Box 162, Cottonwood, Minnesota 56229
Can a Reeves threshing engine boiler make steam faster than the pop-valve can let it out? This question has puzzled me ever since the year 1915. But let me start at the beginning.
I was born in 1895 at Renville, Minnesota, and all my childhood I was interested in seeing wheels go around. when I was about 4 years old I got a Weeden toy steam engine with vertical boiler. My dad ran it for me, and I wonder who had the most fun, him or me? When I was about 6 years old, my uncle (mother's brother), bought a Gaar-Scott threshing rig. The engine was a return flue, with a mud-drum below the belly of the boiler, where the blow-off valve was located. I don't remember the separator, but it had a picture of a farmer with a straw-hat, with the name 'Happy Farmer'.
My dad ran the engine, and my uncle tended separator, and when not too far from home, I always hung around the engine. I remember one time when 'we' were threshing in Grandpa's yard, my dad acted a little excited and told me to get a stick of stove wood from the wood pile. I gave it to him and he bumped the side of the pop-valve, and then it popped-off O. K.
Along about this time those old German Preachers used to thunder at the congregation that Hell was a place of 'Fire and Brimstone'. Keep this in mind, because it fits in later in this story.
Of course I had to go to school like all the rest, so there is not much more to tell until I got old enough to 'work out'. In 1906 we moved to Marshall, Minnesota. For several years I worked on various farms around Marshall, but the nearest I got to threshing was hauling bundles. In 1914 I got the job as fireman at the Marshall Milling Company, furnishing the steam for an Allis Chalmers, 750 H.P., cross-compound, Corliss engine, turning out 1000 barrels of flour a day. Then came 1915, and through a friend of mine I got the job of 'Water-Monkey' out at Kidder, South Dakota.
This engine was a Reeves cross-compound, I think 32 H.P. It had a water tank ahead of each drive wheel, and also a larger water tank lying cross-wise on the back end of the platform, with a coal hopper on top of that. The engine also had a canopy just about full length, so the machinery was protected from the weather, as well as the engineer.
Every Sunday we washed the boiler. had to pump the old 'armstrong' pump while the engineer amused himself squirting water around where he thought it was needed, and I sometimes wondered if he needed it all. Anyway I was glad when it was done. Then make new gaskets and put in the hand-hole covers. Then some more pumping to fill the boiler, but this pumping was not so hard, as I did not have to pump against pressure.
We were brought up to 'Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy', and I sometimes wonder if we were Justified to clean that boiler on the Sabbath Day? The reasoning was that there were 14 bundle wagons, about 4 grain haulers, 2 spike pitchers, and separator man that would be idle if we washed the boiler on a work day. The engineer and water monkey be busy anyway, whenever it was done.
All along, the engineer was 'educating' me on the care and operation of a steam engine and boiler. The crown-sheet had to be kept clean of dirt and scale, and the fusible plug not allowed to scale over, the water legs kept clean to permit good circulation, so that the side sheets would not overheat and rupture. This included the water space above the fire-door, which was a likely space for dirt and scale to collect. All in all, the main idea was to keep the entire boiler clean. Besides all this I was told the use of the cylinder cocks, how they let the water out of the cylinders when starting a cold engine.
Now and then, between tanks of water, the engineer showed me how-to work the injector, even letting me turn it on several times. Right here I might say that this Reeves had a steam 'jet' or 'syphon' that was used to take the water out of the tank wagon and put it into the tanks on the engine, so it did not need to be pumped by hand. The engineer cautioned me not to open that steam valve more than needed, otherwise it would heat the water in the engine tanks, and the injector would not work.
One rainy day the engineer wanted me to help him pour babbitt in some of the valve-gear linkage. We had a fire in the boiler to melt the babbitt. After this work was done, he let me run the engine, as the drive belt was off anyway. When the high-pressure crank was on dead center, there was a foot pedal that could pass live steam into the low-pressure cylinder-to roll it off center. This foot pedal had to be released instantly as soon as the engine started to roll, so the engine could keep on running.
The boss of the rig noticed that I was fairly handy at running the engine. One day when I had a short ways to get water, I had a little free time between tanks, and the engineer left me in charge of the engine for a while. Soon the boss strolled over to the engine, and he looked at the water glass. I perceived that he was worried about the water in the boiler, so I reached over and turned on the injector. You should have seen the expression of relief on his face. He then strolled back to the separator, evidently satisfied that his engine was being taken care of.
