King Steam's Gallant Knights


| May/June 1994



Northern Kentucky University Landrum Academic Center 429 Nunn Drive Highland Heights, KY 41099

'Naturally children idolized the engineer,' says Dr. Reynold M. Wik in his 1980 IMA article, 'Farm Steam Engineers: Pioneers in Rural America' (page 2 in reprint). So did adults, for, when steam was king, the engineers were knights upholding a high standard deserving homage. Reliving those halcyon years when steam ruled the threshing season, Wik explains, 'These engineers took pride in their ability for they were usually the only men in a rural community capable of operating an engine.' (Note there were, and are, women engineers.) That the operators of steam engines attracted 'special attention,' as Wik puts it, comes as no surprise. Today, at the reunions and shows held throughout the country, spectators admire the derring-do of the engineers at the reins of powerful, often gigantic 'metal beasts.' Like their counterparts of yesteryear, modern-day engineers exhibit extraordinary skills.

They must. A steam engine is no simple toy but a mind-boggling assemblage of intricate working parts. The heedful engineer has to keep a constant and vigilant eye on dauntingly complicated systems. The operator of a steam traction engine, for example, must

Test the safety valve each morning and the try cocks more often.

Test the water gauge, continuously verify that at least two water pumps are doing their job, and work the magic of starting an injector.

Know how and when to fire and how not to burn out the grates.