Deployment for a Nichols and Shepard

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Opposite page: Aaron Bixler’s 1917 Nichols & Shepard 20-75 double-cylinder steam engine.
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Below, clockwise from left: Aaron Bixler with his 1/4-scale Case during the 2004 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. Aaron in Ramadi, Iraq, holding a copy of Steam Traction. Aaron with his 1/4-scale Case engine in the 2004 Midwest Old Threshers Noon Cavelcade of Power, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Side view of the 1/4-scale Case.
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Above: Twelve-year-old Aaron Bixler at the operator’s wheel of a Russell 6 HP engine.

Some call it steam fever. You know that feeling
the majority of people who read Steam Traction get in the
summertime at the first whiff of coal, steam and cylinder oil.
Symptoms include grease under the fingernails, sore muscles from
hauling coal and chopping wood, and the ear pain from the groan of
stiff metal filling the air. It always appears about the end of May
and disappears somewhere about the end of October. At least that’s
the way it was for my son Specialist Aaron Bixler of the 224th Iowa
National Guard Engineer Battalion, Company C, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa,
until his deployment in September of 2003 and October 2004.

Having attended the Old Threshers Reunion since 1985, at the age
of 2, Aaron has only missed participating in two of the worlds
largest steam shows. The first one was in 2003 when he volunteered
to be part of the NATO Multi-force Operation to Sharm El-Shiek,
Egypt. Attached to the 133rd Infantry, Iowa Army National Guard out
of Dubuque, Iowa, for the deployment, it would mean that he would
miss the reunion for the first time in 18 years. Letters and photos
filtered back and forth across the Internet of the activities in
the park at Mt. Pleasant, but it just could not take the place of
the real smell of coal, wood and oil, and the sound of hissing
steam from the smokestack. What made the 2004 reunion even sweeter
on his return to the states? Aaron purchased a 1/4-scale model Case
with the money from his deployment just three months after his
return.

Operation Iraqi Freedom III put the Mt. Pleasant unit of the
224th Iowa Army National Guard on alert in April 2004. Aaron began
preparing for the possibility that his 1/4-scale Case model, set to
debut, would most likely be in a storage shed for the upcoming 2004
reunion. The activation call of the unit came on the first day of
the Old Threshers Reunion with deployment date just 30 days
later.

Driving an Army SEE (backhoe) truck or a M916 transport truck
would soon take the place of the throttle and clutch on his model
engine and the other engines he operated at other steam shows like
the Osage show, the Antique Acres Old Time Power Show, and the
Seminole Valley Farms Museum Midwest Antique Gas Engine and Tractor
Assn. Show.

The model did debut at the reunion and then reluctantly was put
into storage. Aaron then re-signed himself to 18 months of active
duty somewhere in Iraq digging up roadside bombs (IEDs) and
searching for insurgent weapon caches.

Soldiers especially cherish letters and e-mails from home. But
what Aaron looked forward to the most was Steam Traction
arriving at his Mt. Pleasant home address and quickly being
forwarded to the APO in Ramadi, Iraq. While other soldiers in the
unit read motorcycle and/or auto racing magazines, Aaron lay on his
bunk or on the seat of his Army heavy equipment between missions
reading about old steam engines in Steam Traction.

The 2005 Old Threshers Reunion started on Sept. 4. As luck would
have it, Aaron was boarding a plane in Al-Taqqadam, Iraq, bound for
his 14-day leave to Mt. Pleasant. Fingers crossed by family and
friends, he arrived in Mt. Pleasant on Friday of the Old Threshers
Reunion and was seen on the reunion grounds less than three hours
after his plane landed in Burlington, Iowa. A true die-hard steam
engineer.

Soldiers are asked why they go on dangerous deployments, besides
the oath that they have sworn to protect our freedom. The drive to
own a full-size steam engine was at the forefront of Aaron’s
decision to go on a second deployment in two years. Knowing that a
1917 Nichols & Shepard 20-75 double-cylinder steam engine was
up for sale by a close relative, he knew he had first chance if he
still wanted it. His dream of coming home on leave for the Old
Threshers Reunion and finally owning a large steam engine made the
14-day leave all any American soldier from Mt. Pleasant could ask
for.

Oh yes, the latest Steam Traction was in Aaron’s duffel
bag on its way back to Iraq, and photos of his new steam engine
purchase were all over his computer screen.

Contact steam enthusiast Aaron Bixler at 1103 S. Linden
Lane, Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641; e-mail:
juliet62@hotmail.com

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