The Fascination Of Steam Power!

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Age 81, 304 Glover Drive, Longview, Texas 75601.

It has been said that 'steam is a slow power' in comparison with electricity and other sources of energy. But it can be said also that it is sure power, and far more fascinating than other powers. Those who operate machines which have push-button devices thrill at their operation as do those who generate steam and operate it by hand. One old retired locomotive 'hogger' (engineer) put it this way: 'One actually ran steam locomotives whereas diesel-electric locomotives run themselves, practically.'

First, there is always the thrill of 'firing up a steam boiler' which generates the steam. As your fire gets hotter and hotter the old boiler begins to sizzle, then to growl, within her 'innards,' and you know it won't be long till this noise will end and steam will begin to hiss through expanded pipe joints. Soon you notice the steam gauge, which at first registered zero, begins to move on to higher and still higher numerals. You are well on your way in creating your power for the work ahead. Casting an eye in the glowing firebox you observe 'she' needs a little more feeding and you put more fire to 'her' then you give the water gauge a look to see how your water level is. If it's ok, and your steam pressure has reached the 120 PSI point, you reach for the whistle cord to announce that 'all things are ready' for the work ahead. There comes from the throat of a big chime whistle some of the most thrilling sounds a 'steam man' has ever heard. Unlike the sounds of the 'bull horns' on boats and diesel electric locomotives, it tends to thrill the soul, and melt everything in the vicinity!

If the 'whistle call' is from a cotton gin in the southland it tells the cotton farmers to bring their cotton along to be ginned. If it comes from a big saw mill in the deep forests it tells the workmen to great ready for the day's work, ahead. If it comes from a steam tractor just moved into a community to thrash wheat, all take notice and make ready for their turn. If it comes from a steam locomotive ready for action, you thrill at its wail only as you understand what is signaled by the number of blasts on the whistle.

Did you ever hear the story about the old Indian who named his son, 'SCREECHING - TRAIN WHISTLE'? Well when the Indian boy grew up he didn't like to be called 'Screeching-Train-Whistle' -he wanted a shorter name. So he appealed to the judge to get his name shortened. When the judge ask him, what he wanted his name 'shortened to', the young Indian folded his arms, and with piercing eyes, exclaimed 'TOOTS'. He got his request.

The thrill of 'running a steam engine' - and that expresses the idea well - comes when you crack the throttle valve and feel the steam do down into the cylinder (or cylinders). At first the action is slow, but as you increase the steam pressure things begin to pick up and shortly 'she' levels out - gets in her regular gait and if you will keep 'her' fed regularly and consistently with the proper fuel and water she will carry you through the day's work.

When I was about 16 years of age I fired a steam boiler at a saw mill deep in the heart of East Texas. It was a case of a boy trying to do a man's work. This old boiler had been tested to carry about 120 PSI. It had an old weight pop valve, and on the bar extending through the ball weight, it had the numbers from zero up to 2000 PSI, and the weight could be moved to whatever pressure you wanted. One day I had her fired up pretty well, for we were going to saw some real large logs into lumber. I decided we would need more than the allowed pressure, so I pushed the weight up to 165 PSI. Soon she begin to pop off, and it being a rather cold damp day, the steam went rushing down through the woods for 150 yards, or so it seemed to me. It made a terrific noise. I looked at the water gauge, and the water seemed to be a bit low. Then I turned on the injector and it was hot, wouldn't take water. I didn't know what to do on the spur of the moment so I went running to the man who owned the mill. I was shaking all, over, and he observed my excitement with a slight grin on his face. He remarked, 'You have her very hot', (he didn't notice that I had moved the pop of weight up to 165) then he went to the mill pond and filled a bucket full of cold water which he dashed on the hot injector, and it immediately took water. From this incident I learned what to do with hot injectors.

I have never operated a steam traction engine but have visited several shows and observed how the 'old timers' operated them. In the last 15 yrs I have been very successful in collecting some of the things belonging to the age of steam. Many, upon seeing what I have collected want to know what railroads I have worked for in my early days. My reply has been, 'I have never been a railroad man; but from my boyhood days up I have always been a railroad fan.'