MY STEAM MEMORIES

Small engine

The small engine on the left was assembled in 1968 and the larger one in 1970 by Howard.

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129 Bannick St., Bad Axe, Michigan 48413

My earliest recollection of the steam engine is of one that was pulled from job to job by horses. My father, who came to Michigan in 1897, had been in the threshing business in Canada starting out with a Merry-go-round horsepower and hand fed separator with straw carriers to move the straw away from the machine. The way I remember him explaining it to me his separator was made so the chaff would come out separate from the coarse straw. He also told me that this chaff was mixed with pulped mangles and fed to cattle. He stated that they grew a lot of mangles for that purpose. When my father came to Michigan he brought with him a large cutting box, but no power to run it. This was too big a machine to turn by hand very long, so when a lot of work was to be done, my father hired a neighbor who had a small steam engine that had to be hauled from job to job by horses.

This is where my memory of the steam engine started. The year was about 1906. The name of the engine or the year it was made I do not remember, only that it must have been one of the very first ones. Then as I got a little older and the steam engine pulling a separator behind, came into this neighborhood to thresh. I was around the engine as much as I could be. My special delight was when they could not finish in one day and would have to stay for the night.

After all was checked over and the men had left for home this was my delight to climb up and set on the engineer's seat and maybe give the whistle a real wee-wee-toot.

Then all of a sudden I got to the age where I was old enough to follow the machine from job to job as an exchange helper. This was when each farmer put his crops in the barn and the machine went from one farmer to another. I wonder what the boys of today would think of the hours we put in then. About 6:30 in the morning we would hear the whistle blow, and at 7 we started our work day which lasted until 6 at night. If you were not an exchange hand and working as a hired hand you would get $1.00 to $1.25 a day. Yes, you read right! This amount my son-in-law makes in 15 minutes working in a milk processing plant herein Bad Axe, Mich. Most all the work of this time was all hard work, not like driving a tractor or a self-propelled combine which I did plenty of later on. In all the years I was around steam I can remember only one fire around here that was started by the steam engine, and that was a rail fence on my father's farm. We always were prepared in case it did happen, by having three or four barrels of water handy. I often wondered why there were not more accidents than there were. I remember of two silo fillers that blew all to pieces and yet no one got hurt. I found one piece of the wheel that held the knives on across the road, a distance of about 300 feet, in the field I was working. This chunk of iron was about 14 inches long by about 3 inches through and I think it must have weighed about 30 pounds. At the scene of the other blow up a large piece of the wheel flew through the air over the tractor on which the farmer's son was sitting.

The worst accident that happened in our neighborhood happened right on my father's farm. I was about 15 at the time and the memory is as real as though it were yesterday. We had a very large stack of corn stalks that we wanted husked and shredded so my father asked the company that did our other custom work to come and do this job. The steam engine was a Port Huron and the shredder was a large eight roll machine. It was getting late in the fall and the top of the stack probably was a little tough, at least there was some reason it did not feed through the snapping rolls. We had not been shredding long when this happened, and one of the men that was taking care of the machine tried to unplug it without stopping the machine or at least taking a wood stick to do it, with the result that his hand went in. This young man was very quick and braced himself somehow and pulled hard with the result he saved his arm down to the wrist. The engineer stopped and reversed the machine in no. I style, by this I mean quick work without throwing the belt, but his hand would not reverse out. The snapping rolls had one large cast-iron bracket on each side with an extra heavy spring keeping the rolls together and men tried to pry them apart so as to release them enough to release his hand, but no luck. One of the men yelled to get something to break the castings that held the rolls down, and as I was on the ground it was my legs that ran as fast as they ever did and grabbed the axe out of the wood shed and ran back and handed it to one of the men. The axe must have been made of very good stuff because the man sure had to hit often and hard before they broke letting the rolls come apart enough for him to get his hand out. At that time about the only ones who had cars were the doctors and they got there quickly but knew at once the hand would be lost at the wrist. They performed this major operation in our home. This young man was kept at our house that night and taken home the next day.

Needless to say this young man went through a lot of suffering at that time, and what a hardship to go through life like that. This man, whom I like to think of as a friend, went into the implement business and still is with his sons in the town of Pigeon, Mich., 4 miles north of the accident.

At this time steam was still king, for belt power was used for threshing, silo filling, etc. It may have been different in some other places but as near as I can recall, the period between 1915 and 1925 is when the steam engine began losing the battle with the gas engine. The steamer did not give up its title as king easily and if all the instances were known where the gas was tried on jobs and failed to come up to steam power, I am sure the steamer had a lot of laughs at the noisy popping thing that was getting more powerful and reliable all the time.

