Steam Memories

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Rocky Comfort, Missouri 64861

I started in 1908 at the age of 11 years on my way down the steam trail by firing a 16 HP N & S on my father's sawmill. From that time on, my life was associated with sawing, threshing, filling silos, and the old corn shredder (in which I lost a finger).

Everything did not always run smoothly with those old machines, so I will mention some of the hazards and problems that do occur in the profession.

We had a 32 x 54 Wood Case separator that was in need of repair in several places. One of these areas was the deck over the straw rack. While I was not seriously injured, I received many little bruises and punctured skin; and, this with the chaff, I was sore and itching for several days, for I had broken through the deck while threshing.

Before we got around to making any repairs, a tornado passed through the area to the east of us (a common thing in Kansas), and hit another Case rig. It tore the separator loose from the engine, rolled it over and damaged the weigher, feeder and blower beyond repair. This was an all-steel separator and, as you might expect, the frame was badly twisted and distorted. But, my father bargained for it and we brought it home. With jacks, bars and heavy chains, we finally got the old hull into its original shape. We then transferred the feeder, weigher and blower from the old one and everything was okay. We used this machine for many years. (I am reminded of the saying: 'Poor people have poor ways.')

The year 1916 was a dry one in eastern Kansas! We had an early harvest and threshing season. We threshed 45 days without interruption and finished about the middle of August. I then left with another thresherman for Canada. We ended up at a town by the name of Lougheed in Alberta. As I remember, it was 60 miles, more or less, east of Camrose. This was all new country then the older settlers had been there about six years.

I found a job shocking wheat for a man by the name of Robert Broad-foot. I could never forget this big Scotsman about 6' 6' and what a man! He and a man (I believe his name was Frazier) owned a threshing rig, a new 17 HP Sawyer Massey engine and S-M thresher. I had hoped that I might find an engine, but I learned that I had to have a license. I did not have one and at 19 years of age, I probably could not qualify. But, I had an unusual experience. My 'pardner' tended separator and I took the job as fireman. I had never fired a straw burner; and, the engineer even though he had fired for about 20 years had never operated an engine. I felt so sorry for the man when on the first job he could not line up and put the engine in the belt. He finally had me do it for him. Now it was his time to help me! I was not able to keep up steam, so he taught me how. Soon we became real partners. I put the engine in the belt at every setting, and any time I had trouble with the firing, he took over. Isn't life wonderful at times?

I have enough memories of this time and place that it would fill a book, but lest this become boring, I will close this Canadian episode by saying that my 'pardner' had a brother living about eight miles south of Lougheed and about one mile north of Goose Lake. Most of these farms were known by ready-made farms as the Canadian Pacific R.R. had put up buildings, drilled wells, fences, etc., and sold on long-term bases. It was much easier than homesteading.

We lived in Anderson County, Kansas, where by grandfather came shortly after the Civil War. With all of our various operations, we were always limited on power for all this work had been done with a 12 HP Case engine. Not long after my Canadian trip, dad bought an 18 HP undermounted Avery. With this, we had enough power for all operations which brings to mind an incident that happened shortly after we acquired this engine.

We had a thresher friend that lived about 15 miles from us. He had a Case outfit consisting of a 20 HP engine and 32' separator. In crossing a creek about 1/2 mile from his home they broke a gear on the engine right in the middle of the ford. As this blocked the road, he was anxious to have it moved, so he got us to bring our Avery down to see if we could pull his machine out. When we reached the spot, the owner, after getting a good hookup between the two engines, cautioned me to first see if I could take out enough slack so he could pull the pin as the bank was fairly steep and the Case engine was riding herd against the separator. But, being the smart alec that I was (about 20), I told him to stand clear until I tried it. Sure enough, I discovered that I could pull the entire outfit, so I never stopped. He jumped on his engine to steer it and soon we had his outfit parked in his own yard and the road cleared for travel. I have several times since thought how foolish this was suppose I had stripped a gear on our engine? Well, I got a good scolding for this and rightly so.

Like all other steam operators of that time, many things happened that were not so funny, but as the saying goes, 'the Lord watches over fools and children,' and I was no longer a child. Even though it may throw a bad light on me, I am thankful every day that I have this divine protection for after all, there is not much difference between the two titles.