GOSSIP FROM THE BACK SHOP The Case of the Mysterious Valves

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Frank J. Burns
Here is a picture of my Baker Engine, 21-75 HP, Serial No. 1564, threshing at my old homestead farm in Railroad Valley, town of Alfred, on August 26, 1963. I bought the engine of Mr. C. H. Kleopfer on the last day the NTA Reunion at Montpelier, Ohio. Mr.

Route 1, Box 1015, Yucapia, California.

Courtesy of O. R. Aslakson, New Rockford, North Dakota

When I speak of cases, the first thing that comes to mind is one
of those dear old smoky monsters chugging along the farm road and
tooting for the water boy to hurry up with that tank wagon, else
they just wont make it to Alvin Peterson’s before nightfall.
Ever see a big steam outfit camped along the roadside for the
night, from one job to another?

But this is a bit off the track for this run. I am telling you
about old Charlie Anderson, the superintendent, chief engineer, and
pooh-bah of the back stairs of the municipal water pumping plant
which had managed to keep up the local supply for nigh on twenty
years when the population numbered less than two hundred and was
now in its twenty-fourth hundred count.

Charlie was an old Swede, and a good one, of course, who had put
in several seasons on a thresher engine, steam if needs be said,
but who was fortunately on hand when he became overtaken by a game
leg and the little town needed an engineer to handle the two new c.
c. Corliss engines which were direct-connected to positive
displacements pumps. Since this type of engine had many
peculiarities not found in any sort of mobile engine, it because
necessary for the vending contractor to furnish a master mechanic
guide for Charlie during the first month of actual operation.

Charlie at once perceived that his new job was a real specialty;
one in which none of the other fellow threshermen in the vicinity
would give him any competition. Not if he could help it, at least.
For what would he do were he to become suddenly displaced from this
enviable position. He was allowed a helper, of course, to unload
the coal gondolas from the spur into the bins adjacent to the
boiler room. It was a daytime operation, so fires were simply
banked at night and the building locked up. It was a twelve-hour
job, though, seven days a week. So the city dads had requested that
Charlie make an apprentice of his assistant in order to cope with
any eventualities.

Also at the Williams Grove, Pennsylvania, on Labor Day, I bought
a 20 x 34′ hand-feed Frick Thresher with wind stacker and
tally-bagger. This machine was never used much, has been repainted,
striped and is in beautiful condition. As a feature, I threshed
with it, powered by the Baker (we had ENOUGH power), two days at
the Alfred Agricultural & Tech. Institute ‘Fall
Festival.’ Everyone seemed thrilled with it. I love to feed a
hand-feed thresher.

But Charlie was a bit suspicious, and always found plenty other
tasks around for Buddy Wilkins to do after the coal bins were
stocked for the present. So he set about voicing his knowledge and
authority and embarked on a program of plumbing the likes of which
no one had ever seen before. This consisted of making all sorts of
runs with various sizes of piping in the basement, and bringing up
valve stems and operating wheels all here and there through the
floor. Of course Buddy was a young willing energetic fellow
recently finished from the grammer school, and he could certainly
find no differences with Charlie’s wisdom and judgement. The
new plant began to sparkle with fixtures, and even sported various
colors on many of the hand wheels so that they might be readily
indentifiable.

Whenever Charlie had visitors, he always made it a point very
often to glance at a meter gage and then beg leave for a few
moments to go over and twiddle some valve. This always appeared to
ensure proper operation of the plant, for things went on very
smoothly for a long time, and it even grew to the point where
Charlie would ask Buddy to go over and open the green valve and
give the orange one a few turns down. Buddy never did seem to grasp
just what this was all about, but he was happy to be learning under
Charlie’s tutelage and doubtless felt that knowledge and
reasons would follow in due time and he would someday be the
mainstay of the city’s water system.

It seems that all dreams must have an awakening, and the more
pleasant they are, sometimes the more rude the awakening. Thus it
was that Dame Fortune overtook friend Charlie upon the occasion of
one grand summer evening church festival in which attractive prizes
were being awarded for the best samples of Swedish culinary
efforts. The samples were being consumed concurrently with their
judging, and it appeared to behoove every male invitee present to
see just how much he could store away. One would thing that the
prizes were being offered for the greatest gourmets and
gluttens.

All this was progressing very nicely, and Charlie had come
around to the pickled herring section after some solid hour’s
indulgence. But it appeared that a few ornery Dutchmen had been
invited from across the tracks also, and by some means or other a
considerable portion of their hasenpfeffer luncheon found its way
into Charlie’s large tray. He must have been unaware at this
stage, for he couldn’t have made a finer Heinie himself. But an
oldster just can’t take all this sort of thing in stride. In
consequence, thereof, he became laid up for a full week in the
hospital and at home. The thoughts of the pumping plant were
farthest from his mind, but the city mayor and councilmen were
frantic lest the city be left without water. These city
father’s interrogated everyone around who might know anything
about waterworks, and were in and out of the plant itself like a
herd of safety inspectors.

But the odd thing was that Buddy tried to avoid all the
confusion and simply kept the fires going, the lubricators filled,
the boilers full to working level, and started the engines at
morning and shut them down at night. Never once did he dare twiddle
any of the mysterious valves, for fear of splitting a water main.
After several days of uninterrupted good service, the townspeople
settled down and forgot all about the intracasies of these
mechanical manipulations. And when Charlie was able to return to
work he instructed that operations were going to be simplified. He
had time to figure it all out, and Buddy would make a fine
assistant.

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