Oregon, Missouri. Editor
Here is a well written article found in the Holt County (Missouri) Sentinel and sent to us by the owner! of the engine.
Furnaces with steam boilers rarely go to the bad except in cold weather, depending upon which time of year they are in operation. So the court house furnace, after a quarter of a century, finally gave way at the seams and was shut down.
The seat of government had no heat Saturday, Sunday or Monday. The building cooled off to something like 6 degrees which is ideal for an air-conditioned theatre during August. Such temperature is not comfortable for office work. Judge Harve Hall and Judge Merrill Bailey, of the county court and Lloyd A. Dankers, county clerk, hurried up plans for bringing in the new oil burning furnace from Detroit. Transportation takes time; setting up and reconnecting with the arterial pipes will take more time. Winter is making passes and court house business is accentuated at this time of year because of the revenue harvest.
The building was warm and comfortable Tuesday-steam sizzling in the radiators, no furnace of any kind in the basement. The court negotiated with Charles Lenz to bring in his threshing machine engine take up a position outside the basement doorway, and fire up to a normal head of steam. W. C. Brown and R. M. Kurtz, local plumbers, made the necessary connections from the old engine boiler to the furnace room where reduction valves were installed to keep the steam pressure operating normally. Charley pulled the engine off a sawmill assignment. The locomotive at tracts the attention of the public-standing there with smoke pouring from its stack and generating calories for a three-story brick building. The emergency hook-up might have to be continued for a week or ten days until some modern gadgets are fitted into place and set going to heat water beyond the boiling point. The engine has to be hand-fired day and night, at 30-minute intervals.
We developed a deep, personal crush on that steam engine when Charley drove it in the Fall Festival parade and quartered the thing in the courtyard. Sometimes, after the 45th milestone has been reached, it is difficult for one properly to act one's age, and we controlled an impulse during the festival to go forward and lay our hands on one of the huge tractor wheels of the locomotive. Children pulled the whistle cord, letting off a genuine old railroad tone, and in, our blind envy we could have un-regretfully mashed those kids into the ground.
Tuesday afternoon we invoked a prerogative of reporting and deliberately moved up close to the engine. Charley didn't seem to mind that we leaned our note pad against the tool box (or something flat near the rear wheel) and we both possibly traveled mentally backward over some years until we reached 1926, the year the Nicholson-Shepard machine was manufactured. It still looks brand new and is meticulously kept that way having its own shed for protection against the weather. Charley has owned nine engines since 1920 and uses the present locomotive on a sawmill. Parts for the old machine are not too hard to get, but the proud owner insists that there is nothing to wear out. As a prolonged excuse for keeping within feeling distance of the engine, we asked pertinent questions. Not once did Charley act uppity or supercilious as the enginemen did in the teens and twenties. They impressed observers then with an inability to speak English and were highly sufficient unto themselves. On rare occasions we used to trade a bit of conversation with separator men-but the engineers apparently talked to nobody except to bawl out vague orders to the threshing crew that flitted and flashed like ants laboring against time.
Charley's engine has a horsepower rating of 16.60 which we hasten to explain as meaning 16 on the drawbar and 60 on the belt. The Nicholson can pull ten 14-inch plows. From fire box door to nose of the boiler she measures 14 feet, has a double cylinder, travels with top speed of 2 miles per hour. No rust spots are visible anywhere and the green trim apparently was put on at the factory. It was bought at a ranch near Lawrence, Kas., where it was used for the belittling task of disinfecting cattle barns. Of course, flies have died under the attack of modern DDT, but somehow the succeeding generations have developed a resistance and no longer are so allergic to that brand of poison. When they got killed with live steam they stayed killed and their progeny never learned to eat steam and like it.
There are two associations thriving in the U. S., keeping alive the traditions of the mighty steam tractors. The Old Settlers have conventions at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa; the Antique Association holds reunions at Pontiac, Mich. Charley belongs to both fraternities. At a steam engine show held at Mt. Pleasant last fall, more than 25,000 people came to look, to admire, to indulge in the perpetual dream of being an engineer.
The Lenz outfit is definitely not for sale, although offers are frequent. A man offered to make out a check for $2,000 (the engine sold new for $2,100) but Charley couldn't be influenced. Ho drove some 2,000 miles looking for the Nicholson-Shepard and intends to make a child happy, joyously happy, some day by giving him as a present a genuine steam engine! What a break for that boy who incidentally is Roger Stephenson, Charley's 2-year -old grandson.
'Well,' we said with that got-to-go inflection, 'have we asked about everything?'
There was no deliberate modesty about Charley as he pointed forward to the steam whistle which even to us looked a trifle oversize for the diameter of the boiler.
'That,' said Charley, 'came off a Santa Fe locomotive in Oklahoma.'
We exchanged smiles full of pride and tenderness. The Sante Fe had mighty good whistles, probably the best in the railroad world.
It's a mighty, mighty pretty engine. We were reluctant to fold up our notes and leave the massive boiler cooking up steam and seeming to relish every cubic centimeter of water converted to energy. We had somehow come into an exuberant realization that something nice will be in store for us some day, although Charley did not so intimate consent, we know that we shall have a long moment connecting our declining years with an unfinished chapter of the past. We shall mount the cabin with a sheaf of make believe orders in our hand, look carefully at a heavy silver watch, hesitate a second for reasons known only to us, and blow a long steady C sharp on that Santa Fe whistle.