The Good Old Days Revisited


Forerunner of this 1875 saw-mill were destroyed by pit sawyers who feared the loss of their jobs.

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Recently, a very good friend let me borrow a book from his technical library. It was Moore's Artizan's Guide, published in 1875. It had an interesting sub-title as well: Everybody's Assistant, embracing nearly four thousand new and valuable Receipts, Tables &c. I thought that it would be nice to share parts of it with you for there is some good philosophy applicable to today's world and some interesting receipts for the steam enthusiast.

The writing style of that day makes for interesting reading too. For example, this early version of a handbook goes on to say, in its very long title, [used] 'in Almost Every Branch Of Business Connected With Civilized Life, From The Household To The Manufactory.' all of this was available through the mail for the princely sum, for the day, of $2 which proves that good publications are cost intensive, the journal in which this appears being the exception.

As we all grow older there is the tendency to think in the past and to reminisce about the 'good old days.' Let's see what Moore's had to say on this subject in 1875.

'Occasionally we listen to a great deal of rant regarding the beatitudes of 'the good old times,' during the lives of our forefathers. These times proved very disastrous to the enterprising Dutchman, who, in 1663 started the first saw-mill in England, which he was finally obliged to abandon, and fly to save his life. In 1767 another saw-mill, at Lime-house, near London, was demolished by a mob of sawyers, who considered that their business would be ruined to a dead certainty if things were allowed to go on.'

Really, things haven't changed that much, have they? That was the beginning of the industrial revolution. We are seeing essentially the same thing today at the beginning of the technological revolution.

When it comes to operating a saw mill there has to be a supply of logs brought in from the forest. In 1875 this was strenuous work carried out by strong men with hearty appetites. Moore's had a word for 'Quantity and Cost of Supplies For Horses and Lumbering Crews In The Woods.' According to the records of Messrs. Gilmour's mill on the Gatineau near Ottawa, Canada, a span of horses would need 51 pounds of oats and 40 pounds of hay per day working in the woods. The allowance in pounds per day for each workman was as follows: flour, 1.80; pork, 1.22; beef, 0.85; beans, 0.33; fish, 0.12; onions, 0.13 and potatoes, 0.47 for a total of 4.92 pounds per day.

'On making inquiry with reference to the item of molasses, so largely used by our lumbering friends in New Brunswick and Maine, the answer returned was that owing to the heavy cost of the commodity, it was entirely omitted from the list of supplies.'

In doing some research recently for a story on life at sea today I found a formula that was basically similar but added up to 6 pounds per seaman.

Either we eat more today with lower metabolism or those old guys were hungry. More likely, though, our diets are lower today in protein and higher in carbohydrates. Interesting comparison. Oh, by the way, I forgot to add that the British seaman, even today, gets his ration of lime juice preserved in rum.

In 1875, when Moore's was written, we must remember, boiler pressures were even lower than in the era of the traction engine. They were designed for 60 psig and Moore's suggests that the boiler be run at a high pressure such as 90 psig, to allow for steam line pressure drop. The spring loaded safety pop valve, though available, was not mentioned; however, there were some safety instructions to the engineer upon starting his day's work with a weighted lever type valve.

STEAM FIRE ENGINES are or should be constructed with steel boilers and blast tubes, copper tubes and large water spaces together with a good fit out of gauges, safety valves, injectors, &c., with facility of getting up steam in from 6 to 10 minutes from cold water,

'Before lighting the fire in the morning, raise your safety valve [weight], brushing away all the ashes and dust which may impair its free action, and if it leaks steam grind it on its seat with fine emery or grind-stone grit.' Reading this served to remind me that even today there are simple home remedies for mechanical problems.

Recently, while being a volunteer engineer on an antique diesel locomotive, I found that the feed valve to the automatic brake system was not controlling brake pipe pressure. It turned out that the brass seat was in need of lapping. We had no valve grinding compound available on a Sunday morning. What to do? A bit of mechanic's paste hand soap containing fine Italian pumice worked very well.

That brings us to a useful receipt from Moore's. 'Composition For Covering Boilers, &c: Road scrapings, free from stones, 2 parts; cow manure, gathered from the pasture, 1 part; mix thoroughly, and add to each barrowful of the mixture 6 lbs of fire clay; 1/2 lb. of flax shoves or chopped hay, and 4 ozs. teased hair. It must be well mixed and chopped; then add as much water as will bring it to the consistency of mortar, the more it is worked the tougher it is. It may either be put on with the trowel or daubed on with the hand, the first coat about 1 inch thick. When thoroughly dry, another the same thickness, and so on, three inches is quite enough, but the more the better. Let each coat be scored like plaster, to prevent cracks, the last coat light and smooth, so as to receive paint, whitewash, &c.'


Then there is 'To Prevent Incrustation In Boilers. 1. Charcoal has a great affinity for any thing that causes scale or incrustation in boilers. That made from hard wood is the best, broken in lumps of to inch in size, and the dust sifted out. Two bushels of this will generally protect a boiler of 30 horse-power for 3 weeks when running, after which the old coal should be removed and fresh coal used.'

The charcoal treatment may seem a bit strange in today's world; however, item 2 in the instructions is definitely the forerunner of the patent boiler compounds that were peddled engine room to engine room by traveling salesmen when today's older steam man was just starting out. See if you agree.

'2. Throw into the tank or reservoir from which your boiler is fed, a quantity of rough bark, in the piece, such as tanners use, sufficient to turn the water a brown color;... 3. Add a very small quantity of muriate of ammonia, about 1 lb. for every 1,500 or 2,000 gals. of water evaporated. It will have the effect of softening and disintegrating the carbonate of lime and other impurities deposited by the water during evaporation.'

Tannin and tannic acid were and are old favorites in boiler water treatment. These along with sodium hexa- or meta-phosphate (remember Oakite?) were the water treatment man's stock in trade.

Studying something like Moore's Artizan's Guide (price $2) and thinking of its technology in terms of today's technology, it is amazing to note how far we have come in just 100 years. The Industrial Revolution, as a term, refers to the period of English history from, roughly, 1750 to 1850 in which there were extensive changes taking place in the economic structure of their country from an agricultural and commercial base to modern industrialism. Much of that change was brought about by developments in steam power in which James Watt stands at the forefront. The development of the little transistor in 1948 by Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley is said to be the keystone to the technological revolution that we are now into. History can give us perspective.