Ed. L. Halle Recalls THE DAYS GONE BY


| May/June 1957



Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

From 1904 to 1908, I served as a machinist apprentice at Giddings & Lewis, who at that time were building engines and sawmill machinery, mostly for western and southern mills. The work included gangs, band mills, reasaws and all the machinery for the mill including large Coreless type engines, shotgun fed and steam niggers, etc. Later, I helped Louis Glass-nap at Dallman & Cooper in the repairing of threshing engines, where I learned something about rebuilding valve gears to get equal lead at each end in both directions. I learned that you can't set a valve for equal lead merely by adjusting the slide on the valve stem unless the valve gear is in fairly new condition. We may get an equal lead in one direction, say for work in the belt, then reverse it and go down the road with an uneven exhaust declaring (for all the world to hear) that the valve isn't set right. This happens because we have transferred all of the error to this direction. Someone could write a book on this subject to cover all the different valve motions.

As for my experiences in machine shops and with steam rigs, more at another time. Machine shops include the following: Giddings & Lewis, of Fond du Lac; Wisconsin Central R.R. Shops at North Fond du Lac; Fairbanks Morse in Beloit; Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific at Omaha; and Electric Wheel of Quincy, Illinois. The latter was in 1912 when the firm was building crawler type tractors.

Setting valves on locomotives or engines having the old Stefenson link would be done by the boys setting the valve for even lead off one eccentric then take the key out of the other eccentric and turn it on the axle to advance or retard it as indicated until the lead was equal then fit this eccentric with an offset key to secure it in that position.

Before we get too far off the subject of steam tractors, there is one pet peeve I must get off my chest. Designers of the older steam tractors provided a crank disc just large enough to accomodate the crank pin with the hub around it and a rim around the whole, with a counterbalance just heavy enough to counter the pin and hub and one-half of the weight of the connecting rod. Later designers called this 'static balance.' There was no attempt to counter the momentum of the reciprocating parts. One characteristic of these engines was their quick response to the governor and the accompanying, even steady motion, something very much to be desired in a threshing engine. When however, the trade began to call for bigger engines and higher steam pressures the designers began to be overly concerned about all this extra thrust knocking out their main bearing, so they tossed all the reciprocating parts on to a scale and then provided a counterweight large enough to counter it. Some of their so called improved engines actually sported crank discs with diameters equal to twice the length of the stroke, with their affinity for authentic sounding terms they called this the 'Dynamic Balance'. The chief character istic of this type of engine is a sluggish response to the governor and consequently uneven motion, a thing very much to be avoided in a threshing engine. It is my firm opinion that it is the power thrust being much more severe and by its alternating stress on the bearing is the 'nigger' in the wood pile. The reciprocal thrust takes over as the power thrust fades out and in the same direction it does not alternate. The Case had a split wheel bearing lined with high grade babbit and of good length in its main bearing. Better bearing and design of this other engine would have solved the problem short of ruining their performance with these outlandish counterweights. Although I feel rather strongly about this, nevertheless, if I stir up a hornet's nest among some who hold contrary opinions I shall be delighted.

Another irritation is valves that muffle and mute the exhaust. The Russell and the Gaar Scott, to mention two with which I have had experience, had valves that did that, although of different designs. I used to stand on the coal bunker with my head above the canopy in order to catch their rhythm to see if I thought the valve was set right. You couldn't hear the exhaust enough to tell standing on the ground. (I assure you that this is only a slight exageration). Threshing with my Russell one day when I was approached by an observer with 'That must be an awfully powerful engine. You can hardly hear it.' But between you and me one of these wishering Martha's labored just as hard as the loud ones, except that some long dead engine designer still had his clumsy hand around her throat so that she couldn't grunt.