Of Steam Shovels and Operators

Eric ''B'' shovel'

1920 Eric ''B'' shovel with yard bucket which is currently being restored by Earl Hamilton.

Content Tools

38120 S.R. 518, Lisbon, Ohio 44432

This is the beginning of a story of my interest in steam how I grew up with it and things that happened connected with it, but mostly with steam shovels.

When I was born my father had a steam engine, a sawmill and a threshing machine. As I grew older my interest grew in the operation of steam engines. I can barely remember seeing the Huber steam engine my father had. Then he sold it and bought a 12 HP Case engine, which I had a little experience firing at a very early age. After the Case engine he bought a Russell engine and it was the first engine I fired on both a sawmill and a threshing machine. Later on the Russell engine was replaced with a 50 HP Case. It was one of the first steam engines that I really operated. Later this Case engine was traded to the Case Co. for a Case Crossmount tractor, which was used on the sawmill and the threshing run. We then lived about four miles north of East Liverpool, Ohio, in a farming community.

During this time I had my first encounter with a steam shovel working near my home on a road grading job taking a steep hump off a hill. It was a The steam shovel a small shovel used primarily for road grading. I was very interested in this machine and used to spend many evenings after school and many Saturdays watching the shovel load dirt into dump wagons that were pulled with a team of horses and that sparked my interest very much in steam shovels. Also the person who operated this shovel lived near our place and I used to talk to him about his machine. This particular shovel did not have caterpillar tread but was a wheel shovel. It had four wide wheels on it for traveling and it could not travel very well in soft ground. It would have to run on planks or mats when on soft ground. It probably did not weigh more than 15 or 20 tons.

Then in the middle 1920's we moved near Negley, Ohio, about 12 miles north of our previous home to a farm formerly owned by my great grandfather and took with us the farm machinery mentioned above. We threshed, sawed barn frames, and did some commercial sawing. In the meantime we needed another power to operate the sawmill and threshing machine as we had to operate both at the same time on a commercial basis. We found a used 45 HP Case steam tractor that we could buy reasonably and we used it on the sawmill and threshed with the Case Crossmount 22-40.

When we moved to Negley there was a large steam operation in a coal strip mine which had two large shovels and two smaller ones with which they loaded coal. This was about 4 miles from my father's farm and was near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, in South Beaver Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. I spent some of my spare time watching these shovels at work.

One winter when saw milling was slack, I got a job firing a shovel on a road job, which was my first experience working on a shovel. And from then on I had an idea of getting on the front end and operating a shovel. Of course, it takes a long time to learn about the various operations and items on a shovel. One of the requirements then to run a shovel was that you must have at least three years' experience firing and oiling on a shovel before you could run it.

320 Bucyrus shovel that was new in 1923. Weight: more than 300 tons; 90 foot boon; 56 foot dipper sticks; 8 yard dirt capacity bucket

Over the next period of years I worked on the sawmill. One winter I went to the large strip mine east of home. They were hiring people in the labor gang, and I was hired and put to work cleaning coal with a hand shovel. The big shovels put out ash and cinder and the labor gang had to clean them off of the coal before it could be loaded. This coal was then sent to the tipple in a narrow gauge railroad with side-dump cars and small saddle tank locomotives of about 20 tons each. At the tipple it was loaded onto railroad cars to go to market.

Another job of the labor gang was to help build railroad track. After each cut of coal the railroad track had to be moved and re-laid in another cut of coal, which added up to a lot of labor.

All the time I was working there I had my eye on the shovel and I put in for extra fireman if they needed someone. On many occasions I did get to fire one of the shovels, if someone was sick or had to have a day off.