I was born over head of a general merchandise store in a small inland town.
The whole township was covered with heavy hardwood timber, so steam powered sawmills were many and some had stone feed mills attached to grind corn meal and whole wheat flour for the early settlers.
Being mechanically inclined and caring nothing for the store, I would run away to the mills to see the machinery and especially the big steam engines that run the mills. My mother hadn't given me permission to go, as she was afraid I would get hurt. So I knew just what I had coming when I arrived homel The tanning I got didn't make me lose the interest I still had in the steam engines, but only the lack of wanting to sit down for awhile.
Fortunately for me, My uncle had a sawmill and a small Gaar Scott engine. My uncle had a boy about my age so I was allowed to go there once in awhile. So by the age of ten I knew a lot about boilers and engines.
By the turn of the century drilled wells were replacing the springs and dug wells and steam powered drilling machine were doing big business.
My father needed a new well at home so he got a driller to drill our well in exchange for a large store account owed by him. The driller had a large family to support, the pay was poor as a result he couldn't afford to keep a helper. So at the age of ten, I took it upon myself to run the engine for him.
This was an upright 6 H.P. steam engine with the cylinder below and the crank shaft and pulley above with a cross head pump for water supply and of course wood for fuel.
Every morning I would steam up for him, oil up, fill the lubricator, run the engine enough to fill the boiler and have it ready to run by the time he got there.
His next move was to a near neighbor, so on invitation I tagged along. His next move was farther away from home, because of this father would not let me go. That ended my portable steam engine career.
That same year a flour mill came to town which was powered by an Atlas Steam engine with the governors in the flywheel working on the eccentric and valve. The mill was heated by the exhaust and the condensed water was pumped back into the boiler by a double cylinder independent pump, so there was very little boiler cleaning or repairs. This was the nicest power plant anywhere a-round.
How the engineers and firemen ever put up with me and my questions, I will never know. But most of them seemed to like me and would even let me stop the engines, open and shut petcocks, run injectors, insperators, syphons, and etc. One older engineer would even let me start the big sawmill engine.
Of course my best bet was my uncles engines and as soon as school was out my cousin and I would run the engines, especially the planing mill. The shavings were used for fuel and it wasn't too much of a job to care for the boiler. Fuel was no object with all the dry slabs and dry edgings all over the place. On Saturdays when the mill would not be running, my cousin and I would steam up the little Gaar Scott and run it around for fun. We placed a plank across on the tool boxes so we could reach the levers. So by the time we were through grade school both my cousin and I were able to do a good job with the steam engines.
Later my uncle acquired four steam threshing machines all Avery 'Yellow Fellows' threshers and different make engines. One was a Nickols and Shepard, one a return flue Buffalo Pitts and 2 returned Averys. We ran all of these engines some, but we both attended high school and this left only Saturdays and vacation time to spend running these machines. By the time we were out of high school gas engines were taking over. My uncle put a big single cylinder throdling governor Milwaukee gas engine in the planing mill.
How I wish I had some pictures of all of these engines, mills and etc., but photography was expensive and kodaks were not in use then. Perhaps at a later date I will tell more about the portable and early traction engines in our neighborhood.