Firsthand Account: Using Antique Farm Equipment Before it was Antique

John Jenkins' life story told through the equipment he used and maintained


| September/October 1956



Mr. John Jenkins, Griswold, Iowa, moving one of his engines

Mr. John Jenkins, Griswold, Iowa, moving one of his engines.

As I am a reader your Album, I will try to write you a little account of my experiences as a machine man. Although I am past 72 I am able to work most every day.

Beginning with a Nichols & Shepard steam engine at a sawmill

When I was 16 years old I started to off bear at a sawmill and worked at this for about 20 days when the engineer became sick. There were five of us working at the time and the boss asked if there were any of us who could run an engine. The boss himself was an expert with an engine, but he had to do the sawing. I told him, “I would like to try it,” as I had learned how to use the injector to put water into the boiler and to start the engine when on belt, and had fired it a little.

He put me on and I handled it for a couple of weeks and then the engineer came back so I thought this was the end of the job I liked so much. But he let me on the engine, which was a 10 hp Nichols & Shepard. After I had run this engine a few days I thought I knew everything there was to know about, but the truth was I did not know enough about it to realize I knew practically nothing about it.

I did not know there was such a thing as setting the valve and a hundred other things, but in time I learned to set valves, put in flues, etc. I have babbitted the time shaft and eccentric by taking the piston out and lining through the cylinder, callipering it in the center and lining it past the lathe mark in the shaft. We always had a lot of fun at the mill when we sawed a log filled with big black ants. The man who did the off bearing would start running and scratching until free of them.

Nichols & Shepard, Huber, Avery, Russell and more

After the sawmilling job, I ran with a man named T.W. Davis who had a 13 hp Nichols & Shepard and operated it for four years. I then bought a second-hand Huber 36-inch separator and a 20 hp Huber return flue engine, which I ran one year and sold it to a man by the name of Joe Shear who worked it on the road for one summer and then traded it for a new 18 hp Avery undermounted and a 42x70 separator.

I then got a new 20 hp Russell compound and a 36x60 separator which I operated for some time and then traded it in on a second-hand 30 hp Russell compound universal high pressure boiler and a new 36x60 separator. After running that machine I put a 40x64 new separator on it and bought a new 25 hp simple universal boiler and a 40x64 separator, this making me two complete outfits. I ran them for some time and then sold the 25 Russell and 40x64 separator, and bought a 20 hp Wood engine and a 32-inch separator with wing feeders. It was a second-hand machine which I operated a couple of years, then traded the engine on a 20 hp Nichols & Shepard.

The man who got the 20 hp simple Russell engine had a man running it and they blew out the water glass. They pulled on to the next job and started to thresh. The engineer heard a cracking sound and he thought the flywheel was loose so he stepped up on top of the boiler and just as he did, it blew the crown sheet out, taking the grates and doors with it. It burned the separator and grain stacks, but no one was injured.

When I got rid of my Wood rig, I bought a 30x60 gas engine, a 4-cylinder 8x10 Russell and a 40x64 separator with wing feeder on it. These wing feeders worked nice. I ran this engine several falls and would shred corn fodder during the winter with a big Maytag shredder.