Ennis, Montana 59729
Taken from the book 'Steam Grain & Sawdust'
While running a steam engine during threshing, early mornings stick out vividly in my mind, though it did follow pretty much the same pattern day after day. The engineer was the first one to crawl out of his soogans before daylight. The grass would be moist from dew, or later in the season might sparkle with a tinture of frost. Everything would be quiet and still as death. The engine stood silent. After the engineer approached the engine about the first sound to break the silence would be the rattling of the latches on the smokebox door followed by the normal grating squeal as it was swung open. After scraping out all the dead cinders that had accumulated in the smokebox and held there by the spark arrester from the previous days operation, the spark arrester was opened or removed depending on the type in use. Then the ashes were scraped down through the grates and out the ashpan door. Usually numerous burned nails were found among the ashes resulting from the use of old fence rails and posts that were common fuel always found around farms to use for firing a threshing engine boiler. This was good dry fuel and the cleaning of flues was not a daily necessity.
After checking the boiler water supply a good hot fire was kindled and replenished as necessary. After the first sign of grey smoke started to appear above the stack, thicken and began to rise more rapidly as the fire got hotter, it didn't take long before you could hear the pleasant sound of water in the boiler beginning to sizzle. The water was usually rather warm from the previous days operation. This was the most relaxing moment in the day of an engineer.
After a flicker of light appeared in the farmhouse kitchen window and the smoke of a cooking fire started to lazily rise from the kitchen chimney, many familiar noises could be heard. The rattling of milk buckets, a short time later the bark of the farm dog trying to convince the milk cows to be barned at this early hour who were rather reluctant to comply to this variation from their normal daily routine. If a lit lantern happened to be carried past the window of the chicken house or coop, the roosters would commence to crow thinking it was near daybreak. The nickkering of work horses could be heard as the farmer approached the barn.
Usually right after dawn a young lad or two would slowly venture towards the engine, stand off at what he considered a safe distance, gaze at the formidable looking monster which had started to get hot by now and emitting strange mysterious sounds to the ears of a youngster. Little droplets of water forming around valve stem packing glands and various other places would fall off and hit the hot boiler shell or jacket making faint crackling noises.
As the youngster overcame his original fears he would venture closer. A friendly engineer would always bring the young fellow out of his trance with a cheery, 'Well good morning sonny, you are sure up bright and early, you must have gotten out of bed before breakfast.'
He would always respond and forget his fears, come right up to the engine platform with a wide eager grin. But it never failed, upon opening the valve turning on the blower, the lad would take off like a young colt and circle around the engine with misgiving. But by explaining and coaxing he would be back shortly piling heaps of wood on the engine platform, getting a great thrill out of the blazing fire in the firebox created by the blower in the engine stack.
Some narrow minded engineers made a practice of deliberately scaring these youngsters by temporarily opening the blow-off valve or similar tricks. I could never go along with this since I always would visualize myself when I was a youngster and experienced these same before mentioned conditions. This was an experience these lads had but once a year, and it would linger in their minds and would be dwelled upon for many days afterwards.
Shortly after daylight, wagons and some automobiles would arrive as neighbors started to show up to help in the days threshing, always before breakfast. During breakfast discussions would be in progress as to the potential yield of bushels per acre expected from the stacked grain and the years crop, the types of grain in question and how it would compare to the previous year.
You would also overhear the pleading of the school aged lads trying to persuade their mother to let them skip school this day and in the same breath sincerely promising to study twice as hard the following day. Hardly ever could a mother resist the pleading look in the faces and eyes of her boys and most always relent.
The happy lads would bolt their breakfast and race from one out building to the next to hurry through their daily chores, also gather extra grain sacks, carry in a supply of kitchen wood and water for the days use, they weren't about to miss the actual setting of the machine and have the watching of the threshing be interrupted by meager chores.' Ah! Yes!' these little incidents never fade from a mans memory.