PIONEERING THE WEST

A big fat flat footed Reeves

A big fat flat footed Reeves on the Summit dividing the Malad Valley and Curlew Valley, Idaho. L. K. Wood on the side tank. See Mr. Wood's article.

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I was a lad of 17 summers. Sweeten brothers had ordered a 32 horse-power Reeves steam traction engine with full plowing equipment which was due to arrive in Malad City, Idaho, the nearest railroad to their ranch in Curlew Valley, a distance of 35 miles over a rugged mountain range.

We drove from Mendon, Utah, our home town, in a white top buggy and arrived in the terminus town at dusk. I did not stop for supper but rushed down to the station to see if the Reeves engine was there. Sure enough, she occupied the big flat car on which were several big boxes and a water tank all stamped, 'Reeves and Company, Columbus, Ind.'

To say I was thrilled would be expressing it mildly. I didn't sleep much that night and before day break, I was down to the railroad siding opening crates and placing the shiny brass boiler fixtures in their respective places and by the time Mr. Evans, the factory expert, could eat his breakfast and get down there I had her all ready for filling and firing-up.

I watched with eagerness the steam gauge raise and kept up a slow fire, oiled all the moving parts and filled hand oilers with cup grease as well as using what waste I had to shine up the pretty boiler trimmings. It was indeed an inspiring sight and presented a dream to my boyish ideals. I longed to pull the throttle and draw the whistle cord.

The others were busily engaged building a run-way of wood ties to roll the monstrous beauty off the flat car onto Mother Earth in the wilds of Idaho where the red man had but a few years previous held sway, and the coyotes howled and mountain lions ran at rampage unmolested except by some disturbance of a lonely hunter. The steam had now risen to 40 pounds and I announced the pressure by a gentle touch of the chime whistle cord and was instructed by Mr. Evans to open the globe valve and to warm up the cylinders as well as the valve oil. After a few moments of suspense, I gently opened the throttle and Oh! Boy! did she start off nice. --A little siss, alternate blows from cylinder cocks and she was rolling the large fly-wheel to a perfect balance. The sudden impulse of exhausting steam livened the fire and the steam crept up to 100 pounds pressure. On inquiry, I learned from Mr. Evans the safety valve was set at 150 pounds. Everything was now in readiness for the descent.

I watched with a heart of rapture and impulse of emotion with many other on-lookers, who had gathered to see the first Reeves engine drop or western soil. As the factory expert carefully engaged the gears and the drivers slowly rolled the huge monster of harnessed steam down onto the ground. It was really inspiring to see her safely landed and we were soon turned in a direction of Westward, Ho!

The culverts, and frail bridges were crushed like straw beneath its heavy load, but only one disrupted our course of journey when we went down in the Malad Canal. We were three days getting out and on dry sod. The shiny trimmings, chocolate brown, black and yellow glow were terribly smeared and soiled with that Malad white clay. A rain storm also added to our adversity, but the sun finally came out brilliant and we were gradually ascending the summit of the great Wasotch range which separated the valley of Malad from the Curlew.

What an accomplishment to reach the Zenith -- the air was clear after the heavy April showers. We could see in the far distance on either side of the summit. To the east, pioneer villages stood in place of the recent savages hunting ground (founded by the hearty Mormon colonists). To the west, a vast purple hue as far as the eye could reach (of open space) and a few scattered homesteads. A land of sage brush and grease wood yet to be inhabited and pioneered. The main route of the subdued Indian from the Washakie reservation to the Fort Hall. Some outrages and massacres by the stealthful uncivilized natives were yet common stories related by the early settlers and the cattle kings. The Bar M and Mule Shoe suffered some losses by the savages as well as from ferocious beasts, as they tried to occupy the entire valley of Curlew and Bannach on the north, with their great herds. Some difficulties between the early settlers also arose with the Eastern magnates, as the settlers tried to homestead and endeavored to convert a wilderness into a flowing grain field.

A shrill blast of triumph sounded from the chime whistle as I was permitted to pull the whistle cord, on reaching the summit. It also was a signal of defiance to the savage cattle kings and ferocious beasts who were yet endeavoring to stave off civilization as long as possible.

We had the distinction of bringing West of the range the first modern steam traction engine (a portable Ames engine and boiler having been transported by horse teams in the late 70's to operate a saw-mill). We felt justly entitled to our new accomplishment.

The whistle sent the coyotes, mountain lions, bob cats and reindeer back into their respective places of rendezvous. A few pack trains of Indian families perhaps were frightened with their characteristic superstition. The Herefords and spotted cattle threw their tails over their backs and went bellowing to places of refuge as- we slowly descended the western slopes into the valley of wilderness. Plowing with steam power and firing with sage proved a great success and a vast amount of heavy sage brush was broken up and the land cleared to provide for a field of flowing grain as a result of modern equipment (which followed the same summer). I got some real experience as an operator of the Reeves engine and was thrilled beyond expression, enjoying every moment. Even firing up this engine before day-break was perfectly agreeable to the Sweeten' boys.

But alas! How soon was I to retrace my steps and return back to Bannach as my elder brother drove up and demanded my services on the ranch, notwithstanding my pleadings to remain and the faithful promises of the Sweeten boys to pay me well for my work. But to no avail, I was soon headed north ward beside my brother leaving behind me the joy and ambition of a youthful career.

Soon I was landed at the Bannock homestead to follow a foot burner (a walking plow), a job to occupy my time the remainder of the summer. What a contrast to the 24' disc plows the big Reeves drew.