McLennan, Alberta, Canada
(I had to retype this letter and I did a little correcting on grammar -and some on spelling but not as much as you would think after you read the first paragraph of this letter preceding the story. The letter Val sent me was typed and all I can say is I certainly give a lot of credit to someone who has this much ambition and thoughtfulness to write us. I'm sure it wasn't too easy for him. Truly, he is one of our respected 'Iron-Men' -Anna Mae)
Val writes: Every time your wonderful magazine, the Iron-Men comes in the mail, it is a real picnic for me to read every line and I enjoy it very much and the letters of those old threshermen's experiences. So today I decide to write a few of my experiences with those monsters of yesteryears. But first of all, I must tell you. I am not too good at writing letters. The why is - my Father came from France in 1904 to gamble $10.00 with the government on a homestead northeast of Halkirk, Alberta, Canada. In those days there were no schools and when the schools came, I was too old or too busy with the farm work so I never had a chance - never seen the inside of a school house. Besides, I had to learn to speak English, so will you please excuse my poor grammar and misspelling. Besides, I am getting tired looking in the dictionary for my spelling - so I will start.
It was in 1915, we were threshing late in the fall - stack threshing - no snow yet on the ground. I well remember it was in the middle of November and that morning it was quite cold with a white frost. We were threshing with a Holt 30-60 HP for power on a 28' Case steel separator. On the ground, by the engine, were three barrels of gasoline from Imperial Oil Ltd. In those days, the gasoline barrels were not made like the ones of today. They did not have a straight side, but were bulged like a wooden barrel. Rivets were used instead of welding as welding was not worth much in those days. Anyway, on one of the three drums there was no white frost,
I happened to touch it and it was quite warm. Not hot to burn the hand, but you could feel quite warm. One man of the threshing crew was a well read man and he told us the only thing that could heat that barrel was a bit of radium. Has anybody ever had this experience? If so, please let me know. In 1923, I was running a threshing outfit in the Rib Stone Creek, mid Eastern part of Alberta. After 42 days of threshing, I was going back home across country on a cow trail when all of a sudden - bang bang - the front rod burnt out. This was my wonder of a car, a 1914 model T Ford. I was with the separator man. We looked around and waited, but nobody came on this cow trail. We decided the best thing to do was walk. We walked about a mile or so when we got to a farmer's place. The lady was all alone as her husband was on a threshing rig. We asked her if they had a Ford connecting rod, but the lady didn't seem to understand. So, I asked her if she had salt pork and she looked at me and started to laugh, and said they had a barrel full of salt pork. So, I took a chunk with heavy rind and cut a strip of the rind the same width as the rod and wrapped it around the crankshaft good and snug and the rod good and tight - as you know, we were short of crankcase oil. And we put in one quart of water and as soon as we had a chance we changed the oil, but do you know we drove the 70 miles back home. The Model T was running as nice as you please. When we changed the rod, can you believe that the engine was not knocking? I have been wondering since why they don't use pork rind instead of babbitt.
Once we were breaking land with a Rumely 36 HP steam engine. Anybody that has used and saw them, knows what a monster of an engine it was. Anyway, that day we were breaking in some tall weeds and shrubs, when all of a sudden the front end or the two front wheels fell in an old cellar. We were in what used to be the farmyard. The engine was leaning so bad that the crown sheet was dry. I tell you it did not take long to put the fire out as the engine was in a dangerous position. After the excitement was over, we did some serious thinking as there was no power strong enough around to get this monster out of this mess. I must say, that the boiler of that engine was in perfect shape - no leak whatsoever. So, we got hold of two good tire hand pumps and after 2 days of hard work we managed to raise the gauge to 90 lb. After some elbow grease on the shovel handle, the engine in reverse, we got the engine out without any trouble at all. When I think of it now, if it was today, we would get a small compressor with gas enough and do the work in a few hours that back then took us days to do. Anyway, the engine backed out of the mess on air pressure.
Once we were threshing and it was very dry and the wind shifted and the straw stack started on fire. In no time at all, the fire seemed to be all around the separator. I tell you the racks pulled out in a hurry. I knew I did not have the time to throw off the drive belt, so got hold of the clutch lever and yanked on it. The engine let a great bark and out came the separator by the drive belt'. Any of you old hogsheads ever had that experience?
One day a fork went in and all it did was to bend a few cylinder teeth. You old separator men know what a teeth straightener is. I do not know what happened, but he forgot to pick it when he was done with it. Anyway, that evening when we were cleaning as the job was finished, the bar was fed into the machine and it seemed it went crossway in the cylinder. It left the cylinder by breaking the two main top bearings and also broke the concaves.
I have a 20 HP 1914 Case steamer in mint condition and also have a Case 12-24 Crossmount tractor, a 12-24 Hart-Parr and a 10-20 Titan -all in mint condition. Also have a 32 volts d.c. air cooled Delco light plant, a 4 HP Cushman binder engine and a couple of engines that I do not know their make.
I am now retired after working 30 years for a Power company. I was installing diesel engine and also running shifts. My mind is always back to steam so if somebody had experience with a warm gas barrel, please let me know.