ENGINES, ENGINES, AND MORE ENGINES


| January/February 1957



3501 Bristol Highway, Kingsport, Tennessee

After we sold our farm in Washington County at Gray, we purchased another in Sullivan County, ten or fifteen miles away. Other experiences amused. Once when crossing a field in which was a pond to reach the barn, the threshermen were helpless when the thirsty oxen, sighting the water, rushed headlong, pulling the separator in with them. A like experience occurred with Harrison Wexler, mentioned before, when his ox team pulled his 'tub' engine into Holston River. Charlie Slaughter of Fordtown, related to me his experience in bringing his N & S traction engine home one night when during a hard electric storm he had to ford this same river.

Not too long ago, one of the largest locomotives pounding the rails of America exploded on the C. C. & O. near Erwin, Tennessee, blowing the boiler clear of its trucks and another, more recently, exploding on the N & W tracks near Bristol, and as I think of these, I wonder how, with all these traction engines climbing and descending our long steep grades with the water first in the fire-box end, then in the smoke-box end of the boiler, we did not more often meet tragedy.

A gentleman told me recently of such misfortune at Church Hill near Kingsport. The fireman had just expressed delight at the easy firing of his engine when almost immediately the boiler was blown to smithereens when parts of the crown sheet proved to be very thin.

The nearest I have ever been to a steam fan's heaven was when driving, years ago, from Shreveport, La., to Crowley. The latter is known as the rice center of the world. I saw them threshing rice. Nearing the town I pulled my car to the roadside and as I stood on the running-board of my car I counted ten steam threshers all going at the same time. If the war scrap drive did not get them, there should be many fine engines there to this day. Besides, in that soft level country their machinery is not subjected to the brutal punishment we accord it in our hill country.

Thank God that there are fine men and women, young and old, who have set themselves to locating, buying, taking care of and preserving these mechanical treasures of what may be called the 'farm steam age.' The most active of these years, about 40, would run, say, from about 1880 to about 1920. Of course, before this there was the gradual beginning, even as there is to this day, a gradual tapering off. There are now thousands of steam sawmills and other steam operated machinery in use. In our vicinity there are three such sawmills in operation, perhaps more.