This was all shock threshing, making 4 settings with 4 straw piles to each section of land, so the bundle haulers never had very far to go. We used to start the wheels turning at 6:00 A.M. and thresh until dark, with time out to eat of course.
It was getting late in the fall, and the mornings were getting colder, so we had to wear sheep-lined coats in the morning. One of these mornings we came out to the rig at the usual 6:00 A.M., and the engineer was 'mad as a wet Hen', with very little steam pressure in the boiler. He was furious enough, that, if 'He' were put into the fire-box, we would have had steam right now. The fusible plug was the culprit. As most everyone knows, the fusible metal must be bonded to the body of the plug. Well this one wasn't, the soft metal just sitting there in a tapered hole. The pressure in the boiler kept it tight, but this particular morning the boiler had cooled so much, that the vacuum sucked this soft metal core loose.
At this date, after 51 years, I do not recall if the engineer tried to get up steam to force this soft metal cone back into the plug or not, but I do know that he finally took a 'regular cast iron pipe plug' and put it in the place of the fusible plug.
Shortly after this the engineer got a telegram: 'COME AT ONCE THE JOB IS YOURS'. It seems as if he had an application in for Chief Engineer in a municipal electric light plant in some town in Minnesota. The boss of our threshing rig knew this, but was hoping the season's run would be over before this job opened up.
Now, try to get another engineer this late in the season. The boss offered me the job, but the engineer felt I was a little too 'green' to have complete charge of an engine. As things turned out later, I wish I had taken the job anyway. Where he located the man he did get, I don't know, but his home town was Terre Haute, Ind.
Through all this changeover, everybody seemed to forget about that 'cast iron plug' in the crown-sheet. The new engineer did not seem to be very adept around the engine, but things went fairly well for a few days.
We had to have some more coal, so the boss told me to go to Newark, S. D., to get it which was about ft miles away. He also said to have one of the bundle haulers to get water for the engine. I selected a half-breed Indian we called Sam, to haul water. After instructing him about not using too much steam on that 'jet', I left to get my load of coal. Getting back to the rig while it was still daylight. I noticed that they had quit threshing, so I left the coal in the farmer's yard, and put up the horses.
About this time a number of the bundle haulers gathered around me, all trying to talk at the same time. 'Gee, water-monkey, you should have been here'. One said that water came out of the smoke-stack, that felt like a rain shower when it came down around him. Another said that the engine pounded like it was going to break something. Still another said that the engineer could not get the injector to work, so they shut down for the day.
Wait a minute, this did not all happen at the same time, and since it was only mile over to the rig, a few of us walked out there, Sam included. I don't know where the new engineer was, as we did not see anything of him.
When we got out to the engine, I noticed that the water glass was broke. This probably explains why the engineer got the boiler too full of water, for if I remember correctly, the gauge cocks on that Reeves were rather inaccessible. Maybe the new-engineer did not know what they were for anyway. I also felt of the tender tank, and it was quite hot, so I asked Sam how far he opened that steam valve on the 'jet' ? He said 'about 2 turns'. 'Two turns'! Didn't I tell you to turn after the 'jet' got primed? 'Well, I was in a hurry', is all he had to say for himself. At any rate he managed to tie-up the crew for the latter part of the day. No, an injector will not work with hot water, and the day was too far gone to drain the tanks and refill them with cold water, so we just let them cool overnight.
The next morning, the tender tanks being fairly full of water, I hitched up to the load of coal first. But before I could get to the engine with it, they decided to move to a new setting. While they were moving, I drove along on the left side of the engine, so I would be right there if they ran out of coal.
We came to a place where the field sloped ever so slightly down hill, and the pop valve let go. This did not surprise me, nor the horses. But the pop valve did not close when I thought it should, so I held back the horses a little so the engine would get ahead of me, so I could see the steam gauge. 'Ten pounds above pop-off pressure'! Can this be possible? At any rate I was worried enough that I stopped the horses, and let the rig move on, coal or no coal.
When they got to where the field was more level, the pop valve closed again. They made the setting, and got the separator humming, so I pulled the load of coal cross-wise behind the engine to shovel some coal into the hopper. Since the wagon box was full, I stood with one foot on the end of the reach, which extended about a foot behind the wagon box, and the other foot I put on the wagon box floor where it extended about 1 inches behind the end-gate. Passable, but not too satisfactory standing room.
The coal was somewhat lumpy, so it was not too easy to dig down to get a shovel full. From my precarious place on the end of that wagon, my head was just a little below the top of the coal hopper on the engine. It was cold morning and I had on my sheep-lined coat. I had not tossed many shovels of coal into that hopper. but just as I tossed the last one, and was still looking at the top of the coal hopper, 'BOOM'!
Fire and Steam came blasting out from under the back end of the canopy and over the top of the coal hopper, just past my face. Hell did break loose! That old German Preacher was right! I got out of there fast, but in jumping off the end of the wagon, I got the hot water coming out of the ash-pit door, which was below the platform. This boiling water hitting my rear, below the sheep-lined coat, no doubt gave me a speed that I never knew I had. For, when I got out of the steam, I found myself about 100 ft. away from the engine. The terrific heat from my pants, caused me to let them down fast, but when that cold northwest wind hit me, it felt like ice, so I pulled them up again.
Several of the men said they saw me running in that column of steam, and had I swerved either right or left, would have been out of it sooner.
All the nearby bundle loads were on fire, and the men were frantically pitching off the burning bundles, to save as much of the load as possible. The explosive force was so great that it broke the latch on the smoke-box door, and the door swung open with force that it broke the hinges, and landed some 30 or 40 feet to the left of the engine.
The front of the separator was all plastered with wet soot, which came through the tubes. I don't remember if the separator got on fire or not; if it did it was minor, because it was still in working order.
Nobody could find the engineer, but they finally found him behind the separator, and everybody wondered how he got there, as nobody seen him go. The boss took the engineer and me in his horse and buggy, but at this date, my mind seems to be blank as to where he took us. I do remember the engineer was taken to a hospital. I must have not been burned too bad, because that afternoon I went out to look at the engine, and you should have seen all the spectators around it.
The broken water glass had been removed, and a new glass was about ready to be installed, laying on the seat box. This must be what the engineer was doing when she blew up. The crown-sheet had a long slit about 18 inches long, about 4 inches wide at the widest part. The edges of the hole were flared downwards towards the grates. The grates and ash-pit were as clean as if they were scrubbed.
The next morning the boss and his wife came with his car and asked me and one other of the crew if we wanted to go along for a ride, to arrange for another engine. We went to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and he decided on a Russell Gas Tractor. I think it was a 40-80, and had about 7 foot drive wheels. This tractor arrived in a few days, but I don't remember if I hauled bundles or not. I do know I was getting home-sick, so I went back to Marshall, Minnesota. No, I was not cutout to be a Boomer.
Before offering my opinion on how that Reeves could boost the boiler pressure 10 pounds, with the pop valve blowing, I would like to tell of my subsequent experience, which helped me form this opinion.
I was, and still am, interested in steam engines, but not particularly threshing engines with their short seasons, but rather, some plant or factory where they are in use the year around. So I took an I.C.S. course in Steam and Electric Engineering, with the idea to qualify for Chief Engineer in some municipal light plant.
While studying this course, I took a job with the Bladholm Machine Shop, here in Marshall. One job we had was to make and install a new fire-box in a threshing engine. I could not hear for weeks after that job, for part of my duties was to buck-up the rivets from the inside, while the air hammer was doing the riveting on the outside. Another job we had was at the Marshall Milling Company, (a flour mill), on the same boiler I had fired myself about 2 years before.
This was a horizontal, return flue, with a 'Dutch Oven' at the front. It seemed that they neglected to keep the boiler clean, and the shell 'bagged' down where the heat was greatest. The opinions held by most, was dirt and scale prevented the water from getting to the shell, thereby allowing it to get red hot, and as it started to let go, the dirt and scale cracked, whereupon the water chilled it before it let go completely. Pretty close! The bulge was about a foot wide, and about a foot and a half long, with the bulge about 3 or 4 inches at the deepest point.
To 'beat' this back, we rigged up a sheet metal forge to truss up under the bulge, and when the metal was red hot, we quickly took away the forge, and hammered at it until it needed to be heated again. We had a template cut to the same radius as the boiler, so we could check on out-progress.
I don't remember how this turned out, as I was sent out on the construction of a steel road bridge, which had to be completed before winter set in. As it was, the snow was flying when we finished. This was the late fall of 1916, and seemed to wind up the work for this season.
That same winter we had 'Revival Meetings' in our church, and while I was brought-up in a Christian atmosphere, it was not until these meetings that I experienced Christ as my personal Saviour, 'The Peace That Passeth All Understanding'. One evening after the meeting, I overheard the Sunday School Superintendent inquiring as to where he might find a man to help with his feeder cattle. Being at loose ends at the time,
I offered to help. At first he though I was joking, but he agreed to give me a try.
