GOSSIP FROM THE BACK SHOP

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Frank J. Burris who is the author of Gossip from the Back shop and Leroy Blaker, taken in Riverside, Calif.

The old county fair scene was quite often given to admonitions
by some of the local steam engine dealers and factory
representatives to the larger horse-power farmers to stop buying
‘fuel’ for their steeds during the various periods of
idleness between planting, cultivating, and harvesting. Certainly
this was one good reason to rather invest in a fine new steamer,
increase their productivity, make a saving in operating expense,
and at the same time enjoy more conveniences.

And when the competition for sales sometimes grew rather keen,
there often arose pretty warm arguments between different dealers
in their bid for business which might even leave the prospective
buyer at considerable confusion. Many claims for machines were
actually unproven but were rather exaggerations, while some were
simply astounding to a degree which gave doubt as to whether the
salesman could really believe his own story.

It was upon one of these latter occasions that Jack Adkins, a
local Huber salesman, was extolling the virtues of his 20 hp giant
in order to displace Nels Albertson’s 12 horsepower sweep which
had been rigged to run a small sawmill in the nearby heavily wooded
section of Cherry Creek, just off a fordable crossing which was a
challenge every fall to any steam threshermen who might elect to
tug his separator up the steep road on its banks. Many engine men
would not even risk climbing this portion of the roadway empty and
using towline on the balance of their load.

During this particular instance, Bud Williams, a factory
representative for Russell, who had a 20 hp sample all steamed up,
overheard just enough of this power conversation to immediately see
his possibilities so thrust in an oar or should I say shovelful of
course he had no full knowledge of the details nor familiarity with
what might be going on about the countryside. But that made no
difference since the sale was the thing.

‘You need a real good steamer to do your work, alright, Mr.
Albertson,’ chided Bud into the conversation in in a voice loud
enough to be heard above the sizzling pop of the Huber standing
some twenty-five feet away from the Russell. ‘But,’ he
continued, ‘you better steer clear of one of those return-flue
jobs because they won’t pull the hat off your head let alone a
string of plows, without turning over backwards.’

‘Well now, I don’t know about that, retorted Jack with
uplifted and surprised eyebrows. ‘If there is any money in it I
might just show you a thing or two to make you change your
mind.’

‘Good land o’ Goshen;’ exclaimed Bud at this
unexpected and seemingly groundless remark. ‘Why, I’ll lay
you twenty dollars on the line right here that I can tie a chain to
your kettle and have her looking up at the moon in nothing
flat!’

By this time several other prospects had become drawn to
attention and edged up to see what all the noise was about. The
Huber popped off loudly as if to proclaim her prowess and Jack
opened an injector to calm her down and conserve some of her burst
of energy; but this only seemed to prod the Russell’s manager
into full action like a swinging prizefighter with a wet towel
flung into his face. ‘Mr. Albertson is a fair judge and good
prospective buyer.’ he said. ‘So suppose we just lay our
double eagles in his hands and let the loser clear out of the
deal.’

This was readily agreed upon by Jack, while the surprised sawyer
assumed his new responsibility with some credulity but great
excitement, and someone went to fetch a log chain for a tug-of-war
which might rightly ascend to position of the top event of the day.
Many people, even with their children, were now leaving the midway
attractions for this new promising bit of activity. Both engines
had been headed away from the infield which contained a large
collection of general farm machinery and information boo th es,
together with some refreshment and lunch stands. This entirety was
bounded by a half-mile harness racing track which sported two hours
of entertainment each afternoon for the week. But right now, on a
bright and lush 10:30 in the morning, Steam was becoming the chief
attraction.

Bud had latched a heavy chain into his drawbar and headed on out
some fifty feet distant, calling back, ‘Come on there, fellow;
let’s not hold up the show. Get turned around and let’s see
you take up the slack in this binder.’ But Jack simply
proceeded to ease the Huber ahead gently, while the scallops on her
canopy dangled gently in the breeze like the frills of a real
sideshow awning; and he headed straight on towards his adversary,
stopping just short within hitching distance between his front end
and the rear of the restless Russell.

‘Catch that chain in my draw eye under the toolbox up
there,’ Jack called to two old steam hands who were
inquisitively standing closest by, and the deed was done ere you
could say ‘Jack Robinson.’

‘What in thunder kind of contest is this?’ stormed Bud,
as Jack eased back a few inches to take up the slack. Many thoughts
flew through Bud’s mind as he belatedly began wondering what
sort of tricks this return-flue job was up to. ‘Well, you
can’t push on that chain,’ shouted Jack; ‘Anytime you
are ready!’ Now Bud had to be a good sport and could

see no way out of the predicament into which he had so
carelessly ambled himself. He simply could not reach down and
disconnect the chain, nor could he back out of a fair contest,
honorably, that is. So he somewhat reluctantly began giving the
Russell her reins ahead while Jack proceeded to nudge his pudgy
charge into reverse.

The next few moments saw considerable clouds of smoke and
cinders puffed into the sky with chuffing that could be heard above
all other noises at the fair grounds. But the Russell, although she
could turn her driving wheels on the solid sod with a bit more
forward distribution of her weight, began losing ground in this
contest with her opponent that rested most her weight ‘on her
hips’ and at least could not be turned over front wards. So the
matter appeared to become settled in a matter of seconds. And as
Bud forfeited his share of the prize holdings he called to Mr.
Albertson, ‘I don’t know what kind of work you are going to
do with that heifer, but if you ever get into a jam where you
can’t go backwards, I’ll be waiting.’

Farm Collector Magazine
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