Trails And Treasures Of An Iron Man

Woods Bros. Thresher

Courtesy of William Lowden Box 74, Downs, Kansas 67437.

William Lowden

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Box 74 Downs, Kansas 67437

As I enjoy the letters the old timers write in IRON-MEN ALBUM, I thought I would try my luck either for it or the waste basket. Some boys want a dog or a pony but it seems I was interested in nothing but steam. When I heard the first steam thrasher, it was to thrash for a neighbor and I wanted to go with Dad but he knew that I'd be better off at home. As I heard him drive out of the yard, I grabbed my overalls and caught him down the road, missed my breakfast, so got home for breakfast at ten that night. The man running the Huber did not look back and as the farmer had pulled in behind him with the coal, he used both the wagon and the coal for steam.

The Burlington railroad went only a block from the school and as there were wooden shutters to keep the tramps out, the teacher kept mine shut so I wouldn't watch the engines go by. Her boyfriend was a brakeman on No. 5 and she raised her window and waved at him standing out on the vestibule. She got her man and I got to be an engineer, so guess she knew what she was doing.

Dad let me stay home the day we shelled. Mr. Shore was alone and as the ears were so big for a spring sheller, he showed me how to operate the injector on the twelve horse Westing-house so he could push feed them through. Don't think many are living now who ran a Westinghouse steamer.

Then I got a job hauling water and worked three days when the boss wanted to go home since it had rained a little. He told me to build a fire at eleven o'clock the next day and blow the whistle at noon so they would know that we were to thrash. It was one of those mornings when the smoke came out of the fire door and ash pan on the Huber. A man came along and noticed the water was dripping and shut the bottom valve (unknown to me) on the water glass. I had asked the engineer how so much water got into the glass the day before. He said that it was expansion and since the glass was full, I knew it was the reason I didn't get steam, so I opened the blow-off. But, it was still to the top of the glass. I had enough steam to whistle as he said, but let out some more water. Then, when the mud came, I knew what I had done. I pulled the fire and shut up everything tight. The only harm done was the soft plug and since he had one on hand, we started to thrash at one-thirty.

A near neighbor moved away and didn't want to take the thrasher with him and wanted to sell it to me. I was 19 and had just bought horses and implements to farm with. I said I couldn't buy it but he said to take it and send him $700.00 when I got the money. When I got started, another neighbor wanted to sell me a nearly new Reeves No. 12 corn sheller the same way. I would like to hear from any old timer who had a No. 12 Reeves as it would shell sixty bushels a minute. The first job was on a 1000 acre farm and all the cribs were full of corn; when it rained, we shelled. Wheat, oats and corn finished, I had the cash and sent it to them.

When I was a kid, Dad read in the paper about the boy that was thrown into the cylinder by the feeder man. We lived near Lincoln, Nebraska at that time. Since I had experience with threshers, a man named Ruth told me about it here at Downs, Kansas and said that he had gone to school with the boy. Then I was in Osborne (Kans.) and some old men were sitting by the bank. I asked if they had heard of it (the accident) and one fellow jumped up and said he had been there and seen it happen and had also gone to school with the boy. He said if I would take him, he would show me the exact spot. He said he saw them hang the feeder man to the straw carrier and they burnt the machine up on the spot.

I had all I could do with the 16 hp TT Geiser grading roads, thrashing and shelling, 14 silos to fill, then when the corn was all shucked, I went to work in the Burlington shops at Have-lock (Lincoln, Neb. now). The wages were not too good but the experience was worth a lot in repairing my own machinery. There the superintendent said to either stay in or stay out. The next winter I worked in the roundhouse at Lincoln. I had worked two weeks and George Shrank, who I worked with, got to be foreman. He told me I was to be inspector. I said to give the job to a man who had been there seven years but he said he had to have a man he could trust so I had to do it. I found out what he meant several times.

The night inspector OK'ed a passenger engine just as I got to work in the AM. I stopped the engineer from taking it out with the saddle broken from one corner to the other which could have made a bad spill. An engineer on No. 43 was bringing his engine back to the house, stopped and began to work me over for not reporting a cracked cylinder head. I told him it was just a leaky cylinder cock. I reported it but they didn't get it fixed on the high pressure cylinder. He asked how many cylinders I thought a locomotive had and I said the old ones had two but the new compound had four. I told him to oil the inside guides or he would burn the engine up. He offered me two cigars if I told no one. I didn't. He had been over there so long. .but OK now.

Soon Shrank told me to get some parts at the storeroom and put them in the cab of No. 43 engine and stay with them until I gave them to the roundhouse foreman and then to help him out. The day foreman sent for me and told me I was to work days which I would have rather done. That night, as I looked for a room, the mechanic I worked with grabbed me as 43 was waiting to take us to Broken Bow (Neb.) since an engine was broken down there. I told him I was too tired to go but he was bigger than me so I had to go. When we got back the next day, I had been 96 hours without sleep. I had a close call, I was so sleepy. I paid no attention as they had left the train east of town to get water and coal and made a run for the hill west. I stepped down from our engine cab in front of the oncoming train. The engineer reported me killed when he got to Alliance (Neb.). I still don't know what saved me.

Another close call happened the next year. Havelock and Lincoln were on prohibition that year. Some Greeks were working to build the new shops there, took a hand car and went to Greenwood to get beer. I was walking on the track to go to Church and they asked me to ride and help pump. The one facing east said a train was coming. Another said it was a freight since it was throwing smoke so high. I thought it was too. A Greek jumped on the brake and said too close, too close. Some were tipping the handcar to the right and some left. I hollered this way and we just made it by a second. It was a special train. A man in Chicago offered $15,000 to get himself to Denver before his ailing son died there. If our car would have been hit, there sure would have been some talk among officials. The C B & Q bought a lot of the biggest locomotives made at that time (1906) and since I only weighed 110 lbs. I was rejected as a fireman. I gave up railroading.

