220 East 140th Place, Dolton, Illinois 60419.
Requiems and obituaries to steam power are written under electric lights, printed by electric powered presses, and may be read under electric lights - and 81.5% of the electricity generated within the United States is generated by steam power! It looks like the corpse (?) breaking up his own wake - and said wake might well be broken up. About 18% of our electric power comes from hydro-electric plants, and plants powered by the eternal, infernal, internal combustion engine produce a pitiful one half of one percent!
The steam turbine is now, and has been, for about 90 years, the most efficient converter of energy devised and used by man. Development and improvement has been steady, but not spectacular, with no major break-through to provoke big headlines, or widen the eyes of the yokels. Perhaps it is because the builders of steam turbines do not throw together and mass-merchandise weekly models and planned obsolescene, and purchase prime TV time and full page ads and thus guide many an editorial pen. And the steam turbine is still short of its full potential. Builders of turbines are waiting upon the metalurgists to come up with a steel of sufficient tensile strength to make possible the development of the RADIAL FLOW (the huge majority of turbines now in use are of the AXIAL FLOW type) turbine; the Ljungstrom turbine, with the steam flowing radially from a hollow center shaft, thru alternately reacting sets of blades, arranged in concentric circles, and driving two power shafts in opposed directions. A common use of the radial flow principle was the quite small Pyle-National turbine which was used to drive the generator for the headlights of steam locomotives. But, as I have stated, this turbine was relatively diminutive; had one rotating and one fixed set of blades, and exhausted into the atmosphere. Not exactly the most efficient use of the principle.
One of the most efficient steam turbine power plants was owned and operated by get this the Ford Motor Company! The volume of water in the boiler was evaporated into high pressure, superheated steam; passed through the turbine, condenser, hot well, and back into the boiler, completing the cycle in twenty seconds! King Henry, the Ford, mass (or mess) - produced and merchandised the infernal come-busting engine but used the steam turbine to power his own plant.
Unfortunately, the characteristics which give the turbine its efficiency; hugh, high-capacity boilers, condensers, hot wells, etc., limits it practical use to stationery and marine power plant use. And, as long as these efficient power plants are hidden behind brick walls or deep in the hulls of ships, they are out of sight, and the infernal come-busting engine hucksters can peddle their weekly models, built to fall apart within a remarkably short time, consume plenty of petroleum products, fatten up the loudmouthed, oil-soaked cowpunchers (and now, the shahs and shieks), while editorial opinion, purchased by advertising dollars, plays down the fact that steam is still king!
But, alas; for all its remarkable efficiency, the turbine is just a machine a grim, deadly efficient, non-glamorous, unromantic machine just that! Emitting only a monotonous hum, everything enclosed in a large shiney black steel case. No visible motion of crank shafts, flywheels, governors whirling round and round, no up-and-down, back-and-forth movement of rods and levers.
And, with the colorful steam locomotive practically gone from the railroads, we have to turn to our summer pastime the countryside threshers' exhibits.
There, as all of us know, we may see the revolving and oscillating motion; hear the staccato bark of the exhaust of the Baker uniflow, or the lazy whoosh-whoosh exhaust of the Port Huron compound, the assorted sharps and flats of the steam whistles, all stirring up the nostalgia of bygone days. And, with all of this, we meet people! Genial, friendly, considerate, thoughtful and well-mannered people! A type of people so rare in this automated, computerized, dehumanized moronic age of dogged indifference to individual human needs. Farmers, not a few of whom are retired, most of whom on the sunny side of middle age, who have rescued these old machines from the scrap heap and restored them to working order; mechanics and craftsmen of all age groups plying their skills; and the serious minded model builders with their creations. White-haired matrons recalling their teenage days when they helped Ma with the pies and other ingredients of the sumptuous threshers' feeds. Two intermediate generations making no attempt to conceal their interest and fascination with the way things were done in the days that used to be. And the kids! Playing in straw piles, and otherwise having themselves a ball.
And behind all this the nearly marvelous organization the members of the sponsoring clubs all pitching in and helping, and all handling their respective assignments to keep things moving with minimum of flaws and hitches.
Put it this way how secure would you feel in a big city ball park, with a large crowd, and only two or three policemen? Well, that is about all you will find at these countryside thresher exhibits, and they are stationed at the gates to control automobile traffic. No brawls to break up, no hooligans to handle. Just a large crowd of nice well behaved people enjoying themselves. That, in a capsule, is the whole story. That is what I have learned during the 11 years of 'taking in' these threshing exhibits. And that is why I attended 6 thresher shows last summer (I retired last July 1, after a career in railroading that began while Calvin Coolidge was president) to meet people; the kind of people I enjoy meeting.