Farm Collector


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?’

  • Published on Sep 1, 1962
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