The one instance I recall very clearly was on my father's farm. The year was about 1914. My father and two neighbors put up silos and bought a silo filling machine to fill them with. The next thing was to get power to operate this filler. Well, as I said before, the gas engine was trying hard to replace steam, so they thought they would try gas for power. I remember this very clearly as 1 was about 16 at the time. This gas engine was rated 15 hp. After much trying and I imagine discouragement, the man who was trying to sell it gave up trying to make it do something it did not have quite enough power to do.

At this time when the steam was losing out to the more powerful gas tractors such as the 20-60 four cylinder Aultman-Taylor etc., there were a few of the smaller steam engines standing around idle, so they bought a 16 hp. Russell compound. Although rated only one more hp. than the gas engine this little Russell must have had a good last laugh at its rival as it just seemed to play at running the silo filler. My older brother did the firing the first day and my father finished at our place the next day. Each one furnished their own fireman and moved it to the next place. One of my friends about my age happened along about 4 in the afternoon that fall day. As it was only 2 miles to the next place my father got the engine ready to go and then asked my friend if he would go with me to drive it there. I was reluctant about going not knowing much about it, but my father said everything was ready and we would get there before dark. My friend's father owned a steamer and thresher so he knew how to work the injector to put water in the boiler. All was going well until about half way there when we had to travel on a piece of road that was rough from the large amount of dirt that was piled on the road from a very big dredged ditch along side of it. There one of the steering chains broke. Not being prepared for this it took us quite a long time to fix it. It was getting towards dark by the time we got going again. We were firing mostly with wood and as we were trying to get there before it got too dark we had a lot of small sparks that got by the spark arrester to bring about a sort of 4th of July display of fireworks. Well, we got there shortly after dark, and two young boys were happy to leave the tomorrow to someone else.

About 10 years later 1 bought a 24 hp. Minneapolis Steam engine and grain separator from the man 1 worked for hauling water the season before. During the season of hauling water 1 got to know steam good enough to be on my own. It was then I realized that we should never have been allowed to take that steamer out of the yard by ourselves. Yes, the man I bought the steamer from bought a 45-70 Minneapolis gas tractor. It was the tractors of this size that finally pushed steam out.

As it came to pass other places, it did around here too, the popping noisy gas tractors finally got enough power to do the jobs, so to compete with competition, I finally traded my steamer in on a new gas tractor. This was in the late twenty's and in the years to follow I owned a lot of different tractors and did many different things, but that is a part of my life where I said good-bye to steam through my working years, and up to the year June 1965 when I decided I had done my share of work, and bought a Dodge step van and converted it to a rolling home. From this time on we have had time to do odd jobs and take some trips with our camper.

When I was a young man working in Detroit, 1 was lucky enough to get a ride with my employer in his electric car. I was so impressed that I never forgot it. On January 17th, 1967, 1 started assembling a small one. At first I had it run by all electric but later 1 also installed a small gas engine. Now if the battery says no, I can still go. My wife and I drove this little job in many parades and doings in 1967 and 1968. Wherever we went the crowds got a big smile out of it, and we got a lot of fun out of it too. We were at the Saginaw Valley live steam show and here the admiration 1 had for these iron monsters when I was young, got to me again, so 1 decided I would assemble one, only on a small scale. So in 1968 and 1969 I remodeled and assembled parts to finish up, as you see in the picture, first with one wheel in front - then changed to two later. As this is quite a small engine I installed an electric power system to cut in with the steam if I got in too tough a spot for the little steam engine alone. This also comes in very handy if I want to move it without steam.

In 1969 and 1970 this is what my wife and I drove at parades and doings. At some of the places where steam was not known to the young their eyes seemed to say 'What is that?' but when you would pass by some that remembered steam it brought real smiles to their faces and a good feeling to us that we were able to bring a little of the past to them. I think there were as many questions asked and pictures taken of this little steamer as of the electric car. This small steamer got so much attention I wished for a big one nearer the size they were when they were king, so I started looking and with the help of a very good friend who owns a salvage yard I started assembling and now have it done except for a few minor details. We have tried it out a few times already in our yard. This is a twin cylinder engine and sure purrs sweet music to my ears.

It is beginning to look like my hobby time is going to make me sell something on account of the limited storage space I have. If the publisher prints this 1 may write again to fill in the many things I did in the years between the late twenty's and now.

I enjoy the I.M.A. very much and appreciate the efforts and time these folks put in to bring it to us. This is the reason I am sending this in hoping it will help a little. If any of you reading this pass through this way, stop in if you can. We live in the East end of Bad Axe, Michigan.