HAPPY HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST

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

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