry Marek at a neighbor's farm. In September we get together at the Somer's Blossom Farm for the State Road Threshing Day. Both days give the guys a chance to work the engines and threshers as well as give us a reason to have another potluck. Our club seems to be branching out. We've even invaded the Pontiac Show and picked up a couple of new recruits, John and Jim Haley and their families. We've had friends from Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois stop by to visit when they come to the shows where we've taken our engines. Why don't you do the same? We aren't too hard to find at a show. We're usually sitting around the steam engines or getting up some kind of competition to see who's the best. Just keep asking the engineers where the engines from the Low Water Club are and you should find someone who knows us. We look forward to meeting new steam engine lovin' folks.