FRANK J. BURRIS
35222 La Flora Drive,Yucaipa, California
Among the funniest of these yarns which I can recall to narrate to you brother engineers is one concerning the time when I was serving as sidewalk superintendent (and an old board walk at that) while watching some draymen unload a hundred new flues down at Mel's shop in the Old Home Town. The big draft team was enjoying the advantage of a few minutes to snitch a bit of dozing off with drooping heads as skids were being set for sliding off the load of windpipes.
But the horses, ordinarily not alarmed at the sight or sound of machinery in normal operation, all at once pricked up their ears, snorted, and became very ill at ease as we too could suddenly detect a very peculiar combination odor of livery barn, valve oil, steam and coal smoke which was wafted on a gentle breeze kitty-korner through the trees. There also sounded the very fast panting which resembled the pulsed breathing of a herd of galloping horses, but the hoof-beats were supplanted by the high-pitched growl of gearing. For a few moments we began thinking that some new form of motive power must have been invented; or else Nature by some strange act must have taken leave of her senses.
The teamster quickly grabbed on to both bridles and was making a bold effort to hold his steeds in line, when around the corner almost buzzed an iron monster which at first glance appeared like a short-legged pudgy dog coming a' runnin' for his cracklings. Actually, quite a cloud of dust was stirred up on the corner, which partly obscured the view. But our excitement was partially relieved when Nels Olson brought this champing and smelly pot-bellied return-flue* runaway to a sudden halt alongside the pile of flues in front of the shop. It was then noticed that he had been running with the governor belt off, as though pursued by a cyclone, or trying to create one. The teamster was the first to speak, 'Where in thunder did you leave the rest of the herd?' Another chap in the audience, out of range of any flying monkey wrenches, ventured, 'Don't they use any curry combs where you stable that animal? ' Then a third chimed in, 'What kind of oats have you been feeding, anyhow?''
(*Actually Nels' old engine was a Jumbo, but it came to be known as a 'return-flue' because he was always having to return it to the shop for more flues.)
By this time Nels' dark eyes were glaring beneath the tattered brim of his worn and soiled straw hat, and his long handle-bar mustache twittered ominously as he blared back, 'This may be funny to you horse-hair rounders, but I've got to get this engine off the street and drained soon as possible.' This became evidently very true, for with the cessation of steam and oil odor that of the livery stable again seemed to take its place.
With all this commotion, old Mel came a-tottering out of his shop and called to the chagrined engineer, 'What on earth have you done to this old boiler, anyhow?' While Mr. Olson seemed perplexed for words at the moment, Mel continued, 'She smells like a Percheron that was sent for and couldn't come, but he was puffing faster than a pacer at the county fair.' Nels was now regaining his composure, and began to explain, 'We had to close down yesterday noon over in that alkali section when her old flues began leaking like a sieve. Then some separator rookie came up and told me he had seen this trouble before, and they cured it by mixing up a couple of buckets of good fresh horse-manure with water and pouring it in through the filler plug.' This fetched several hoots and much loud laughter from the gathering crowd.
Then Nels continued, 'Well, we fired up this morning, it stopped her leaks all right, but we ain't been able to stay within whiffin' distance ever since. I see you got that new load of flues, so how about taking the thoroughbred out of her right away, Mel?'