Farm Collector

Haywire Engineering

By Staff

Here is a good story taken from ‘Power’ of February,
1952. It was sent to us by Hardy Lindblad and Gilmar Johnson of
Frederic, Wisconsin. It was sent in 1955 and we held it so it would
cure. The fact that it mentions Charlie Harrison and his 110 Case
makes it human. You will enjoy it.Elmer

MARMADUKE SURFACE glow’s office is getting ready for all
kinds of interesting people. Ever since his far-flung friends
learned that he went into the consulting business, old shipmates
and buddies keep popping in.

Yesterday I walked over to his office and there was Charley
Harrison, chief engineer of the Mansfield Leland Hotel in
Mansfield, Ohio. We learned that Charley Harrison has a hobby of
collecting antique steam threshing engines. He now has eight of
them. Charley was showing Marmy and his visitors newspaper
clippings and photographs.

‘These photos show how I moved my latest 20-ton iron horse
all the way from Fargo, North Dakota,’ Charley was saying.
‘She’s a 110 hp. job and stands 13 ft. wide, 22 ft. long
and 14 ft. high to the cab’s top.’

I squinted could hardly believe my eyes. The threshing machine
looked more like a young locomotive.

‘I’ll bet you never operated one of those monsters,’
I said to Marmaduke, wondering if he had.

back in his swivel chair and propping up his feet on his desk.
‘I cut my eye-teeth on these contraptions. Why, I learned more
about boilers out in the wheat fields than I did in boiler

‘How come?’ I asked, sitting down while the old boy
wound himself up.

‘Back in 1907’, bellowed Marmaduke, ‘I signed off an
Alaska steamship out in Seattle, I had been down below in engine
rooms so long the ship’s doctor suggested I hit the wide open
spaces and soak up some sunshine. So I headed for North Dakota.
Scuttle but had it that threshing-machine engineers were in demand
as the season was just starting.

‘My first job was out in the middle of a 2000 acre farm,
miles from nowhere. If you think marine engineers are on their own
out at sea, you haven’t run a thresher in the wide open

‘That threshing engine was a giant. She carried 125 psi and
stood a good 12 ft. high. The boiler had a straw-burning
attachment. That was a horse on me, but I always said you got to
operate all kinds of equipment and burn all kinds of fuel before
you can call yourself a steam engineer.

‘Two water boys were assigned to me. Each drove a team
hauling a tank wagon. The tanks were filled from slews. In case you
swivel chair engineers don’t know it, slew water is snow water
that lays on the ground all summer. It’s highly alkali and gets
a boiler to prime.

‘The threshing season lasted only a couple of weeks, so I
wanted to make sure that boiler and engine would keep running
without a hitch. I started to give her a close inspection, but the
boss was needling me to get up steam. Said he had a big gang on the

‘First thing that I noticed was that her try-cocks had been
removed and the holes plugged. She had a gage glass but did it or
the steam gage work?

‘I flushed the old mud out of the boiler and filled her by
unscrewing the filling plug on the shell near her stack. Then I
poked a stick down to check the water against the glass. The glass
didn’t read correctly. I found it plugged with mud. After
taking care of that, I inspected her tubes. Some were plugged with
soot, so I punched all the tubes. Then I tried her safety valve to
make sure it wasn’t stuck.

‘The boss was getting pink around the gills. He wanted to
know when I’d get up steam. Said he never had an engineer who
did so much ‘fussing around’. Then he assigned two
raw-boned youngsters, one to fire and one to oil.

‘We started shoveling in straw. That stuff really roars and
brings up steam in a hurry. But I noticed the gage’s needle
didn’t move although air and steam blew out of the open air

‘I unscrewed her gage and found the bourdon tube plugged
with mud, probably because of constant priming. By soaking the tube
in water and poking in haywire, I soon had her back on the boiler.
This time she worked and the needle jumped to 20 psi when I opened
the gage cock. By the time steam was up, the harvesting gang was
raring to go.

‘There were 12 bundle wagons for hauling wheat from the
fields, three spike pitchers and one thresher man.

‘I started the engine. A 9 in. belt ran the thresher, 80 ft.
away. With exhaust shooting into the sky, I kept those two water
boys going to the slews and back on the double.

‘That place was a madhouse. I pitched in to help my fireman
and oiler. Everyone worked at fever pitch. The engine was rolling
along and the thresher blowing out a mountain of straw and dust.
There was no stopping for lunch. And the heat was terrific. Must
have been 100 in the shade, but there’s no shade in a wheat

‘The boss came around on his horse after a while. He was
boiling mad. We lost a couple hours getting started with your monk
eying around,’ he yelled. ‘I asked you to start her up and
not build me a new boiler.’

‘I didn’t argue. An engineer’s first job is to know
that his boiler is safe. It’s too late after she blows up. Even
at that, I had warmed her up too fast.

‘Things hummed along at breakneck speed until about three
o’clock that afternoon. Then the water glass burst. I looked in
the tool box but there was no spare glass. With no try-cocks, I
stopped firing and let the threshing machine work off most of the

‘The boss galloped up on his horse and wanted to know why in
hell I held up the show this time. I told him. That’s when he
really blew a gasket.

‘I’ve been threshing long enough to know you don’t
need a gage glass or try cocks to run a boiler,’ he yelled.
‘I can show you where the water level is and I ain’ t no
engineer,’ he croaked.

‘You won’t believe this,’ continued Marmaduke,
looking at his audience over his shoulder, ‘but that guy
grabbed a burlap wheat bag, soaked in the water and held it against
the boiler shell where the water level normally was. Then he pulled
it away quickly. For a split second there seemed to be a line,
showing the water level. I knew this line was caused because heat
transfer through water is about ten times that of transfer through
steam. So the moisture left on the shell from the wet burlap
evaporated faster opposite the water than it did opposite the
steam, although both steam and water had exactly the same

‘ ‘There’s your water line,’ the boss gloated.
‘Now get that steam pressure up there again and let’s get
going.’ Then he added triumphantly, ‘That’s the way we
farmers engineer out here when we get in a pinch.’

‘But that was the last straw for me. ‘Just pay me
off,’ I informed him, ‘because I’m leaving this
infernal machine as fast as my legs can carry me.’

‘ ‘How come,’ stammered the boss, surprised as all

‘ ‘It’s because I’m crazy like Mark Twain,’
I answered. ‘I came out here for my health and I’m leaving
for the same reason.’ ‘

  • Published on Jan 1, 1959
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