Steam Engine's Talk' Music to Their Ears

Pioneer Engineer Club Holds Reunion

Steam-powered saw

''BUZ SAWYER''-A member of the Pioneer Engineer Club of Indiana guides a log as it is cut by a steam-powered saw. A sawmill at the exhibition of old steam farm equipment was run from a power takeoff on a steam tractor. (AP Wire photo)

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(The following write up was sent to us by an unnamed member of the Pioneer Engineers Club of Indiana -I wrote the Newspaper The Muncie Star and they very generously gave us their permission to use this article in our magazine. Thank you, Larry Shorbe, City Editor for your answer and permission.)


RUSHVILLE (AP) The sign said, 'All Boilers Safety Inspected.' It was reassuring.

Treading the ground of the hollow were hissing, creaking, well-worn steam engines, the machines which did America's heavy farm work until a quarter century ago.

The occasion was the 20th annual reunion of the Pioneer Engineer Club of Indiana. Each summer the club stages an old-time threshing exhibition typical of dozens throughout the nation.

WISPS OF SMOKE and the soft 'chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff' of the engines drifted up from the hollow. The air was filled with the hot smell of wood and coal smoke, lubricating oil and boiler compound.

In the middle of the hollow, the scent of fresh sawdust mingled with the smell of machinery. One of the old engines was driving an old portable sawmill. The men heaved logs and cut lumber as they did several decades ago, but this was for fun.

Nearby, another engine was driving a. huge, paddle-wheel type fan, merely to put a load on the machine so the spectators could hear it 'talk' through its smoke stack.

'We love to hear an engine talk,' said Ray Jones, Sunman, president of the club the last 11 years. 'It's music to our ears.'

There were 19 big engines in all, including a steam roller. The club spent $3,000 to haul the heavy machines from their owners' farms to the exhibition site.

Here and there among the big engines were the miniatures one-eighth to one-half-size models built by men who love steam but haven't the space or the money for the old-timers.

The highlight of the day was the parade, when all the engines strutted their stuff.

BERMAN WARNER of R.R. 1, Anderson, offered a ride on one of the biggest engines there, his 1920 Minneapolis 24-horsepower unit. Warner worked on such an engine 40 years ago.

James Helsley, Middletown, a thresherman and farmer most of his life, served as Warner's fireman and assistant engineer.

Warner steered the 14-ton giant, constantly cranking the cast-boo wheel back and forth. Helsley handled the throttle, clutch and reverse lever.

The engine moved away smoothly and quickly reached crusing speed of about two miles per hour. Steel-tired wheels flattened bumps in the soil. Vibration from the huge gears driving the wheels made the entire machine hum. Heat of the sun beat down from above, and the heat of the engine seeped up from below.

Each engine paused while an announcer introduced it and its owner.

'Blow your whistle,' he commanded.

Warner jerked the whistle chain down all the way. The shriek vibrated the leaves on nearby trees. Children and adults held their ears. Toddlers broke into tears.

After the parade came the threshing demonstration. Paul Alyea, Greenfield, lined up his Indiana-built Keck-Gonner-man engine and separator. A dozen helpers pitched the cut grain onto the chute leading into the separator, and the threshed grain and straw were blown out separate chutes.

CARL McCLOUD, 76, Amo, set up a similar demonstration with his' half-size model engine and separator. Young boys pitched the cut grain, and a miniature straw stack grew behind the machine.

Paul Cole of R.R. 1, Morristown, was another of the model engine exhibitors. As a boy, he worked as a fireman on his father's 1917 Baker engine. It took him seven years to build a model.

Why did he build it?

'I've always been fascinated with Steam,' he said.

What happens to the engines when the generation of old-time thresherman fades away?

'A few younger men are entering the club,' he said. 'But whether there'll be enough to keep us going . . . Well, us eld men are a little skeptical.'

But McCloud had a different idea.

'I used to think we'd play out,' he said. 'But I don't know, now. This is a lot bigger than it was when we got Started.'

A dentist and an undertaker have joined the club and have purchased restored engines from old-time threshermen. The young faces watching the engines couldn't be less fascinated than the ones of yore. And quite a few teenagers were operating their father's machines.