436 North Library, Waterloo, Illinois 62298
Questions concerning straw burning have been asked me many times by engineers without any experience in firing straw. In the past I traveled through the wheat belt for many years, so I will pass on to you my experiences in firing straw.
Through the winter in the South, we burned slabs or wood on the saw mills, and in the wheat fields of the Pan Handle Country, we burned coal in the steamers. However, in the Dakotas and Canada is where I got to run the straw burners, which I loved to run best of all, providing you had a well-equipped engine to run.
I ran a 25 H.P. Reeves simple engine for a thresherman in North Dakota. When coal was too high, he would decide to burn straw and that was music to my ears. We would take out the coal rocker grates and install a dead plate, which would cover 1/4 of the grate area in front of the fire box door. We would then install the straw grate in front of the dead plate. Next, would come four large fire brick in the fire box, which would extend from below the flues at an angle to within 8' of the crown sheet. Then we took off the fire door and installed a funnel trap door for straw and also installed a screen over the smoke stack. This particular engine had a trap door on the left side of the fire box for the purpose of cleaning straw clinkers off the flue sheet. It also had a large water tank on four wheels with a large straw rack on top of it, making it practical for moving long distances. This water tank was coupled to the engine with a platform on a tongue. A fireman could stand on it while moving, and we were ready to work when we arrived at our threshing destination.
We would uncouple from the separator and run around in a 360-degree circle to line up. Then we would uncouple the water tank so as to leave four feet of ground space for the fireman to stand on and fire. A hose would reach from the water tank to injector to feed boiler. We also had a hose and nozzel on the injector for the purpose of wetting down the ground around the engine to prevent fire. Then, came the straw monkey, as we called him. He had a mule and tripod for pulling straw from the straw pile to the engine where the fireman could get it. Next, came the fireman. He fired the straw and took care of the water in the boiler.
Engine lineup at a recent Tuscara was Valley Pioneer Association, Inc.
All I had to do was move, set, and oil the engine. I sat in a shock of wheat and watched the hobos and the I. W. W. pitch in the golden grain. The fireman I had couldn't be beat. He was a little guy of Russian decent and he could keep that steam gauge hand at 150 lbs. You would think it was frozen there, as he didn't work hard, but it was steady. He got out at 4:00 in the morning, had steam and was ready to go at 7:00. He would eat breakfast and dinner on the job.
Sundays he would wash the boiler and clean the grates. Burning straw would form clinkers like glass over the grates. He would have to take them out and it took a chisel and hammer to clean them. The fireman preferred burning flax straw, as it fired better than wheat straw.
Again, I say if you had a well-equipped engine for burning straw and a good fireman, they were very nice to run. You can bet when I went further North, I looked for a straw burner to run. They were my favorite!