I pulled an elevator grader til time to thrash. Then after I had finished my regular run, I got another 14,000 bu. job. The clutch pinion dogs were worn out so badly, I couldn't go for-word, just back up. I started to Lincoln to trade and had a steep hill to go down. I thought the brake would hold but it took fire so had a runaway. Guess I was doing about 10 miles an hour. I had a two wheel tender which made steering worse but by good luck, I hit the center of the bridge. I got a new Geiser, a real good engine.

A man was repairing my old TT to take out to thrash the next summer. I asked the agent if he cared if I told the man the TT had to have a new cross head and piston rod. He said he could tighten it up to hold. I said 'Well, I've told you.' He got it home and thrashed two hours when the piston cylinder head and hold the cylinder went up to see how the separator was doing.

In 1912 the wheat looked like a failure around Lincoln. The advance feeder wasted wheat, so I ordered a Garden City, as there was such poor prospects. I asked them to cancel the order. He said he wouldn't and for me to get on my motorcycle and go to Fairbury. He had pulled a machine out of there. The neighbors were wild since they had no one to do their threshing. They had 50 bu. wheat and the machine gone since the owner had died. I stopped at the Sneider place just before I got to Fairbury. They had 500 acres of good wheat and wouldn't let me go. They got the whole neighborhood for me to thresh. The oldest boy would tend the separator and they furnished the tank team and boy to keep me there.

I went back to get the machine and got up at 2 AM, fired up and drove the nine miles to Lincoln and got loaded on a car. I was tired and laid down on a baggage truck. Two big cops came and asked what I was doing there. I said that I was waiting for my train to pick me up. They said there was no train at that time of night. I told them the agent said there was. They said they knew better and said that I was going with them, so I went. They asked where I was going and I said to Fairbury to thrash grain. One said 'Is that your machine on the car?' and I told them I had just finished loading it. They asked why I didn't tell them. I said that it was too hot for me to go back into the Depot. Then the rains came at Lincoln. The wheat came out and made 15 bu. It was so wet that they had to stack it so I did all of my old run when I got back. It made a big year for me after all.

In 1916, I traded the outfit for a 30-60 Aultman-Taylor and went to Chappell, Neb., bought a half-section of land and broke sod with the A.T. The salesman came out to sell me a separator but I wanted to quit thrashing since I was now married and my wife didn't want any more of it. When it rained, the crew and ranch help made 85 men to cook for. The salesman came down in price and I told him to come back the next day and I would let him know. Since we would have 600 acres the next year and I got a nice run northeast, I said that we would take it. I got it home and one of the neighbors said that Nispel was bringing in a big machine and they were all letting him do theirs, so had no run.

A neighbor from the south came on Sunday PM and asked where I was going to thrash. I told him how it was and he asked if I would thrash for him. I told him to be ready in the morning if he could. The separator was a 33-56. He got ten racks and lots of help from east and south and the next job was on the highest spot. When they saw the straw flying, they just kept coming. Nispel's men celebrated the last night before prohibition and thrashed a few loads of oats so the farmers could plow if it rained. Thrashed two loads of wheat and threw a rod through the case of the Flower City. Nispel wouldn't spend $1500 to fix it.

The neighbors came to see if I would still thrash for them. I said I would but that it would be six weeks or more. They asked if I had another job after Olie's since I had just moved out there. I said I didn't know the farmers but Nordel had lived there all of his life and he ought to know them. I showed him my book and he said that I would be thrashing until the snow falls. I had all of his old run and Swanson's too. They asked me if they stacked, if I would thrash for them. And since it was during the first World War, I couldn't get a separator man and I had to run it alone. The only season that I ever thrashed over 100,000 bushels! The morning that I pulled in, all I could see was the top of the elevator above the snow.

About the last steamer I ran was an NC 18 engine on a 16 boiler. They wanted me to pull the separator with the Aultman-Taylor but it was near Thanksgiving time and I would have to drain the radiator. I asked what they had been pulling it with and they said the Nichols and Shephard wouldn't pull it. I went over and saw it was in top shape. I said I would make it pull a 32 x 56 Huber. The trouble was that the teeth were more than half gone. The Turkey Red Straw was covered with rust that you could make into a rope. I reversed of the cylinder teeth while I fired up in the morning. That helped a lot. I was running after dark and choked the cylinder. The separator man said he cleaned it out. He said for me to start. When I did, he said to stop again. I asked what was wrong now and he answered that the separator didn't start. So you can tell how hard it was for the separator to pull in that hard straw.

I often think how well THE IRON MEN is named when I think of the Graves at Chappell (Neb.) pulling 12 bottoms, 2 disks and 2 drills with their 110 Case with a man walking ahead with a lantern to allow the operator to see the furrow since it was during a bad snow blizzard.

We made a mistake when we junked an undermounted 65 hp Star engine in the second world war. My twin boys and son-in-law farm several thousand acres and run eleven combines during harvest. Although I am 85 years young this summer, I still make a spare.

I have been retired since 1950 and attend the reunions each year. I have been superintendent and taught Sunday School for 65 years and still have a class. I have a pretty gold engraved watch they presented me when I was placed on the honor roll after thirty years as elder in the Downs Christian Church. The young men I grew up with said Bill would die a young man working so hard. But, I am the only one left, happy but I miss my old pals.

The longest funeral I ever heard of took place a week ago; my hired girl went to it and hasn't got back yet.