Just a Steam Fan

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12 hp. Nichols & Shepard No. 4632 and built in 1893. This is one of the four engines at Millers Ranch, each a different size and make.

I HAVE BEEN TAKING the ALBUM since 1952 and, like all the other
ALBUM readers, I enjoy it very much. For sometime, I have wanted to
write a letter to be printed in the ALBUM. I have enjoyed every
letter printed, so maybe some folks will read this one all the way

I was in Grinnel, Iowa in March, decorating a new church, was
staying with my son-in-law James Lang. He told me there was a steam
engine about a mile out of town. We drove out there and it was a 16
hp. Gaar-Scott, cleaned up and painted. I didn’t get to talk to
the owner.

I came home and the May-June ALBUM was here with a picture of a
20 hp. Reeves, exactly like the one I owned and run for seven
years, so I decided to send along some pictures with this letter. I
was born in 1898 so you can count my age on each one of these
engines and know that I was not an old-timer; just a steam fan. I
was always happy to just be near a steam engine, but other than
hauling bundles to one, I never got a chance to really be near

I went to Harper, Kansas, in 1918 and got a job hauling water to
a 30hp. Reeves double. This machine ‘also 36 in. Case
separator’ had been shipped up from Oklahoma. I think from near
Enid, by a man named George McDowell. He also brought the engineer
and separator man. They were brothers and I think their names were
Peedam. Dick was the Engineer. This engine had in addition to the
two side tanks, a big one. I think eight barrels that laid down
cross-wise behind with a coal burner on top of that, so all the
coal had to be cracked and shoveled up there and it fed down to the
platform through a chute. I imagine most of you know all about
this. You had to go up onto the engine from the left side. I pulled
the water tank up on the right side which is a bit unusual as all
of the others we run on the left side. We had 36 days threshing, 18
of shocks and 18 of headed. I’m still not sure I was
‘around’ that engine much while it was running as it took
six tanks one day and seven the next and this was a Port Huron
boiler steel tank that held 14 barrels as compared to these
galvanized tanks that probably hold 10 barrels.

The next year I went to Red Field, South Dakota, and got a job
hauling bundles to a Buffalo-Pitts, 32 in. separator and a 15 hp.
Case engine. I do not think this one took as much water. This
machine run seven bundle racks. Three of us didn’t like to
change sides every time we came in, so we made a deal with the
other four that we would keep one side going if we could have the
belt side, that being the side they took the grain from. Guess I
have always been a glutton for punishment. That ended the wheat
threshing. Oh yeah!- the owner of that machine was named Arch

In 1922, I hauled water to a 20 hp. Return Flue Minneapolis,
that was pulling a 36 separator of the same make. This engine was
run by one of my brothers, Lester, and was owned, by Howard
Byam-Walt Phipps and Bert Johnson. In 1927, I ran a 20 hp. Straight
Flue Minneapolis engine on a 36 in. Minneapolis. This machine was
owned by Chas. Jacobsen. In 1028 I ran a 20 hp. Case engine for the
three already mentioned above. Byam is my father-in-law but he
wasn’t in 1922. In 1929, I ran a 20 hp. Gaar Scott engine on a
36 in. separator same name, for Edward Ingram. All of these
starting in 1922 were in the Sioux Rapids-Marathon, Iowa
communities. Then I bought a 36-60 Avery Yellow Fellow separator
and an 18 hp. Return Flue Avery engine, got a run in the same
community a little closer to Marathon and threshed until 1936,
however, I only ran the engine one season, then I bought the 20 hp.
Reeves. In 1937 I threshed a run near Webb, Iowa which was as close
to Byams where I stored my machine, as the other run was.

To do a little reminiscing about these years of steam threshing
in Kansas on that Reeves I was working a team of horses for a week
or so while waiting for a team of mules to get there from Oklahoma.
This team of horses never fell in love with that steam engine. I
had hitched them up as I knew there was only a few gallons of water
left and the injector was on. I was sitting on the engine to shut
off the injector when it started to get air. Dick would let me fire
the engine and run the water and later let me stop and start the
engine. Of course, any one that can stop an engine can start a
Reeves. Anyway, just before this water ran out, the water glass
blew out and I mean ‘blowed’. This team started just like
Tim-Tarn out of a chute and would have beaten him for 200 yards and
Mrs. Davis’s little boy Len, leaped, and lit on the tank and it
wasn’t run-away horses that I was thinking of either, while
they were making the first turn to miss the separator, bundle
wagon, etc. I picked up the lines which were wrapped around the
seat and we took off for a tank of water. This water glass
didn’t stay put for awhile. I asked Dick how he could tell when
he had too much water and he said. when it ran out of the smoke

Another time the glass blew, it just cracked. I was on the
engine alone, and I reached down to shut off the water first and
when it did blow, I got a piece of it in one eye. The boss took me
to a doctor who took the glass out, sold me a pair of dark glasses
and I only missed one tank of water.

