Over Fifty Years Ago

Content Tools

1267 Springville Road East Earl, Pennsylvania 17519

We always had a threshing outfit and steam engine. I was born and raised around this equipment. As my boys got out of school at 14 years of age, I started them firing the steam engine. First I had a 65 Case, then in later years I got an 8 x 10 Frick and put the boys on the boiler to steam tobacco beds. They had to learn the hard way as I stayed out in the garden. I helped them move steam pans. These were 6x8 ft., pretty heavy for them.

I could hear when they could not keep steam up to 130 lbs. So they called me and I gave them more instructions on how to keep steam up. We used to steam tobacco beds 24 hours a day. I always told them to let the farmer pick up his side first. That way they could keep going for 12 hours without getting too tired. The farmer did not know better.

We left the pans down for 20 minutes. I had two injectors on, inch and 3/8 inch. We left the 3/8 inch on all the time. That way we had steady pressure.

We used to have a salt shaker in the boiler. The farmer got some eggs, put them under the pans, and in 20 minutes they were hard boiled. Some farmers did not think that you should eat in the right time. Some took you in the house and offered you a lot of food, while some did not give you anything to eat. Sometimes they had coffee to drink and some apple jack. A lot of farmers made apple jack, some of which might be four or five years old. Made your toe nails curl!

We would steam for five weeks. I used to fire for Noah Martin ('Nut'), and there was very little electricity at that time and no pressure pump. Then we had to use the lift to get water out of creeks, wells and cisterns. You could lift about 20 feet one place. I sent the kid back of the barn to throw a hose into the big cistern. About two hours later I could not get water at all, the engine just got hot. A boiler will not take hot water. So I went back and looked with a light and here it was, full of dead rats!. The hair went through the screen and got in my injectors. We had a lot of moss in the stream as well as mud. In later years when my boys ran the machine everybody had electric. It pumps it right into the boiler tank. Some nights it got cold and windy, then I would fix my fire, throw old logs on the pans and I laid on the pans to keep warm. One night it got so cold till morning I had two flues leaking. I had made an extension on my flue roller so I could go in over the hot fire without disturbing the fire. I took a small string, tied the rollers together, then rolled them out side the hot boiler.

I had to steam for some Berks County Dutchmen, six farms back at Maple Grove in the 'sticks'; we used to steam back there over Easter, as they worked on Sundays. They had wood to fire the boiler always. They would stock it for a year ahead. Boy, that really threw heat. They would always get together when I was steaming at night. Half of them could hardly walk, they had so much apple jack and beer, Swiss cheese and pretzels. They used to say, 'You can drink this yet.' It was dark, so I put the beer bottles in the cab of the engine, and then they would come with pitchers of apple jack. I would taste it but then pour the rest along a fence post. They were on hands and knees coming down the garden path! About three of them would help me move the pans.

That time we had inch black pipe to the steam points as steam hose was very high priced. We had to add on then, or take some off. A lot of work. Everybody had a fence around the tobacco beds so we had to work the pans in a narrow gate. They had chickens running round. My boss, Nut, always fired in daytime and I always steamed nights. We chewed tobacco and smoked Camels. Had a lot of fun when he came. He did not have to ask where I was, the spark from the hardwood you could see far back in the 'sticks'. They used to swear in Pennsylvania Dutch, like 'Donne wetter.' They had words that we did not know what they were.

This was over fifty years ago.

When I was quite young I was steaming back of Terre Hill and a strong east wind came toward the farmer's straw stack. I told him to get a screen to put on top of the stack as I did not want to burn it down. In about two hours I had to work hard to keep the steam. The screen was too tight. I did not know what was wrong and then it started to rain. I went home. When it got dry again I went back and then I saw what was wrong. I took the screen off, as the wind had changed. (It was dark when I had put the screen on.)

I was quite young when I started threshing. My job was to drop head blocks. We had a Rumely 28 thresher along with a 40 HP Oil Pull. That Oil Pull was in the belt for years. It was the heavy weight. We could burn not quite water with coal oil. If you did not add water it would ping. Then you turned on water until it ran smooth. We would start at 7 and run till dark in summer.

One of the threshing guys got smart. I was dropping headers and he was carrying wheat. He passed me in back and then he would pull my straw hat down. I got fed up. I robbed his new straw hat and threw it in the baler. Boy! We had it for a while. Every 50 bushels he would feed the thresher then he tried to choke my baler but it did not work for him. Then my brother and I had to bale hay out of the hay mound. We had a big baler. This was 100 acre farm. He sold one hay mound full. So he got a couple of fellows to throw the hay in the baler feeder. The hay was way above the feeder so they tried to choke us up. So I told my brothers, 'Let's show 'em that we can bale hay.' So we hollered, 'Come on you guys, throw it down.' They were both wringing wet and smelled like a mule. They were played out in two hours. I still did not cut a head block.

We were threshing at a farm where the flood water had backed in the wheat field and it was all under muddy water. Then when it dried the farmer cut the wheat and hauled it in his barn. When we threshed it, there was so much dust you could not see. We took turns going along the machine with a stick to find if the belts were still on. They got so they would jump off. We all had handkerchiefs over our noses and mouths.

Then one time a farmer had oats that were put in the barn too green. They got moldy. It was a blue dust. Most of us did not eat dinner and got sick. We always took 10 minutes break after meals to lay under a shade tree and smoke Camels. Then we or someone put a lighted stub in your back pocket. There were always a lot of neighbors helping then. After a while somebody would jump around and holler while everyone had a good laugh.