Illinois Low Water Club

17837 Lindenwood Road, Lindenwood, Illinois 61049

Sounds like quite a name, doesn’t it? I don’t remember
when the name was coined but I do remember how and why. We members
figure it’s just about the best club we belong to. Let me
explain.

Round about the second time we took our Nichols to the Sycamore
show my father-in-law, Howard, bought a camper so he and Joe could
sleep at the grounds. They had already met other ‘Nichols’
men through Howard and Harlan Wade of Wisconsin. When Joe talked to
Wade’s about getting a casting made for our smokestack, they
gave him Paul Andermann’s name and phone number. Paul had just
got one made for his Nichols. Paul then introduced us to Walter
Eikenberry, Larry Marek, and Muggs Yackley. It didn’t take long
that first night before all the guys migrated to a central campsite
to sit and visit. They spent the evening discussing the day’s
events and planning how to do the needed engine adjustments the
next day. Well, they had such a good time visiting with their
fairly’ new steam friends, the evening meetings went on all
three nights of the four day show. To their credit, the men did
introduce their wives to each other during the daylight hours.
Before long the womenfolk were visiting right along too.

During the months between shows the friendships grew. Plans for
engine restoration were shared, discussed, challenged, and tried.
Show time rolled around again the following August and campfire
meetings started again. By now people knew each other a little
better and some good-natured kidding around started. With the wives
and kids showing up during the day, we needed some place to set up
the picnic baskets. We needed a picnic table and chairs. We got
one. Well, that table soon developed into the central meeting place
for meals, breaks and campfire get togethers. By now we added more
faces to the group; Jon and Kim Gould, Charlie and Joanne Fruit and
Denny and Kathy Flink. Everyone seemed to appreciate having an area
away from the bustle of the show and close to the engines where we
could rest and visit.

Some of our families included quite young members at that time.
Occasionally we were able to find sitters and the gals got to stay
overnight too. Pretty soon we discovered the musical talents of
everyone and the campfires developed into sing-a-longs, story
swapping and show discussions. About the third or fourth year the
campfire grew. Lots of other campers enjoyed the fellowship time.
The Holcomb family decided our group was worth visiting in the
evenings. This was why we kept coming. The fun we had teasing each
other and pulling some kind of joke on someone got to be a major
objective.

More steam engine enthusiasts joined the group over those years.
Gary Hennig, Milt Stein and Henry Fruit come to mind. A half-scale
Case showed up that year. No one knew the guy but he seemed real
friendly. Someone from the group asked him if he wanted to bring
his toy engine and ‘come play with the big boys’. So Jack
Oltman of Minonk, Illinois joined us. Jack was a great hit with the
kids, well, maybe I should say the half-scale Case was a great hit
and Jack was patient enough to put up with them. Jack introduced
Ernie Gerdes to the group a few years later.

The final day of that show found a circle of lawn chairs around
the table. Everyone was discussing the past days’ events and
talking about how they should pack up to leave. No one really
wanted to go yet, so no one was moving too fast. As the group
talked, the discussion turned to a debate on the ‘proper’
amount of water in the boiler necessary to get the most energy
available for work. Opinions on the question were many and varied.
While the discussion continued, Howard got out his notebook and had
everyone write their names, addresses and phone numbers. Now they
could agree on an idea. Howard was going to make a list and have it
copied for everyone. Someone asked him if he was forming a club or
something. Next thing you knew, they were teasing each other that
now they would need a name for the club. That’s when the
‘Low Water Club’ came up. As a group, they hadn’t come
to a general consensus on the proper water level, so why not take
on a name that sounds questionable? It certainly gets a stranger to
ask what it stands for.

Howard used that list of names to contact everyone the next year
in the dead of winter. One Saturday afternoon they got together for
coffee, donuts and visiting. The next year found the group meeting
around campfires at Will County and Sycamore shows. Many of the
engines make both shows and that just allowed more time to work
together, get to know each other better, have families share meals
and develop quite a camaraderie. At Sycamore we decided to have a
potluck picnic on Saturday. Boy, what a meal, fresh
corn-on-the-cob, barbecue grills ‘a going’, tailgates full
of side dishes. This was too much fun. We had to do this more
often. That’s how the Low Water Club’s
cabin-fever-get-together got going.

Come the month of February, we meet at some local restaurant
that’ll put up with the lot of us. Currently it’s the
Creston Supper Club in Creston, Illinois. We share a family style
meal that none of the wives have to cook. Afterwards we watch
videos of steam shows, rehash the past and make plans for the
future. I should mention we did take time to set up a few ground
rules for the club. They include: we will elect no officers, set up
no committees, charge no dues, issue no membership cards, and if
anyone tries to organize anything we have ways to deal with those
situations. Don’t get the wrong idea, this is done to insure we
keep having fun. It’s at the informal meetings held during show
time and mid-winter where we’ve come up with activities for the
engines and engineers. Friendly competitions like the block race,
slow race, belting contest and power put out on the fan have
started after a group discussion. Now there seems to be an extra
incentive for the guys to put on a show.

This past year Sycamore saw us do another belting/threshing
contest. A couple of the Sycamore Show officials seemed interested
in the idea. That’s how Phil Blanchard, Chuck Malsch, and John
Carey got more active in the group. I opened my mouth, was put in
charge of writing up the rules and should have known it was doomed
when I tried to organize something. Wasn’t that one of the
premises of the group not to organize? Well, we finally got teams
together, ran some preliminaries and planned final runs for Sunday.
Paul Andermann, Joe Somers, Denny Christanson and Jon Gould made
the four fastest times with Paul in first place going into the
finals. Sunday rolled around cloudy and drizzling rain. Denny and
Jon got to run in the morning with Denny doing the best time of the
two. Joe and Paul never got to try because of the rain. So we
declared Denny the winner by default. Joe and Paul told him
he’d have to work hard next time to defend his title. They were
already recruiting other engineers to compete.

The 1990 Saturday potluck turned into a real feast. I decided to
borrow an idea from Bellingers out at Cedar Falls, Iowa. You take
one large roaster, fill it with meat and vegetables, wrap it in a
couple layers of aluminum foil sealing it tight. Place the roaster
into the smoke box of a steam engine on top of a wire rack. Now put
the engine to work for four or six hours depending on how much meat
you’re cooking. The engine can thresh, saw, plow or pull on the
fan, anything so it stays hot. When you’re ready to eat, you go
to the smoke box wearing some old heavy-weight gloves and pull out
the blackest, dirtiest-looking roaster you’ve ever seen. Peel
off the aluminum foil, pull out the roaster and open it up to the
fragrant aroma of tender beef, pork or poultry. Call the group
together and sit down to a chef’s masterpiece meal. I think
this may be going to develop into another Low Water Club
tradition!

The club also gets together for individual home threshings
between show dates. In July we meet near Oswego for the Wheatland
Threshing Day hosted by Paul Andermann and Larry Marek at a
neighbor’s farm. In September we get together at the
Somer’s Blossom Farm for the State Road Threshing Day. Both
days give the guys a chance to work the engines and threshers as
well as give us a reason to have another potluck. Our club seems to
be branching out. We’ve even invaded the Pontiac Show and
picked up a couple of new recruits, John and Jim Haley and their
families. We’ve had friends from Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan,
Kentucky and Illinois stop by to visit when they come to the shows
where we’ve taken our engines. Why don’t you do the same?
We aren’t too hard to find at a show. We’re usually sitting
around the steam engines or getting up some kind of competition to
see who’s the best. Just keep asking the engineers where the
engines from the Low Water Club are and you should find someone who
knows us. We look forward to meeting new steam engine lovin’
folks.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment