302 West Water Street,Mayfield, Kentucky 42066
I am a great lover of steam. I am a member of the American Thresherman Association. I go to one or two shows every year. I wish I could attend them all. The stories that follow are actual experiences that I had around sawmills and wheat threshers as a youngster.
My father operated a sawmill and threshed wheat for many years. He used a 16 HP Russell Traction engine on the mill. This engine would pull itself on the road, but it had no steering gear. It had a tongue and a hitch and used a team of mules to guide it on the road. I never saw another like it.
The timber was very big and Dad cut lots of long lengths. He decided he need ed more power so he bought a 10 HP Geiser plain skid engine. He placed it beside the Russell Engine and extended the saw mandrel, and it worked fine. It was the first and only mill I ever saw pulled with two engines.
The mill was located at the Clarks River bottom-about ten miles northeast of Mayfield, Kentucky. A half mile from the mill site was a one-hundred acre swamp known as Cypress Pond. The swamp was full of cypress trees, snakes, coons, wild turkey, and domesticated hogs gone wild. In the winter when the pond was frozen over, Dad would go there hunting. I remember that on one occasion he killed a wild turkey and a wild hog. He also used a common technique for trapping coons. He would bore holes in some of the logs in the pond and drive sharpened nails into the holes at an angle. He would then fill the holes with honey or molasses. A coon going for this bait would get snagged on the nails. Sometime ago the swamp was drained, although some cypress remain.
I remember he used what he called a lizard to get logs out of the pond. The lizard was a forked tree about six or eight feet long and about eight inches in diameter. He bored a hole in the big end for a chain hitch. He would roll the logs on the lizard, drag them to solid ground, load them on the wagon, and haul them to the mill. Some job!
I was about ten years old at the time. I was always around the mill in the way. One day I got in the path of the log carriage. It knocked me down and dragged me about ten feet. I was skinned and bruised all over, but luckily there were no broken bones. Dad was sawing and saw me fall. He cut the power off and this certainly saved my life.
Dad hauled logs with three yoke of oxen. I would go with the logger to the woods for logs. I would ride the coupling pole and get scratched all over in the briar patches and papaw thickets. The logger had a bull whip about twelve feet long with a short stock. He could throw the whip under the bellies of the lead oxen and make the fur fly. I never knew how he did it-
When I was fourteen years old I operated a 6 HP Geiser Drag engine with wood wheels and a tongue. The separator was a wood-wheeled Geiser with a 20 inch cylinder, hand fed, with a slat stacker. Dad threshed with this outfit for several seasons. We pulled the engine, the separator and also the water wagon each with a yoke of oxen.
I also operated a 6 HP Russell Drag Engine and corn shredder. We pulled the shredder with a team of mules. I had a bad accident to happen to the man who was feeding the machine. He got his left hand caught in the rollers and he was pulled into the machine. I was standing by the engine and saw his feet fly up toward me as he was pulled in. I cut the power off, threw the drive belt off but it was too late. His left arm was cut to shreds to his elbow. The seventeen knives right behind the rollers had surely ruined his arm. We never found any part of his arm, just small spots of blood and flesh on the inside of the machine and up in the loft. We rushed him to a doctor at once. The doctor had to amputate his arm above the elbow. He recovered and lived to a ripe old age.
Later, I operated a 10 HP Nichols Shepard traction engine threshing wheat. I also operated a 12 HP Case Traction engine threshing wheat. Then a 15 HP Case traction engine threshing peas. Fifty-five years ago was my last season threshing wheat. I had bad luck. My uncle and I operated an Advance rig, a 16 HP engine and Advance Separator, 28 inch cylinder/wind stacker and hand fed. It was a very nice rig. We were making about a fifteen mile drive to out last set for the season. We had promised Mr. Ben Wyatt that we would be at his farm by twelve o'clock on a certain day. That was the day we fell in the creek. We were about five miles away from Mr. Wyatt's place when we started to cross a dry creek about eight feet deep. The bridge had a cap sill in the center. It looked substantial, but just as the engine rolled on the cap sill it split and down we went. My uncle and I were on the engine. Mr. Doug Coleman, one of our feeders, riding the separator, jumped off and landed on the hard ground breaking out three teeth. He never did know whether he spit them out or swallowed them. We surely were three scared men. The only damage to the equipment was a broken tongue to the separator. The job was to get the rig out. The engine was on one side of the creek, the separator on the other. It so happened the Mr. Johnny Hones was threshing wheat about three hundred yards down the road in the direction we were headed. He came down to help us out. He said he could take his engine and tie a log chain on the front of our engine to hold it down, and our engine would be able to pull itself out. When we got ready to start I gave Mr. Jones the signal to go. He must have been excited, for he reversed his engine backwards and then suddenly reversed it forwards, breaking the chain. He refused to try it again. We used a yoke of oxen to haul water, so we decided to hitch the oxen to the chain and see if they could hold the engine down and they did. The engine was standing at about a forty-five degree angle, but she finally pulled herself out. The next thing to do was to put a new tongue to the separator and pull it out backwards with the oxen. We then turned it around and pulled it one mile to another bridge to get it on the same side of the creek the engine was on. We finally got hooked up and on the road again a day late.
Mr. Wyatt had been expecting us the day before. He had killed a sheep and had the wheat on the wagons. So when we got there, we ate the mutton and threshed his wheat. It was the last crop for that season and the last threshing season for me.
I still love steam engines. I am only 84 years young. All the others of our mill and threshing crew are dead.