ENGINEERS EARLY MORNING

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.

Farm Collector Magazine
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