Farm Collector

Ed. L. Halle Recalls THE DAYS GONE BY

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

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.

Before we leave the subject of valves, an eccentric that is
keyed on at the factory should not be turned on the shaft to get
equal lead or for any other reason. With the Stefenson link fairly
square lead can be obtained by altering the length of one of the
eccentric blades by heating and upsetting to shorten or stretch as
the case may indicate. First, of course, the bell crank should hold
the link in the proper position so we get the same length of throw
off the bottom as off the top of the link, usually as a result of
wear the link hangs down too far. Using a pair of dividers with one
leg against the gland nut, by scraping marks on the valve stem will
show this up.

Other types of gear will require treatment according to their
nature. The point I am trying to make is that in order to get even
or uneven lead depends on the valve gear and not entirely upon what
we do inside the steam chest.

1 am sorry that I got so involved with these opinions but if I
can get an argument out of some of you engine men I shall be most

Getting back to the Lamb boys, in the fall of 1896 at our place
at supper time at the end of a hot day of threshing on the barn
floor, mostly barley, and dusty, the crew was washing up around the
well. John, one of the twins, took off his shirt, pumped himself a
bucket of cold water out of the well and splashed himself all over
with it -hollering with glee, enjoying himself immensely. Now this
didn’t look right to me so I ran into the house and told
mother, ‘Look what John Lamb is doing’. She ran outside
just as John was stooped over and one of the crew had the bucket
raised ready to pour the remaining water over John’s bare

In all my life, I never heard mother give anyone such a tongue
lashing. The half full bucket was set down with the water still in
it. ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. A bunch of grown
men do you want to catch pneumonia,’ said mother.

Six years later Tom died, strangely enough of pneumonia, and two
years later John died, also of pneumonia. After the twins died,
Henry took over the rig. It had the old gear blower and you could
hear it for two miles. The sound varied according to whether the
load was heavy or light. I can still hear it. Henry was separator
man, Dick ran the engine. I can still see Henry through the dust,
standing on top of the separator bundles, coming down from the mow.
One got the impression that Henry willed every bundle into that
feeder himself. He had an enviable reputation as a good
thresherman. If Henry couldn’t keep the grain out of the straw
stack,’ nobody could.

After a season or two, Henry bought a new Rumely separator with
side mounted blower and attached the old feeder to it. What the
agency did with these old geared blower separators after they were
traded in I don’t know. Nobody wanted them.

About 1907, Henry got married, and Dick took over the rig. Dick
was a lonely man, as were all of the boys. He didn’t have the
heart to work his farm alone so he rented his farm out and moved in
with Henry. He helped his brother around the place and ran his
threshing rig and his clover huller. Art Brash of Van Dyne, ran his
engine until 1919.

About 1916 Dick got married, at the age of 40, and moved back to
his own farm. (This is all being told for a reason). These boys had
been sheltered from the world as kids and had never learned to give
and take with other kids so when they grew to manhood and tried to
mix with other people and be accepted by them, they were rebuffed
and shunned.

Joe, the oldest, and Mike, a younger brother, who were not
connected with the threshing rig, got married early and raised
families and apparently had no social problems. But Henry, Dick,
Tom and John, and Willie had problems and were lonely men; so by
slow stages they sought escape in a place in which many other men
in like circumstances have sought it before and since, in the

Willie started for home late one night along the railroad tracks
but he didn’t make it. An early morning passenger train caught
him asleep between the rails, one quarter of a mile from home. Tom
died in about 1902, and John about a year later both had contracted
pneumonia from exposure.

Henry and Dick had their problems under better control,
especially after they got married. They were lonely men though most
of their lives.

We may be sure that old Peter Lamb didn’t plan it that way
and would have done differently had he known. All of these boys are
now long gone to their eternal resting place, but the memory of
them lingers on. [ especially remember the whistle they had on one
of the ten horse. It had a plaintive sound that could be heard for
miles. It was different from any other that I ever heard, and there
has been only one since that approximated it. It was an old Huber
portable When the Lamb boys traded their ten horse, the old whistle
was transferred to the new engine so the same whistle was heard in
the neighborhood for 28 years. It became a trademark of theirs and
I can still hear it.

In the old days of threshing, after supper, when the day’s
work was done, and the engine man banked his fire and shut off his
water glass for the night, he would blow his whistle two or three
long toots. He would be answered by some other crew in another
quarter, then another would answer and so on from all sections of
the campus. Rarely more than one whistle at a time would be heard
and often we would hear a whistle coming in faintly from far off in
the distance.

You could always tell who was threshing in each neighborhood.
Each whistle had a tone of its own and easily identified. There was
Otto Fen-ner, Frank Hanson, August Clein, William Schultz, Mike
Sentner, the Broameys, Phillip Checobe, Frank A.drian, and of
course, the Lamb boys. It sometimes happened that some of these
boys would be twenty mile’s from home and their whistles would
be missing, in which case some stranger would be apt to join the
chorus within hearing distance a whistle you could not identify,
and you wondered who he was.

Now, when in the last part of September, the old time
thresherman takes his ears out into the night and listens for a
well remembered sound, all he tunes in is a vast silence except for
a little static made by a few late crickets. We can imagine him
walking a little sadly back into the house, gazing at a picture
over the mantle piece and remarking ‘Martha, it sure ain’t
like it used to be’.

  • Published on May 1, 1957
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