SOME STORIES OF THE OLD DAYS AS TOLD TO ME BY A TRUE
15700 Santini Road, Burtonsville, Maryland20730.
Not long ago I wrote a story for the Iron Men Album about my grandfather, Mr. B. C. Beall, a true old time Iron Man. At the time I remarked that some of the stories he told of his adventures would make a story in themselves. Well, here are some of them. He was born in September, 1884, an only son. There were several boys born to the family, but he was the only one to live, along with 4 sisters. His father was a poor man and as an only son, the chores at home fell to him at a young age. After the third grade he was kept at home to help his mother and sisters.
One of his chores was to hoe the very large garden which was needed to supply the family with fresh vegetables and such for canning for the winter. This worked okay with one small hitch...every time a steam whistle was heard in the distance, a hoe was found in the garden, but no little boy. This was taken care of when his father got home that evening by a trip to the woodshed for the usual corporal punishment. The next morning he would be back in the garden. That is, until somebody blew a steam whistle. Results, one hoe, no boy, and another trip to the woodshed.
It wasn't long until he could not be kept in the garden at all. His first job was as a helper in the boiler room of a nearby cotton shirt factory. As he was hired as a helper, his main job was cleaning and helping the engineer with repairs. As a rule, the engineer took a short coffee break in the morning. He would send my grandfather to the back door of a nearby establishment with a small water pail. The cold-foaming beverage which filled the bucket seemed to be an excellent appetizer for lunch. After a couple of days two buckets were used, but the engineer got only one. I wonder what happened to the other one?
Due to his love of steam, my grandfather was a rapid learner and was soon able to hold down the fort by himself if need be. This was fortunate, as the engineer liked to visit a nearby establishment with swinging doors. His lunch break usually ended about 5:00, as he staggered back to the boiler room to check out for the night. As a rule, my grandfather, wound up filling the boilers and banking the fires for the night. It was while on this job that he met a young seamstress who worked at the mill. About three or four years later they were united for life.
This job lasted only a short while, and then my grandfather hired out to a man who had several traction engines, threshers and sawmills. He was known to everybody as 'Uncle Lewis' Wotten. My grandfather helped Uncle Lewis run threshers and sawmills and was soon running an outfit for him alone. About 1910, they unloaded a brand new Geiser Mill and stored it as threshing season was about to begin. Three or four years later he was to buy it from Uncle Lewis, along with a thresher and engine and go in business for himself. While working with Uncle Lewis he had a colored helper nicknamed Uncle Dennis. On one occasion as they ascended 9th Street hill nearby Laurel, my grandfather looked back and saw Uncle Lewis approaching in his horse and buggy. He and Uncle Dennis did not want the contents of one of the tool boxes to be found, as Uncle Lewis was a very religious teetotaler. When Uncle Dennis said
'What are we gone to do now?', my grandfather said: 'Uncle Dennis, now don't you blow that whistle because you know how scary Uncle Lewis' horse is.' Uncle Lewis pulled alongside and signaled to stop so he could check the engine, as was his habit. Uncle Dennis 'forgot' about the scary horse, and let go with a mighty blast on the whistle as my grandfather shut off the throttle. Following a mighty leap into the air, a grip on the hit with his teeth, horse, buggy and Uncle Lewis disappeared in a cloud of dust. The villains continued the 3 miles to Uncle Lewis' home, which was where they had been headed. By the time they got there the tool box was empty, but they were not, and nowhere had they seen a splinter of the buggy or Uncle Lewis. As they pulled into the yard they were greeted by a very sweaty horse, a buggy with very warm wheels, and a still white Uncle Lewis. After about 10 minutes of listening to the wrath of God, they went down to put the machinery in the sheds while Uncle Lewis took care of his horse. Uncle Dennis found some more of what had been in the tool box and all was soon forgotten.
My grandfather soon realized that there was no money to be made working for someone else. Piece by piece he bought his own equipment and went into business for himself. This included the new Geiser Mill he had helped unload several years earlier, which had never been set up. This mill was a heavy built Geiser Mill with rack and pinion carriage and friction feed. This mill was to last him his lifetime as it was used by him until two years before his death in 1960. Only God knows how many billion board feet of lumber that mill sawed.
