An Unforgettable Day

15420 S.E. 20th Place Bellevue, Washington 98007-6333

It was a hot dry summer in 1934 in southwestern Idaho, no rain
for months. In a reclaimed desert that is not very surprising. The
grain threshing was about half over, all bundle wagon, everything
by hand. This particular farmer had a lot of livestock and wanted
his straw pile in the same corral as his barn. This made it a bit
difficult, as the corral was large but not really large enough for
all that had to be there with the straw pile.

We threshed from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in those days and were
running about 2000 bushels of wheat a day. We had run two full days
and had to move the rig several times, as even with the extension
blower on the Red River Special, the straw pile was too big to blow
the straw over. The corral was getting very crowded.

On the third day about 11:00 a.m. my father, who was tending the
separator, noticed a small flame right under the blower hood with
the wind blowing the sparks around. He immediately pulled the hood
up and stopped the pitchers and told the water hauler to throw a
five gallon bucket of water into the blower. Instead of throwing
the water into the blower, he threw it into the grain pan. The fan
blew a little water into the blower and we thought it was out, but
a few little sparks were still burning.

By now the grain hauler had gotten so excited that he started to
pull out, upset the grain box wagon and the horses were falling all
over themselves trying to get away and that blocked the bundle
wagons. The pitchers got excited and scared the horses. Confusion
reigned!

It was obvious now that there was no way to put out the fire,
and the separator was a wooden machine, so it was time to get it
out. My father threw the belt and tried to back the engine up to
the separator but still the wagons were bogged down. The fire, by
now, was raging in the powder dry straw. My father had to help get
the wagons out and finally got the separator out and the grain
wagon. Someone called the fire department from town, about four and
a half miles away.

By now we had a real fire storm. It had been a still day, but
now the wind was blowing from all directions right at the fire. The
fire and sparks of burning straw were flying high in the air. It
could be seen for miles around!

When the fire truck arrived, they did manage to save the barn
but the straw smoldered for several days.

Of course the fire was blamed on the steam engine. However, it
is not likely that the steam engine would set a fire right under
the blower hood. More likely someone threw a handful of matches or
a cigarette into the machine. Besides that, we fired with coal and
we never saw sparks fly out the stack. It was an exciting and
spectacular fire that day. It was the only fire we had in all the
years we ran that rig. Later, I had a few cigarette fires that we
could prove, but we always got them out before any great damage was
done.

My father bought that Case 45 four months before I was born. He
seemed to be the only one who could properly set the valve on the
engines, and competitors would have to come to him to get their
engines running right. He never charged them and was always good
natured about it, even though we heard some of their stories. He
filled silos, chopped hay and pulled stumps and moved houses, all
besides the grain threshing and farming.

I last fired that engine threshing in 1936. It was then retired
to the pasture, not because it wasn’t in good condition but
because of the expense of an engineer and water hauler. It was
replaced by an Allis Chalmers Model E. But it was always a
disappointment threshing with a tractor; all that noise, and
besides that the steam engine never kicked me trying to start it,
and the tractor did, twice!

I have kept that engine and have it on loan for a display in a
park. It is covered and lined up with the Red River Special
thirty-two inch separator. This separator is a steel one that was
built in 1921.

I miss the gentle rocking of the engine that I grew up on, and
the smell of the steam cylinder oil and the smoke from the stack. I
well remember when I was big enough to fill the boiler and haul
water for it, how big I felt. It was such a shame to give up that
quiet powerful engine for a noisy tractor.

Farm Collector Magazine
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