FROM HAY TO SPACE

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The Old Boy is caught doing a bit of whitling by Mrs. Burris. Note the shop on the left, and the canopy outside work space on the right back, as depicted in Mr. Glessner's cartoon. The last type of the heavy-duty Oil Pull, a 20-35, also peeks around the g
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The writer, Mrs. Iva Burris stands beside the reversed stacker fan on the smallest Case thresher. Courtesy of Mrs. Iva Burns, Rt. 1, Box 1015, Yucaipa, Cal. 92399

Rt. 1, Box 1015, Yucaipa, Cal. 92399

Dear Elmer, Aunt ‘Lene, Anna Mae, Kitty, and all others of
your wonderful family who publish and edit the Iron Men Album and
Gas Engines.

While my good hubby has had too many other tasks on his mind for
the past few years to continue his series ‘Gossip from the Back
Shop’ I thought maybe I might put in a few words and perhaps
entitle it ‘From Hay to Space, as seen from the kitchen
window.’ It is very seldom that I can catch him sitting down
for even a few brief moments of rest, but I did manage to get him
to pose for fun doing a bit of whittling and philosophically
meditating and the enclosed snapshot is intended to show that your
resourceful cartoonist Mr. Roy Glessner may be endowed with
clairvoyant powers. For ‘Bizzer’s’ shop is much like
that in the cartoon, with a canopy workspace on the right hand side
under which dwell a Case 22 x 38 thresher and a 20-35 Oil pull
tractor. He is still hopeful of procuring a small steam engine with
which to stage an old time threshing demonstration in this part of
the country. So that is the way I see the back yard whenever I
happen to glance out of the back kitchen window. When he is not
pursuing some electronic or mechanical problem in his shop, he is
cultivating the yard in an attempt to grow fruit trees and garden
varieties in a type of soil which was surely intended for
manufacturing concrete or some other such thing.

For, while California may have an ideal climate for growing
almost anything under the sun, good soil is actually quite a
scarcity. Most of it is either decomposed granite or adobe. Often
has he wished for a few carloads of that real earth from back in
Iowa, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. But he does not really bemoan his
efforts, for he says it does keep him young and closest to
heaven.

Now I had better get on with the title of this episode. Bizzer,
as his favorite aunt nick-named him, was born in Flandreau, South
Dakota, almost up against the Minnesota state line. A wonderful
threshermans’ country in those days. His grandfather published
the Moody County Enterprise, as I recall, bless his soul, and
declared that Bizzer was born with a monkey wrench in his hands. At
any rate, while he was still in his baby buggy, his aunt Grace
relates how he would cry if someone would not wheel him down to the
railway depot at the sound of a whistle, so he could watch the
‘choo-choo’ come into town. Biz has told me that his
earliest recollection of threshing engines was when he was about
two years old. He was playing on the upstairs back porch of Mrs.
Wilson’s building which also housed the printing office. Very
distinctly he recalls that two ‘Iron-Men’ came along the
back road with a steam engine, apparently on their way home and low
on fuel. The engine stopped a moment, and one of the men stepped
down and picked up a stray board along the roadside. He immediately
placed it under the front wheels of the engine, crosswise, so as to
divide it into sections which he then put into the firebox. His
remarkable memory recalls some other of his toddling days with
which I shall not burden you here. But a few years later his uncles
were tied to the task of taking him to the real old 5 & 10
stores to look at the great variety of toy Weeden steam engines.
Toys like those are not made anymore. About eight years after the
turn of the century, the capitol city location fight was ended with
the designation of Pierre for the center of affairs of state. At
this time his grandfather moved his newspaper to Pierre as the
Weekly Free Press. And but a short time after this Bizzer’s
family moved to the farm in the western part of the state.

Power machinery was rather scarce in that particular section,
and threshing and harvesting was done with horsepower. Hence his
first contact with such work as pitching hay and grain right along
with the rest of the fellows brought him into play with the old
Dingee-Woodbury sweep to drive the hand-fed conveyor stacker
thresher. I do believe that he can still hear the noisy murmur of
all those connecting tumbling rods about which he speaks. This
threshing rig was owned by the Young brothers, who later purchased
a new Case steel separator and an Advance steam engine which they
indicated to be of a 20-72 horsepower rating. Shortly after that,
and an era with a little old Russell steamer of about 1898 vintage
with a Birdsell huller, the farmers shared in the purchase of a new
Case 20-40 gas tractor and a 28 x 50 separator to match. This was
during the first stages of World War Number One. For Heaven’s
sake, is it not something when we must start numbering world wars
in sequence, and having to get into every one of them! At any rate,
Bizzer was in his very first teens when he was allowed to help with
engine work. Oh, he hadn’t taken over yet, of course. But his
father had formerly worked on the railroad, and at this time moved
back to town.