It was converted to a homemade cable feed carriage and belt feed over the years, and although many threshers, engines, etc. were owned by him at various times, it was the only mill.
When he left Uncle Lewis, old Uncle Dennis went with him. One time while on a threshing job for a farmer who was known to be an early riser, he decided to impress the farmer. He got up about 2:00 A.M., got dressed, and got breakfast, hitched up the horse and buggy, went about 5 miles to pick up Uncle Dennis and drove the 20 some miles to the farm. As he approached the house in the early hours of the morning he saw that the house was well lit by kerosene lights. The farmer was standing on the porch with a lantern and as my grandfather tied his horse he remarked, 'Good Afternoon, young man.' Needless to say, this did not set well, but it was not possible to say anything if he expected to get the job next year.
Our bridges were mostly small ones, and not too dangerous, but still sometimes not to be trusted. Most engineers would go several miles out of their way to avoid one, if necessary. Only one man in this area was ever killed in a bridge failure, and this was due to his own carelessness. I plan on writing about this someday when I get the facts. On one very short bridge with only about a 3' drop to the small stream bed, my grandfather felt the engine do down through the planking of the deck. The engine was left sitting on the lengthwise girder on the ash pan. As there were no planks to be had and many miles to go to get any place and no way to haul it, it took some thinking. Being in a hurry, my grandfather hit upon a bright idea. The big railroad jacks were carefully set and the engine was raised until the entire weight was off of the bridge. The cross cut saws were brought out and the middle section of the bridge under the engine was sawed off on both sides. It was then broken up for firewood and laid aside. Then the engine was carefully lowered into the stream bed. The water was below the grates so a fire was started and steam was gotten up. They they turned the engine and ran downstream until they could climb the bank. Then they ran back through the woods to the site of the bridge. With the help of a cable, the wagons with the sawmill and tools were pulled through the stream and then up the other side. Then hooked up and went on their way. Nothing more was heard of the incident. I wonder what the county thought when they found the middle of the bridge gone?
On another occasion my grandfather wanted some barley for my grandmother so she could make some homemade brew, since it was in the middle of the prohibition. Since he was threshing barley for this farmer, he asked him if he could buy a bushel when they were through. The farmer, being a non-drinker, suspected the fate of his barley and bluntly refused. My grandfather realized that he had given his hand away and would not be able to sneak when they packed up.
This being the last of the barley threshing for the season, one of the men said, 'what are you going to do now?' With a sly smile my grandfather replied, 'watch me.' As the last of the barley grew near he signaled and every remaining bundle hit the feeder knives in one big pile. At the same time my great uncle, Uncle Pink, reversed the Geiser and shut off with quite a belt cracking thresher jerking time. It was perfect, all of the barley had disappeared into the thresher and no harm was done. When he arrived at the next job he explained to the farmer what had happened, and the first grain to come out of the thresher was his. After the belt had been thrown several times the thresher was finally freed up. Two and a half bushel of barley rolled out. The best part of it was, it didn't cost a plugged nickle.
He was very lucky in his lifetime, with few serious injuries and lack of trouble with the law. On one occasion, near the end of steam being used on the road, he was called on to do a job for a man which involved running down some black top road. The law against using a steel wheeled vehicle on a paved road had been passed the year before, and he had to use a section of U. S. #1, the main highway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. He had about 3 miles to go when he was stopped by a state trooper on a motorcycle. The trooper informed him that it would be necessary for him to go immediately to the magistrate. My grandfather agreed but informed the trooper that he was low on water and if he left the engine it would soon blow up. After quite an argument the trooper let him go and appear in court the next morning. The next morning they went before the judge and the case was heard. The judge replied that while there was such a law on the books, there was no law preventing a farmer from getting his wheat threshed, and dismissed the case. My grandfather went back and threshed the wheat and went home by the same route. I wonder how long it took the state trooper to realize that the threshing was being done for the judge?
Well, there are a few of the experiences as told to me by my grandfather. There are many more, and if this doesn't bore too many people, I may write about some more later on. Anyone with any comments please write to me and I will be glad to hear from you.