Kenneth, Minnesota 56147
I have operated steam traction engines at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, Inc. for a number of years and enjoyed it very much, especially having Mr. Leo Huston from Water-town, South Dakota, a good engineer and a wonderful guy for a partner. The food was always delicious as those Scandinavian ladies could truly prepare a sumptuous meal, which is more than I can say for a few of my own nationality in bygone years. When we used to have a long run of threshing, there were a few places that were called the dirty Irish and when we pulled into these jobs, the waterman spent his leisure time going to town for grub. Of course, these were a negligible minority since most of the places, including Irish, set a bounteous table for which even the hard boiled hobos sang their praises, but deplored the others in unspeakable terms.
In 1922 I was sitting on a bench in front of a business place in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, after I had finished a run of threshing in that area. There were several other men there with me when a Mr. Gibbs from Briercrest, a small town about thirty miles southeast of Moose Jaw, came along inquired if there were any steam engineers in the group. No one spoke up and I was reluctant to go out on another job as it was getting late in the season and the days were rather chilly, especially early in the morning, but I felt that someone should answer his inquiry so I told him that I had run some steam engines in my time. Then he asked me if I could move them around and I told him that I felt confident I could maneuver them here and there, that is if they were man-euverable. Then he told me that he and his brother had a Case rig consisting of an 80 HP engine and a 40-62 separator that they had purchased new three years before and that they had a small run of threshing, mostly their own grain and had started the day before when his brother tried to manage the engine but had never ran an engine before and and he experienced big trouble getting the engine in line with the separator so the drive belt would stay on the flywheel and also had a problem keeping up steam. Since the rig was only three years old, I concluded that it must be in fairly good condition and as I wanted to help him out, I decided to take the job. I told him to have the engine steamed up and ready to roll and I would be out the next morning as I had some things to attend to before I left town. The train schedule was just right so I could get there in time to start threshing. I arrived there about seven A. M. They had the engine steamed up and several loads of bundles, or sheaves as they are called up there, on hand and everything seemed in readiness to start threshing. They had left the machine set just as it was when they quit the first day and when I walked past the engine I could, see at glance that it was several feet out of line with the separator. I also noticed that they were using stove briquettes for fuel which is not adapted for use in a steam engine as it takes too long to heat up, so I told them I had to have different coal, preferably soft lump coal so they sent one of the grain haulers to town to get some. I then made a preliminary inspection of the engine such as making sure there was sufficient water in the boiler, that the oilpump was working and the grease cups on the crank and wrist pin had grease in them. Then I got up on the platform and as I did so, the whole crew rallied around the engine like they anticipated a Mae West performance or something similar in interest. I didn't like to disappoint them but had to get on with the job at hand. So I backed the engine a few rods, then brought it forward in line with the separator, put on the belt and started to thresh. When the sheaves went into the separator and the engine began to labor, I realized that it was hitting mostly on one side and when it came time to replenish the fuel, I shoveled in some of the briquettes. It was similar to putting dirt or ashes over the fire as it checked the heat almost completely until the fresh fuel became ignited, which took several minutes and by that time the steam was down to a point where the engine wouldn't turn the separator at the proper speed, so we would have to stop, turn on the blower and wait until the steam got up to working pressure again and as the grain hauler didn't get back with the good coal until nearly noon, we had to repeat this operation several times during the forenoon. Then when the crew was going for dinner, I told the boss to have my dinner sent out as I had some work to do on the engine.
To start with, I placed the engine on dead center and the reverse lever in the center of the quadrant, then I removed the steam chest cover. This engine had a Wolf valve gear with a D slide valve. There were two openings into the cylinder that let the steam flow in and these are called ports and the amount that the valve uncovers these ports is called lead. Then for the valve to be set correctly, there should be three thirty seconds of an inch lead for the forward or threshing motion with the engine in the position I mentioned. So I set the valve in the position, tightened the lock nuts and replaced the chest cover. This was a rather hot operation with a full head of steam in the boiler, even with the globe valve closed, but I had the job completed when the crew returned and we started threshing again. Now the engine cut off beautifully and with the good coal firing was a breeze, so we made up in part for the stoppage during the forenoon by running without a stop until dark. Then when the last bundle was in the feeder, the crew all left, leaving only the separator man and myself. Incidentally, the separator man was one of the owners and also the one who ran the engine the first day. Then he announced that we would take the rig down to the yard, a distance of about eighty rods. In making the trip, we had to cross a deep ravine or coulee as they call them and when we go coupled up to the separator, Mr. Gibbs said he would walk ahead with a lantern and I could follow the light with the machine. By this time, it was so pitch dark one could scarcely see their hand in front of their face and as I had no light on the engine I had to stop at intervals and strike matches to see the steam gauge and water glass. This engine had a long clutch lever that you pushed forward to engage the clutch and when I was coming up out to the coulee, which was quite steep, this clutch lever flew back and I could feel it barely touch my ear. Had I been over a few inches, it may have knocked me out. So I had another task to perform the next morning while firing up to adjust the clutch and this job is more intricate than it would seem.
In adjusting the clutch the shoes were pressed against the inner rim of the flywheel by turnbuckles on the clutch arms and should be tight enough to prevent slipping when the engine was pulling a heavy load, but not too tight to prevent the arms from going over center, thereby locking itself in. In this position it won't slip out as it did coming out of the coulee and also in this position, it removes most of the friction from the clutch ring. Also when adjusting the clutch, care should be taken to have the pressure distributed evenly on all the shoes. Otherwise, in a hard pull there may be some breakage. So the next morning, after having adjusted the clutch properly, the flues cleaned, a full head of steam and also having had a good breakfast with bacon and eggs, pancakes and lots of coffee, I was ready for another day's work. We put in a good day by running steadily without a stop except for the noonday meal.
That night we got over two inches of rain that made the grain too wet to thresh for two or three days and as I didn't have any more work to do on the engine, I went back to Moose Jaw rather than stay in the bunkhouse all that time. After I got there I met my brother who wanted me to take over a small gas rig out near Swift Current, where they had about ten days threshing left. This job appealed to me at it offered an opportunity to stay in a warm bed for an hour or more longer on those, cold mornings instead of having to get up and fire up the steam engine. So I told my brother if I could find another engineer to take my place at Briercrest, I would take the job, as I was determined not to let the Gibbs brothers down in their time of need. Then as luck would have it, I met up with a big Swede, who had just arrived from North Dakota where he had finished a run of threshing as engineer. After talking with him for awhile I was convinced that he was a competent engine man. He said he was looking for another engineering job, so I hired a car and took him to Briercrest, introduced him to my employers and told them that I felt sure he would be a satisfactory engineer. I was happy to hear later that they got along all right and completed the run of threshing.
These are a few highlights of my experience during a long association with steam traction engines.
With sincere good wishes for continued success of the Album. It is most interesting and also provides a medium for expression of opinion.
Father feels about Christmas giving the way he does about foreign aid surely