On this Minneapolis in 1922, that my brother Lester, run the
machine was at our place, we set early and backing in the belt get
away, it run off on the inside and the gears cut it in two. One of
us took it to Sioux Rapids to a harness shop and he cut out every
other layer of canvas from both ends about two feet, lapped them
together, sewed them with 13 rows of stitches and we were able to
use the belt. Lester T. Davis went on the Western Pacific R. R. at
Portola, California in 1926 as fireman, was promoted to engineer in
1940 and was one of their top passenger engineers at the time of
his death (heart) in 1952. He was 47 years old and had also been in
the State Legislature for six years.

On this Minneapolis engine in 1927 of Charlie Jacobsen’s, we
had trouble steaming it two or three days, when we discovered the
trouble was either soot in the stack or on the exhaust nozzle, 1
don’t remember which. Charlie was truly on old time thresher.
He told me that the old-timers talk about a four minute set, said
we will try it some day and we did, and we also made it in four
minutes flat. We did everything but roll up the belt. We folded the
feeder, ran the blower’ around, turned the engine around, made
a complete loop with the machine, dug both front wheels down, put
the level on ‘which doesn’t mean it was level’, turned
the engine around again, backed into the belt and was threshing in
four minutes. Charlie passed out of this world in 1947 at about 63
years old.

I don’t recall anything about the Case I ran in 1928 except
that it had leaky flues and no top on it, and you could see how
much water you had in the glass sitting on the right side seat. You
couldn’t see neither the top or bottom of glass, but there was
an arrow that showed which was about 2 inches from bottom.

The Gaar-Scott I ran in 1929 – I could talk on and on about it.
It was the quietest, smoothest running engine of them all. The
eccentric being built like it was, sort of double, it made no noise
at all. I used to sit on the spring seat on the water tank and
listen to it run. The big smoke box and the tin stack made a very
pleasing exhaust sound. Well, sitting out there listening to it
run, the only thing I could hear besides the exhaust was the
governor gears. Do you suppose I never oiled ’em? It was also
the easiest engine to fire I ever run. You only used one shovel of
coal at a time, where my other engines I used two. This Garr-Scott
was bought new in 1912 by about 12 farmers. The engine only had one
injector and it was not a Penberthy. Don’t know what it was!
One day it wouldn’t work, and I asked the man that run it the
year before who was hauling bundles, what could be the matter? He
took one look at the steam gauge and said it won’t work on less
than 105 pounds of steam so that didn’t happen again.

Next was the Avery. I bought it and moved it 35 miles which was
no fun. I like ’em better in the belt. This machine was bought
new in 1910. I kinda liked that little engine, guess because it was
mine. On Saturday p. m., before we finished the run on Wednesday, a
man stopped in, visited a while and sold me five gallons of boiler
compound. Said to dump a couple gallons of it into a barrel of
water and inject it into the boiler about five o’clock. Said
when I washed the boiler next morning, I would have to break some
of the scales in two to get them through the hand-hole. I used it
like he said and he was right, a wash-tub full. That day at noon we
went out after dinner, I could hear steam before we got there. The
steam was down to 60 pounds, water even less. In the front end was
a little crown sheet with a soft-plug in it, but just below that on
the left side, two stay-bolts had let go, probably years before and
had limed over. They were just flush with boiler, the compound had
eaten the lime and that was the end of the Avery engine.

The next year I bought the Reeves and moved it 20 miles. This
Reeves was a pleasure to run, as if you had a lapse of memory and
discovered that your water and steam were both down, you could
catch up as it would burn the coal; didn’t have to be babied.
It had two injectors, both always worked and one of them would work
down to 55 pounds before it quit. You people that were familiar
with Reeves engines will notice by picture that I extended the
platform and built larger tool box and coal bunker. That made it
much better as more people could get up there, in your way. I also
put a Garden City feeder with a fourteen foot drag on the separator
and that enabled the bundle haulers to get more bundles under it. I
took pride in keeping my engines clean and myself also. No woman
even put a newspaper under my plate, in fact I was cleaner that the
bundle haulers as I very seldom got out of the shade, so no

Well folks, that’s enough. Probably all this won’t be
printed, maybe none.

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