Steam on a Dare

Aultman-Taylor Engine

Would you believe this in 1970? (With story Steam on a Dare). Courtesy of Raymond A. Brubacher, 1706 Mayhew Drive, Wheaton, Maryland 20902.

Raymond A. Brubacher

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1706 Mayhew Drive, Wheaton, Maryland 20902

Readers of this publication may recall that in the March-April 1970 issue, there was published an account of a certain Aultman-Taylor that chose with human assistance to literally have a real 'blast' on New Years Eve by going calling. At that time, this writer who also drew up the account of the midnight revelry was sufficiently light headed enough to make a friendly wager with the engine's owner Billy Hall, of Burtonsville, Maryland. This wager to drive the engine eight miles down main state highways and park it in the driveway of the home of the daughter and grandson of the engine's original owner must go down in steam traction history as certainly one of the most hairbrained, idiotic, and most thoroughly enjoyable capers ever to involve a steam engine.

The Aultman-Taylor was originally purchased by Joseph Miller of White Oak, Maryland in the Silver Spring area in 1912. The engine was disposed of at auction in the early fifties and was subsequently obtained by Bill Hall and today remains active on his farm in Burtonsville, eight miles north of White Oak. On Tuesday May 12th 1970 I was awakened at 7 a.m. by a phone call from Billy and his only words were. 'You got your checkbook ready? We've got steam up and we're going to White Oak.'

Still unbelieving that he was at all serious, but knowing better than to doubt him completely after the New Year's Eve caper, I arranged to take the day off, pulled six hundred feet of motion picture film from the freezer plus rolls of still film, wolfed down breakfast and arrived on the Hall plantation by 8:30 a.m. With Bill was his able bodied assistant engineer, Eddie Adams, and both wore grins that were of a cross between the leacherous and the sadistic. After all, a check was riding on the success of the mission and due to the fact that the engine's steel cleated wheels have been illegal for road usage since the late thirties, this writer was perhaps wearing an equally sadistic grin. Being equipped with a Dodge RT I felt that a quick getaway could be made in the event of trouble with the local constabulary. When boiler pressure reached 125 p.s.i. departure was made.

At this point some mention should be made about ultimate destination for the mission. The target was 1316 Milestone Drive, White Oak, Md. and the victims knew absolutely nothing of the impending visit by the green, black and red monster that many years before had worked on the very same ground it was supposedly to return to on that day. Only the Miller's young son Doug, an ardent steam enthusiast knew that when he returned home from school that after noon there might be a visitor in the driveway and he kept the secret well.

When the engine pulled onto old route 29 to begin its journey, it was soon evident that macadam and cleats do not mix well on a hot day. Almost immediately the engine became the star attraction for many motorists who took refuge by the sides of the road in order to view the passing behemoth. Passing one modern subdivision we encountered a man busily applying a new coat of paint to the trim around a front bay window of his home. Having his back turned to us he was not aware of our impending presence until true to form, our engine owner let loose with both whistles. For some reason our itinerant painter suddenly put a streak of white paint diagonally across the window glass, but fortunately had the presence of mind to run into the house and in a second was back with a camera firing away at us. Thank the heaven's above that that was all he was firing at us.

By noon, the engine was halfway to its destination and for some strange reason we had not encountered the law either coming or going. After a twenty minute pit stop for greasing and other general checking, we again pulled onto the road.

Paint Branch Elementary school was having noon recess and to say we caused quite a stir as we passed is an understatement. The sight of the engine was one that most of the young inhabitants of the school had never before seen and the writer took a few minutes to inform two of the teachers just what the children were seeing.

At 1:30 the final lap of the journey was to be negotiated. This was the point where old route 29 dissolves into a four lane dual highway which passes the Miller residence parallel to Milestone Drive. This is the point where a cocky, grinning Billy Hall still asked and chided whether I really wanted to go through with it. Since my answer at this point was somewhat insignificant and incoherent based on the disbelief that they had gotten this far, they proceeded to make the turn onto the shoulder of the road. One can only imagine what the occupants of the automobiles whizzing by at 70 miles per hour thought of the smoke belching heap of iron and bolts pounding relentlessly down the highway at all of three miles per hour!

It was at a bridge spanning a branch of the Patuxent River that Mrs. Miller working in her garden received the initial inclination that she was to have a visitor. The Miller home being only about a third of a mile from the bridge made it possible for her to hear the whistle blasts which by this time were coming fast and furious.

At 1:50 p.m. a dazed and unbelieving Mrs. Miller opened the double gates of the driveway permitting the engine sanctuary from a county police cruiser, the only arm of the law we encountered on the entire journey. Mr. Miller was called home from work and by the time Doug arrived home from school the back yard was a mass of activity from the onslaught by the neighborhood curious. Mr. Miller's feeling on the situation was 'Well, we have a large Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in the recreation room, a collection of clocks and now to complete it all, a steam engine. What else could you want!'

When the engine was returned to its home in Burtonsville by trailer truck, the author had over an hour's worth of motion picture film to document this most unusual event. Future plans call for a visit to the White House! What would you care to bet that the indefatigable Billy Hall won't bring it to YOUR HOUSE!