I have been a subscriber to the ALBUM for the past ten years and have enjoyed reading it and have kept every copy of it during these years. I have often thought, as I read my magazine, that someday I might write of a never-to-be-forgotten experience of my own boyhood. But I never got around to writing it until now, and I hope it will be of interest to the readers of this magazine, as I doubt if any other engine ever blew up, completely destroying it, with only two of the several people near it being injured.
In the year 1895, when I was ten years old, my grandfather and another man by the name of Johnson bought a threshing outfit consisting of a Woodbury Case horsepower outfit, I think, a six lever or 12 horsepower, and a Minnesota Chief Separator. I can well remember the picture of an Indian Head on the side of the separator and a sheaf of wheat, as their trademark I suppose. The separator was hand-fed and had a straight flat stacker. The grain was measured in bushel baskets which they sat on the ground underneath the spout. As each basketful was dumped into the wagon they used a tally board with wooden pegs which were moved in counting the number of bushels. A peg for tens, one for the hundreds and another for the thousands as the count went up. Helping the men around this outfit was a big thrill for me, and like boys of this age, the dirtier and greasier I got the happier I was.
My grandfather used this outfit until 1898 and then two of my uncles bought a used Stillwater threshing outfit build by the same company as the old horsepower outfit at Still-water, Minnesota. It consisted of a 12 hp Giant engine and about a 32x56 separator, hand-fed, and equipped with an Independent swinging stacker built by Reeves and Company. In 1899 this outfit was sold to J. O. Thompson of Manlius, Illinois. On the first job Mr. Thompson threshed after threshing one load of bundles from each side of the machine the engine 'blew up' or exploded. I was cutting bands, and just before the explosion we had stopped to make a minor adjustment on the stacker. The boy who was cutting bands on the opposite side, Johnnie Stewart, and I had moved and were sitting with our feet hanging down on the feed board which went down to the cylinder, just in the act of going down to the engine to join two other lads who had been helping, one stacking straw and the other hauling grain. While the machine was stopped they had gone down to the engine which was about 12 or 15 feet from a corn crib and were lying on the ground nearby. As Johnnie and I were starting toward the engine one of the men, Frank Dabler, called to us to wait, as the man with the water tank was just coming through the gate and threshing would soon be resumed. Otherwise, we would have been standing near the engine when it blew up and doubtless would have been badly injured, if not killed.
Just at this moment 'Bang!' Everything was instantly in a turmoil! The air was filled with dust, steam, hot water, pieces of metal, men ran, horses bolted, chickens squawked everyone was dazed for a bit. After things quieted down, one of the boys who had been lying on the ground, was found under the crib, badly scalded, his skin full of scales and practically helpless. He had been blown between the stones on which the building sat. The other lad, although badly scalded, had run to the water tank. Fortunately, no one else was injured. Mr. Thompson's two year old daughter, Susie, who had been standing near the engine, had been blown about 20 feet against a garden fence, and was frightened but unharmed. She barely missed being hit by a wheel from the engine which was blown about 75 feet into a garden lot. The engineer, Ben Gorton of Wyanet, Illinois, about 60 years old, was standing on the platform at the rear of the engine turning the little balance wheel on the pump, which the old-timers will remember, in the act of starting it. He and the barrel on the platform partially filled with water, were both blown about 50 feet. He was unharmed, outside of being wet, dirty and muddy.
The two injured men were taken to the house and someone was sent by horse and buggy, about seven miles for a doctor. The men lay, perhaps for two months, recovering from their burns. One of them, Jesse Dabler, Route 1, Wyanet, Illinois, is still living in the same community. It was a miracle no one else was injured at the time of the explosion, as most of the boiler shell, consisting of the dome, was blown into a cornfield, perhaps 200 yards distant. Bolts were blown through the siding of the crib, one rear wheel was blown probably 75 feet into a garden lot, the disk and the main shaft and flywheel went about half way to the separator, about 50 feet, breaking a new drive belt. The steam chest, governor, heater and the little Independent water pump with which these engines were equipped, went up into the air and came down through the roof of the crib on the opposite side, which was empty, through the floor and into the ground. You will see in the picture taken after the explosion the corn crib I have mentioned and the destruction of the engine by the pieces which were picked up and heaped on a pile. The man in the picture was Monroe Estes of Sheffield, better known as 'Buck'. In the rear you will note another engine with straight spokes in the flywheel. This engine was a Monarch 10hp and Mr. Estes finished threshing the run that fall with this engine replacing the one that blew up.
Following the explosion, I can remember that all engines, at least those nearby, were required to have a cold water test to determine the safety of the boiler. For a long time after this, one could go from one threshing rig to another and very seldom would find anyone other than the engineer near the engine as they were fearful, but after a time they got over their fear of the engine, and came back.
Also, appearing with this article, is a picture of a threshing outfit taken in 1898, consisting of a Minnesota Giant engine and a Nichols and Shepard separator, equipped with a Hart weigher, Parson self feeder and attached swinging stacker. This was undoubtedly the same kind of engine that Mr. D. H. Torreyson of Whitsett, North Carolina, wrote about in the Jan-Feb issue of the ALBUM, telling about his boyhood in Montana. Yes, he was right, it had a chain drive, as can be seen in the picture. This outfit was owned by W. C. (Carey) Allen of Sheffield, Illinois. The men standing on the engine were William Hartz of Sheffield and Mr. Allen (fourth man from Mr. Hartz) standing by the belt. This engine was exactly the same type as the one that blew up.