Storm Lake, Iowa
I have been taking the Album since 1952 and, like all the other Album readers, I enjoy it very much. For some time I have wanted to write a letter to be printed in the Album. I have enjoyed every letter that has been printed so maybe some folks will read this one all the way through and enjoy it too.
I have been in the painting and decorating business since the spring of 1928. I was in Grinnell, Iowa, in March, decorating a new church and 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.
The May-June Album carried a picture of a 20 hp Reeves exactly like one I owned and run for seven years. I was not an old-timer - just a steam fan - 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 30 hp Reeves Double. This machine, also 36 in. Case separator, had been shipped up from Oklahoma (I think from near Enid) by a man named Geo. McDowell. He also brought the engineer and separator man. They were brothers and I think named Peedam. Dick was the engineer. This engine had, in addition to the two side tanks, a big tank (8 bbl., I think) that was laid down crosswise behind with a coal bunker on top so that all the coal had to be cracked and shoveled up there. It fed down to 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 the others we run in on the left. 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 6 tanks one day and 7 the next and this was a Port Huron boiler steel tank that held 14 bbl. as compared to these galvanized tanks that probably hold 10 bbl.
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 don't think this one took as much water. This machine run 7 bundle racks. Three of us didn't like to change sides every time we came in, so we made a deal with the other 4 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 in. 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 run a 20 hp Straight Flue Minneapolis Engine on a 36 in. Minn. This machine was owned by Charles Jacobsen. In 1928 I run a 20 hp Case Engine for the three already mentioned, Byam, Phipps and Johnson. Byam is my father-in-law, but he wasn't in 1922.
In 1929 I run a 20 hp Gaar Scott Engine on a 36 in. separator, same name, for Edw. 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 it till 1936. However I only run the engine one season, and then I bought the 20 hp Reeves. In 1937 I threshed a run near Webb, Iowa, which was as close to Byam's where I stored my machine as the other run was. Now 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 setting 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 and of course anyone 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' little boy Len leaped and lit on the tank and it wasn't runaway horses that I was thinking of either. While they were making the first turn to miss 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 a while. 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 reached down to shut off the water first when it did blow and I got a piece of it in one eye. The boss took me to a Doctor. The glass missed the sight by only a hair - he took the glass out - sold me a pair of dark glasses - and I only missed one tank of water.
In 1922 the Minneapolis that my brother Lester run was at our place. We set early and, backing in the belt and backing downhill, I let the belt get away. It run off on the inside and the gears cut it in two. One of s 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, my brother, went on the Western Pacific Railroad 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 6 years.
In 1927 we had trouble steaming the Minneapolis Engine belonging to Charlie Jacobsen. When we did discover the trouble it was soot- either in the stack or on the exhaust nozzle I don't remember which. Charlie was truly an old time thresher. He told me that the old timers talk about a 4 minute set, said we would try it some day and we did. We also made it in 4 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 don't mean it was level), turned the engine around again, backed into the belt and were threshing in 4 minutes. Charlie passed out of this world in '47 at about 63 years of age.