GOSSIP FROM THE BACK SHOP

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Route 1, Box 1015, Yucaipa, California

Reformations have to do with philosophies. Sometimes they center
about religious affairs, as we recall from our first contacts with
early European history; sometimes they have to do with the curing
of one afflicted with habits of inebriation, which reminds me of a
few instances of early childhood when I asked my mother why some
fellow’s legs were dangling down over the rear of a buckboard
while he appeared lifeless lying in its bottom and a neighbor was
driving its team at a brisk trot on the way to its owner’s
home. But this particular yarn has to do with the case of the
greatest traction engineer that ever graced the operating
platform.

I am telling you about Cy Bridger, who had been the sole
engineer for Ab Holman’s steam rig for over twenty years. Ab
always tended the separator and rather looked after the manner in
which Cy took care of his engine. Oh, Cy had a well-nigh perfect
record, alright. Never an accident of any consequence from bridges
to fires. But in all Lake County he had well earned the reputation
for being the greasiest man alive, and there were even rumors that
they were going to substitute him for a greased pig in one of the
coming fair events one fall season.

You see, Cy’s charge was an old timer that had wedges on the
connecting rod ends, and the manufacturer had neglected to put any
grease retainer shims between the connecting rod bearing halves and
also the cross-head bossing. Cy had been born, so it was said, with
an oilcan in his hands, and it was his usual custom to go through a
two-pound can of good light mica grease on his engine every
threshing day. At first you might wonder where all this grease
went, but had you ever been privileged to see him near the job your
question would have been automatically answered.

Cy earned his apprenticeship while firing for another old-timer
and upon one fateful occasion when a spliced drive belt was being
used to drive the Separator the joint gave way when a heavy feeding
of wet grain hit the cylinder. The sad part of this incident was
that the engineer had been sitting on his seat box directly behind
the belt wheel and the end of the drive belt whipped around and
gave him a horribly permanent head and neck injury. So Cy became
allergic to the right hand side during belt work and always stood
on the left side directly behind the crank disc which on this old
boiler was but inches away from his face. So after a few seasons
the entire left side of the engine became coated with grease matted
with dust so thick that the steam hose would not take it off during
the weekly boiler washing. But there became deposited just as much
grease, which was thrown off the spinning crank disc, all over Cy
from the bib of his overalls to the top of his old felt hat. Cy
donned these clothes at the beginning of threshing, and never
removed them for two months straight running, so it was said. And
it appeared that each following season he donned the same garments
just as they had been removed after the last run. Today we would
declare that they must have been made from some plastic material,
since they wore so smooth and slippery and could stand alone.
Cy’s face fitted right in with the picture, and how he could
avoid getting the flying grease in his squinted eyes mystified
everyone else on the crew. Actually, it was difficult to tell where
the hat left off and the face began.

This sort of performance went on season after season until a
time when threshing jobs began to tighten up a little and all items
of operating expense received closer scrutiny. Or may be it was
that Ab Holman believed that he could affect his economy without
causing Cy to feel any embarrassment in his steam engine learning.
But Ab was a good mechanic in his own rights, so right after a
shutdown on one weekend he came up as Cy was oiling around and
said, ‘Cy, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about the
lubrication system on this engine, and I want you to cut some shims
out of the soles of these old shoes I found in the toolbox and
close up the gaps on those rod brasses. And when you get that done
I want you to replace the grease cup on that connecting rod with
this one I have in my hand.’

Cy examined the newly worked grease cup and exclaimed, ‘
Well, I see we don’t have any spring loading in this cup, but
what is this piece of copper wire supposed to do that you have
running down through the port?’ ‘Cy,’ replied Ab,
‘grease is never used up, it just gets wasted away. Now when
you get that bearing closed up, you put this cup on and fill it
just two thirds full of grease. Then push that piece of copper
telephone wire I snitched from that line repair crew the other day
right down through the grease until it touches the journal. Then
cut the top of the wire off flush with the height of the grease in
the cup. When you screw the cup down afterwards with the grease in
it, turn it until it hits the top of the wire, fhen just back it
off two full turns. And then don’t touch it anymore until you
see me. If anything goes wrong it will be my fault.’

Cy rubbed his oily hand against the crown of his greasy hat as
some rays of light began filtering through to his thought
processes. ‘You mean that piece of wire is going to kick up and
down in that close fitting hole and meter the grease through to the
bearing?’ he queried. ‘That’s it,’ replied Ab.
‘And unless I miss my guess we won’t need to touch that cup
for two or three days running. We can check it at morning and noon,
and just watch that rod without having to squint your eyes because
I don’t want you to miss anything else that is going on around
here.’

So that was the way it began. Ab’s ingenious scheme proved
so good that an elbow was put on the crosshead grease vent and
tilted up at a forty-five degree angle. Then a piece of copper wire
was also fitted through the cup port and from that time on a can of
grease was known to last two weeks. Not only that, but Cy even felt
the change and went out and bought a new pair overalls and an
engineer’s cap. And at first sight everyone believed that Ab
had found a new engineer. You know, it was many years after that,
that the first grease cups of a similar type appeared on the
market.

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