Back Home in Pawnee

After Four Years Running on the Road the Pawnee Steam School Returns to its Roots

| July/August 2002

Steam schools aren't new, and neither is the issue of steam safety. But with the tragedy of Medina fresh in their minds, owners and operators of steam engines are pushing a little harder to educate themselves and others on critical points of safety and maintenance.

In a post-Medina world, many of us are re-evaluating the role of steam schools and their importance in the steam hobby. As a relative newcomer to steam, I was particularly interested in attending a steam school this year, so on March 22 I headed to Pawnee, Okla., for the 2002 Pawnee Steam School.

Pawnee Background

Hosted by the Oklahoma Steam Threshers and Gas Engine Association, the Pawnee school's modest beginnings go back to 1982. Founded by Chady Atteberry and the late Ivan Burns, the school drew two students that first year. Interest grew with time, but the school stayed relatively small, with an average of 15 to 20 students, mostly local steamers, attending in a given year.

But in the last five years the school has grown rapidly, aided in large measure by the decision five years ago to take the school on the road. That decision was a turning point for the school, enabling it to help educate steamers who might not otherwise make the trip to Pawnee and helping to build the school's presence within the steam community.

The last time the school was held in Pawnee was 1998, and in the intervening years the Antique Steam and Gas Engine Club in Booneville, Ind., the Pioneer Engineer's Club in Rushville, Ind., and the Lathrop Antique Car, Tractor and Engine Club in Lathrop, Mo., respectively, have hosted the school. Approximately 130 people from 23 states made the trek to Pawnee this year, traveling from as far away as Virginia, Washington and California to share in the collective knowledge so generously provided by the instructors assembled for this year's school. As with most steam schools in the hobby, instructors at Pawnee receive no compensation for their time. Dedicated steamers to the last man, the instructors at Pawnee possess a breadth of knowledge that can only be garnered through time and experience, and the opportunity to help educate members of the steam community in matters practical and critical to the safe operation of steam engines would appear to be payment enough for them.