| November/December 1968

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.


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