Just a Steam Fan

12 hp. Nichols & Shepard

12 hp. Nichols & Shepard No. 4632 and built in 1893. This is one of the four engines at Millers Ranch, each a different size and make.

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I HAVE BEEN TAKING the ALBUM since 1952 and, like all the other ALBUM readers, I enjoy it very much. For sometime, I have wanted to write a letter to be printed in the ALBUM. I have enjoyed every letter printed, so maybe some folks will read this one all the way through.

I was in Grinnel, Iowa in March, decorating a new church, was staying with my son-in-law James Lang. He told me there was a steam engine about a mile out of town. We drove out there and it was a 16 hp. Gaar-Scott, cleaned up and painted. I didn't get to talk to the owner.

I came home and the May-June ALBUM was here with a picture of a 20 hp. Reeves, exactly like the one I owned and run for seven years, so I decided to send along some pictures with this letter. I was born in 1898 so you can count my age on each one of these engines and know that I was not an old-timer; just a steam fan. I was always happy to just be near a steam engine, but other than hauling bundles to one, I never got a chance to really be near one.

I went to Harper, Kansas, in 1918 and got a job hauling water to a 30hp. Reeves double. This machine 'also 36 in. Case separator' had been shipped up from Oklahoma. I think from near Enid, by a man named George McDowell. He also brought the engineer and separator man. They were brothers and I think their names were Peedam. Dick was the Engineer. This engine had in addition to the two side tanks, a big one. I think eight barrels that laid down cross-wise behind with a coal burner on top of that, so all the coal had to be cracked and shoveled up there and it fed down to the platform through a chute. I imagine most of you know all about this. You had to go up onto the engine from the left side. I pulled the water tank up on the right side which is a bit unusual as all of the others we run on the left side. We had 36 days threshing, 18 of shocks and 18 of headed. I'm still not sure I was 'around' that engine much while it was running as it took six tanks one day and seven the next and this was a Port Huron boiler steel tank that held 14 barrels as compared to these galvanized tanks that probably hold 10 barrels.

The next year I went to Red Field, South Dakota, and got a job hauling bundles to a Buffalo-Pitts, 32 in. separator and a 15 hp. Case engine. I do not think this one took as much water. This machine run seven bundle racks. Three of us didn't like to change sides every time we came in, so we made a deal with the other four that we would keep one side going if we could have the belt side, that being the side they took the grain from. Guess I have always been a glutton for punishment. That ended the wheat threshing. Oh yeah!- the owner of that machine was named Arch Miller.

In 1922, I hauled water to a 20 hp. Return Flue Minneapolis, that was pulling a 36 separator of the same make. This engine was run by one of my brothers, Lester, and was owned, by Howard Byam-Walt Phipps and Bert Johnson. In 1927, I ran a 20 hp. Straight Flue Minneapolis engine on a 36 in. Minneapolis. This machine was owned by Chas. Jacobsen. In 1028 I ran a 20 hp. Case engine for the three already mentioned above. Byam is my father-in-law but he wasn't in 1922. In 1929, I ran a 20 hp. Gaar Scott engine on a 36 in. separator same name, for Edward Ingram. All of these starting in 1922 were in the Sioux Rapids-Marathon, Iowa communities. Then I bought a 36-60 Avery Yellow Fellow separator and an 18 hp. Return Flue Avery engine, got a run in the same community a little closer to Marathon and threshed until 1936, however, I only ran the engine one season, then I bought the 20 hp. Reeves. In 1937 I threshed a run near Webb, Iowa which was as close to Byams where I stored my machine, as the other run was.

To do a little reminiscing about these years of steam threshing in Kansas on that Reeves I was working a team of horses for a week or so while waiting for a team of mules to get there from Oklahoma. This team of horses never fell in love with that steam engine. I had hitched them up as I knew there was only a few gallons of water left and the injector was on. I was sitting on the engine to shut off the injector when it started to get air. Dick would let me fire the engine and run the water and later let me stop and start the engine. Of course, any one that can stop an engine can start a Reeves. Anyway, just before this water ran out, the water glass blew out and I mean 'blowed'. This team started just like Tim-Tarn out of a chute and would have beaten him for 200 yards and Mrs. Davis's little boy Len, leaped, and lit on the tank and it wasn't run-away horses that I was thinking of either, while they were making the first turn to miss the separator, bundle wagon, etc. I picked up the lines which were wrapped around the seat and we took off for a tank of water. This water glass didn't stay put for awhile. I asked Dick how he could tell when he had too much water and he said. when it ran out of the smoke stack.