Before the days of strict labor legislation, Bizzer was then to
also work at railroading in the operating department, and at the
age of fifteen years handled as much as forty-five tons on coal in
one day. He fired stationary and locomotive boilers of both coal
and oil burning types out of a division point, and when old enough
to join the union became a machinist and boilermaker helper in the
roundhouse. At that time, choo-choos had progressed in his life
from very small engines of the American type to the C & NW
Zulus, which were next to the largest engines on that railroad.
While hostling engines earlier, he has related how he would take an
engine over a switch in the yards, then slowly reverse it while
jumping out of the gangway and throwing the switch, then catching
hold of the grab-irons as the engine came by. This was supposed to
be an efficient way to handle an engine single-handedly. But I can
well imagine that the road foreman of engines would have fired both
Bizzer and his boss had he ever heard of such antics. After the
conclusion of WW/No. 1, Bizzer was stricken by ambition to attend
the Sweeney Automobile and Tractor School in Kansas City, where he
made the highest average of grades in his time. Following that
event, he went to work for the Case Company at Racine and ended up
in final testing. New steam engines were pushed from the assembly
buildings to the testing floors by a live steamer. If it happened
to be rainy weather and the wood block paving became slippery, the
steamers were too light on the front end to do such pushing of
their cold brothers. This often led to jack-knifing of the ten-foot
pike pole used to connect the engines. But the operators on the
pusher were very adept at handling an engine under such
circumstances, and, instead of stopping or trying to tow which
would have resulted in extra operations near the prony brakes, they
simply left the throttle wide open and maneuvered their engine by
the reverse lever and steering wheel. It became full speed ahead,
full reverse to straighten out the jacknife, then full speed ahead
again. Biz relates how the Company indicated in their earlier
catalogs that their steam engines could be reversed under full load
with no damage to the engine. While I am certainly not familiar
with even the rudiments of steam engineering, you may wonder at my
hubby’s patience at telling me of all these things from time to
time. So if I get the cart on top of the horse, you must understand
the reason. But now we come to the great catastrophe concerning
steam farm engines. The Company began manufacturing fewer and fewer
steam engines while turning out more and more gas tractors. The
last steamer was turned out of shop in 1924 by Case. Biz has a
record of its serial number someplace among his memoirs, and it was
well in the 35 thousands. At this point I should relate that all
Case engines were numbered serially. They made that many steam
engines. Many other manufacturers adopted a policy of starting off
with a new series each year, usually by the thousand even though
they may have manufactured only a few engines any one year. It was
a convenient way of bookkeeping, of course. But Biz also relates
how the later Case engines were equipped with a ‘curved
block’ on their reverse gear, in an effort to equalize cutoff,
whatever that is. It seems there are many problems connected with
going from reciprocating to rotary motion. My geometry was rather a
low subject. So the handwriting on the wall became very legible,
and with the premonition that the most romantic and useful of
powers was soon to become something to be found only in the
museums, Biz decided that if he wanted to continue with engineering
he had better get back to schooling. So far, he had made only the
eighth grade. Many times since, he has wondered whether he might
not most happily have let it go at that. But ambition moves a
fellow ahead, so he was quick to make up his high school in three
years and also university electrical engineering, both with honors.
But he never forgets steam. Upon graduation, he went to work with
GE at several of their plants, and finished the test engineering
course there which took him through steam turbines as well as all
types of electrical apparatus, and wound up in the electronics
laboratory.

When the ‘depression’ closed down most of the factory,
Biz held a permanency with GE but wished to ‘Go West’ after
Horace Greeley. So he followed electronics in California for many
years, about 31 to be exact, and then, after some post-graduate
college work, became employed with the Air Force as an engineer in
its Minute Man Program. He has followed this to this day, and is
very active. So much so that he has little time to devote to that
finding of utmost pleasure, – playing around with an old steam
engine. So I say, he has achieved a very unusual spanse of
experience from the time when, as a mere kid he fixed nearly all
the motorcycles in the state, fed the horses, slopped the hogs,
milked the cows, and rode the range, until he has been given heavy
responsibility in contractual engineering for USAF to ensure that
the brains of the control and guidance systems would tell Minute
Man where to go, and its motors would give it the power to propel
it there. The computer electronics of such things are utterly
fantastic, and the hydraulic pressures are spoken of in terms of
normality at 50,000 pounds per square inch. Biz has even been
accused of counterfeiting when describing some of the new-day
concepts in engineering. But he labors away every day. Maybe in a
few years he can avail of a retirement that will allow of keeping
busy with several other of his hobbies, including photography,
guns, electronics of which he has contributed many original ideas,
and the general outdoors of which he sees very little while working
within buildings provided with no windows. He even speaks of taking
piano lessons, since he left music with a clarinet in the school
band. Then I am sure that he may get around to meeting more of you
good folks at the steamups.

But visitors do drop by now and then. Only recently an elderly
English engineer who is working at a boiler plant somewhere out
near Point Magu dropped by for a chat. This fine fellow related
how, many years ago, he was assisting at barn threshing during a
very long rainy season. The separator was dry in the barn alright,
but the engine was out in the rain and the belt became so slippery
it kept coming off. I began wondering why on earth they did not
construct some sort of shield over it. But this chap went on to say
that the engineer called upon the village blacksmith to make and
bolt together two flanges on either side of the flywheel. It
appears that the separator pulley was already flanged. Then the
rubberized drive belt was taken off and many strands of manila rope
were wound around between the two pulleys. This worked to
perfection as the manila took right a hold even when wet. The
engineer must have been a real rope-drive enthusiast. How do you
like that?

I do hope that you good readers are able to make sense out of my
sketch. Biz took a few minutes to give it a once-over, and declared
he would offer no corrections, since a husband should never, but
never, correct his spouse. So I say, this is Hay to Space.

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