John Goslee's Memories of Steam Engines


| May/June 2000



Steam pile driver, the Hercules, with my father standing on a beam holding a cable and hat in his hand.

Steam pile driver, the Hercules, with my father standing on a beam holding a cable and hat in his hand.

Around 1980, I wrote two stories for The Iron-Men Album magazine. First one was about my father, "A Story of a 20th Century Iron Man," and the second about an old friend, Mr. Sherman Cooper, "A Old Gent and The Wheels of Progress." I have had so many experiences of my own that I feel I should share them with the Iron Men all over the country, so here's an article of my memories of steam engines.

My first experience with steam started on the stern end of an old steam pile driver, fishing for catfish in the Wicomico River at the old ship yard at Whitehaven, Maryland. My father worked for a very kind and talented gentleman from Salisbury, Maryland, Captain Otis Lloyd. One day Capt. Lloyd said to my father, "Why not bring John to work with you and let him learn some of your talents?" I was about eight years old at the time. Capt. Lloyd explained to me how the pile driver worked, lifting heavy timbers and beams, as well as the driving head that drove the piling in the water and mud bottoms. The pile driver was named Hercules. Capt. Lloyd had a small tugboat he had built to tow the Hercules around with. The tug's name was Bulldog. The engine was out of an old Model T Fordson tractor; you had to crank the engine to start it, of course. Capt. Lloyd played a tenor banjo and Capt. Lloyd's son, Otis Lloyd Jr., played a violin. I soon started to play a harmonica. By twelve years old I was pretty good. My father, Eddie L. Goslee, worked for him about twelve years. After he stopped working for Capt. Lloyd we would often visit him on Saturday nights. He was an expert ship builder; Capt. Lloyd could build anything he wanted to (one fine gentleman).

About 1936 my father and his brother-in-law, Samuel W. Owens, went into the lumber business. They started out with a 16 HP Aultman-Taylor traction engine. They rented it from Ernest Culver from Hebron, Maryland. He had bought the engine new when he was 16 years old, along with a thresher. When the gas tractor came along he stopped threshing and bought a Knight sawmill. Shortly after that my father started full time in the lumber business. This engine was small but smart governors opened up about six inches in the log and the stack sang a tune until the carriage started back. Dad was always the sawyer and could get more lumber from a tree than anyone I have ever seen. He used this engine for years until about 1946, when some boys went in the woods one weekend and stole everything of cast iron on it. It was finally junked.

One day they moved the mill and engine from a tract of timber down on the Elliot's Island Road, not too far from the Chesapeake Bay, close to Vienna, Maryland. We stopped about noon alongside a ditch; took the hose attached to the injector and filled the boiler and two spare barrels. There was a large pine by the ditch and we sat down to eat lunch. About that time, at least six or eight little black kids came out of a house and wanted to know if they could sing for us. Dad said yes. I was about thirteen, and my eleven-year-old brother was along. We rode on the seat or tool box, or in an old 1927 Buick sedan looking for water and wood. The little black kids, in a short time, had taken two planks 3 x 10 from under the house and rolled an old piano down the steps, out under the old pine (still standing today), and started to play and sing. Mr. Culver, the fireman and owner of the engine, always had a harmonica with him, so he played a few songs with them as long as it was in the key of C. After they had played awhile, Mr. Culver said, "Play Jesus Loves Me." One of the kids said, "No, we can't. If we don't get this piano in the house quick, Jesus won't love us and Mommy will kick our butts when she gets home from work." She worked in a tomato cannery up the road (steam powered), and would be home in an hour. Dad told them we would help them get it into the house, but they said no, it would take too long and would be in each other's way. They were about ten minutes planking it across the yard, up the steps, and in the house. How they managed it, I don't know, but with the speed they did it, you can bet your boots it was not the first time.

Soon after this day my folks bought a big 32 HP Reeves. It was a powerhouse out of this world! The seller only used it about two weeks and had to carry it back to where he bought it, as the boiler leaked down in the firebox so bad it would almost put the fire out.

In 1938 they bought a 25 HP Case. It had only threshed wheat about two years and then was put in a shed. What a nice engine it was. Everyone who fired it remarked how easy it was to fire. All of the firemen would sit on the toolbox seat and play a harmonica in tune with the governors and stack; what beautiful music to listen to! I think that is the reason that I am musically talented. I can play nine different instruments. The Case engine pulled the 54-inch saw (always had big timber, pine and hardwood), a double edger, and an automatic slab saw that cut and loaded the slabs on a truck to be sold for firewood.