Another time the glass blew, it just cracked. I was on the engine alone, and I reached down to shut off the water first and when it did blow, I got a piece of it in one eye. The boss took me to a doctor who took the glass out, sold me a pair of dark glasses and I only missed one tank of water.

On this Minneapolis in 1922, that my brother Lester, run the machine was at our place, we set early and backing in the belt get away, it run off on the inside and the gears cut it in two. One of us took it to Sioux Rapids to a harness shop and he cut out every other layer of canvas from both ends about two feet, lapped them together, sewed them with 13 rows of stitches and we were able to use the belt. Lester T. Davis went on the Western Pacific R. R. at Portola, California in 1926 as fireman, was promoted to engineer in 1940 and was one of their top passenger engineers at the time of his death (heart) in 1952. He was 47 years old and had also been in the State Legislature for six years.

On this Minneapolis engine in 1927 of Charlie Jacobsen's, we had trouble steaming it two or three days, when we discovered the trouble was either soot in the stack or on the exhaust nozzle, 1 don't remember which. Charlie was truly on old time thresher. He told me that the old-timers talk about a four minute set, said we will try it some day and we did, and we also made it in four minutes flat. We did everything but roll up the belt. We folded the feeder, ran the blower' around, turned the engine around, made a complete loop with the machine, dug both front wheels down, put the level on 'which doesn't mean it was level', turned the engine around again, backed into the belt and was threshing in four minutes. Charlie passed out of this world in 1947 at about 63 years old.

I don't recall anything about the Case I ran in 1928 except that it had leaky flues and no top on it, and you could see how much water you had in the glass sitting on the right side seat. You couldn't see neither the top or bottom of glass, but there was an arrow that showed which was about 2 inches from bottom.

The Gaar-Scott I ran in 1929 - I could talk on and on about it. It was the quietest, smoothest running engine of them all. The eccentric being built like it was, sort of double, it made no noise at all. I used to sit on the spring seat on the water tank and listen to it run. The big smoke box and the tin stack made a very pleasing exhaust sound. Well, sitting out there listening to it run, the only thing I could hear besides the exhaust was the governor gears. Do you suppose I never oiled 'em? It was also the easiest engine to fire I ever run. You only used one shovel of coal at a time, where my other engines I used two. This Garr-Scott was bought new in 1912 by about 12 farmers. The engine only had one injector and it was not a Penberthy. Don't know what it was! One day it wouldn't work, and I asked the man that run it the year before who was hauling bundles, what could be the matter? He took one look at the steam gauge and said it won't work on less than 105 pounds of steam so that didn't happen again.

Next was the Avery. I bought it and moved it 35 miles which was no fun. I like 'em better in the belt. This machine was bought new in 1910. I kinda liked that little engine, guess because it was mine. On Saturday p. m., before we finished the run on Wednesday, a man stopped in, visited a while and sold me five gallons of boiler compound. Said to dump a couple gallons of it into a barrel of water and inject it into the boiler about five o'clock. Said when I washed the boiler next morning, I would have to break some of the scales in two to get them through the hand-hole. I used it like he said and he was right, a wash-tub full. That day at noon we went out after dinner, I could hear steam before we got there. The steam was down to 60 pounds, water even less. In the front end was a little crown sheet with a soft-plug in it, but just below that on the left side, two stay-bolts had let go, probably years before and had limed over. They were just flush with boiler, the compound had eaten the lime and that was the end of the Avery engine.

The next year I bought the Reeves and moved it 20 miles. This Reeves was a pleasure to run, as if you had a lapse of memory and discovered that your water and steam were both down, you could catch up as it would burn the coal; didn't have to be babied. It had two injectors, both always worked and one of them would work down to 55 pounds before it quit. You people that were familiar with Reeves engines will notice by picture that I extended the platform and built larger tool box and coal bunker. That made it much better as more people could get up there, in your way. I also put a Garden City feeder with a fourteen foot drag on the separator and that enabled the bundle haulers to get more bundles under it. I took pride in keeping my engines clean and myself also. No woman even put a newspaper under my plate, in fact I was cleaner that the bundle haulers as I very seldom got out of the shade, so no sweat.

Well folks, that's enough. Probably all this won't be printed, maybe none.