Steam Cream

Steam cream made possible by Gaar-Scott Model steam traction engine providing power to White Mountain ice cream freezer


| May 2013



PA Steam

This steam engine and threshing machine were photographed about a mile from the farm owned by Terry Spahr’s uncle, David Dobbs, in Upper Allen Township, Cumberland County, Pa.

Photo Courtesy Terry Spahr

I’m too young to remember the days when steam traction engines and threshing crews roamed the farms of southeastern Pennsylvania.

I do remember threshing crews, but tractors with gasoline engines had long since put Case, Rumely and Frick engines out to pasture. Instead of two hours or more in the morning to light the fire to get steam pressure just to move the lumbering giants, a crank or starter button started the tractor for belt work.

But steam traction engines are still around. Full-size, table-top and operating scale models are there if you look for them. At shows you can see them, talk to the engineers, smell the smoke and watch the amazing power of steam.

Flattened pennies

My earliest experience with steam was as a young lad in Cumberland County, Pa., right between the Pennsy (otherwise known as the Pennsylvania) and Reading railroads. I was so close to both in Shepherdstown that I could ride my bike to them. The Reading passed right through my uncle’s dairy farm in nearby Bowmansdale and afforded an iron bridge overhead and an underpass beneath the thundering trains hauling coal from mines in West Virginia. If you’ve not had the opportunity to stand on an open iron bridge or under a stone abutment underpass as a steam locomotive passes, you’ve missed something scary, smoky and awesome!

As youngsters, we did it all. We stared wide-eyed from the iron bridge as the locomotive approached, belching black smoke. Sometimes there’d be two locomotives pulling the grade, with what seemed like miles of coal cars. We waved to the engineers from the side of the tracks – waiting for our pennies to reappear, flattened by the heavy wheels – and then waved to the conductor in the caboose as he went by.

Rich cream and snow

Homemade ice cream is another fond memory of my childhood in the 1940s. Mom’s recipe was simple but rich and creamy with a taste not forgotten in the passing years. Our milk was the best. “Golden Guernsey” is what Harrisburg Dairies called it. Few breeds of milk cows yield butterfat content like the Guernsey. Uncle Dave and Aunt Katie, owners of a farm named “Fertility,” were our source of milk twice a week.