He took me in hand as his own son. He asked what I planned to make my life's work, and I told him about my I.C.S. course, how I hoped to be chief engineer in some municipal light plant. He helped me see that those opportunities were few, and besides in such jobs it is not 'What you know', but 'Who do you know'. He advised me to take up automobile work, as steam was fast being replaced by gas engines.
To prove how sincere he was, he financed me to go to the Rahe Auto School in Kansas City, Missouri. While there, I had to register for the draft of World War One. Receiving my Diploma, I returned to Marshall, Minnesota, the fall of 1917. Since it would be but a matter of time before being called into the War, I did not try to locate permanently.
The Great Northern R.R. needed an engine watchman to take care of a locomotive each night, while the train crew took an 8 hour rest. The retiring watchman broke me in for this job. The duties were to clean the fire, keep the boiler at water level, and definitely, don't let the water line from the tender tank to injector freeze up. To do this you close the over-flow valve, open the water valve, and then crack open the steam valve, just enough to get intermittent 'thumping' in the tender. The colder the weather, the faster you made it 'thump'. When water was needed in the boiler, you shut off the steam, open the over-flow valve to let a little water run out to cool the injector, and then proceed.
While the watchman was teaching me, one evening they came in with an engine in which the flues were leaky badly. The engineer sent a wire for a boiler-maker to come up on the night passenger train to fix the flues. We met him at the train and took him over to the engine.
He first shook out all the fire, and then rolled the engine away from the fire so as not to damage brake beams, etc. They then threw in some grain doors to stand on, and then took off their sheep-lined overcoats, and crawled into the fire-box. The watchman held the torch so the boiler-maker could see. The boiler-maker had a tapered plug which he stuck into a flue, and did he wallop that plug. But as that flue stopped leaking some others around it were leaking worse. He tapped the plug sideways to get it out, and then put it into another flue and started walloping again. It seemed as if he would never get them all tight, but he did. I was watching the work from the fire door.
It was hot in that fire-box, and when they came out into the cold winter air again, they lost no time getting into their heavy coats. If I remember right, there was still 100 lb. gauge pressure when they came out. A few days later, the retiring watchman turned over the job to me. I was on this job about 6 months, and then came the call of Uncle Sam, April 7, 1918.
The War Department sent 500 of us to the University of Cincinnati to make truck mechanics out of us. In the final quiz I got a mark of 77 out of a possible 80. This gave me a rating of Expert Mechanic. I still have this Certificate.
Sometime after the war I went to work for Packard Motor Car, Factory Branch, in Kansas City, Missouri, but I could not then, or now, go along with labor unions. If ever there was a tool of Satan, the labor unions have turned out to be just that. I will not say anymore, lest I lose my temper, but if anyone reading this belongs to ANY union which would compel others to 'Join or Else', and at the same time professes to be a Christian, let him read Revelation, 13, 16-18. Some theologians may make a different application, but it certainly fit the labor unions. Also read Revelation, 14, 9-11 and see how God will deal with those who would compel you to 'Join or Else'.
After about 6 months on Packard Twin Six Cars, I went back to Marshall, Minnesota, where one could work at his trade without men standing outside with clubs and bricks, ready to kill you. During the years in the automobile business, I also owned and flew two airplanes, building up some 830 hours flying time, and never an accident.
Steam was still in my blood however so I took to building a live steam locomotive, scale 1 inch to the foot. This is a 4-6-4 wheel arrangement, 1 by 2 inch cylinders, 6 inch drive wheels, Walschaert valve gear, 75% cut-off, .025 inch lead in forward motion, no lead backward, 300 lb. weight on drivers, 75 lb. draw-bar pull, 4 to 1 factor of adhesion, 20 ft. minimum radius of curve. Am enclosing a picture showing part of the engine under construction. Everything except the wheels were machined from bar stock.
Now lets get back to that Reeves threshing engine. During the past 51 years I have gained a smattering knowledge of the thermal efficiency of heat generating units.
So, my theory is, when that Reeves was moving across the stubble field, slightly down hill, the water was just low enough that it left the crown-sheet practically dry. The surging of the water, due to the uneven ground, splashed water on the crown-sheet, thereby acting like a flash boiler. This could possibly raise the pressure 10 lb. even while popping off. It must have been dangerously close to blowing up right then.