LETTER


| January/February 1966



Sawyer-Massey steam tractor

Courtesy of R. F. Somerville, 12498 14th Ave. N., Haney, B. C, Canada 75 hp Sawyer-Massey steam tractor and 14 bottom Reeves steam lift plow at Pion-era, Saskatoon, July, 1965.

R. F. Somerville

611 D Ave., National City, California

Here are a few of my experiences from my younger days. I am now 78 years old. I started with my uncle on a 12 HP Frick when I was 17 years old and weighed 107 lbs. The winter of 1903 I fired a 15 HP Frick in a sawmill for 50 cents a day and my board.

In 1906 I ran a new Reeves 13 HP on the Mississippi River bottom land and it was a beauty of an engine.

In 1907 I took this same 15 HP Frick to the River Bottom to thresh. I had to cross a large drainage ditch called the Sny. There was a large covered bridge to cross on and it was built like a barn. It was an arched bridge and had 2' x 3' planking on it. The boss wanted to chain out, so we did. I wanted him to steer for me, but he said 'no use two good men getting killed.' You know I could not hold that separator on those 2' x 3' planks and the beauty of it was that when I got the separator up to the center, I had to cut loose with the chain and then back the engine up on the bridge again. Was I ever glad when I got across. If I had gone through the bridge I would have fallen about 20 ft. down into about 10 ft. of water. This bridge was built before the Civil War and I crossed it in 1907. That same year, with this engine, I started to go down a steep hill about 11 o'clock at night and decided to plank the bridge at the foot of the hill. But when I reversed to hold her I heard the gear pin fall out. I let loose of the reverse lever and grabbed the steering wheel. Away we went in the bright moonlight. Boy, how I hit that bridge, a bump or two and we were across. That old 32 x 54 Pitts separator was sure pushing me.

My brother and I went into business about 1908. We had a 12 HP Advance, 32 x 52 Advance Separator hand feed and a No. 1 Birdsell Huller. One night, pretty late, we were moving the huller and the farmer said there was a small hill in the brush on this byroad. I didn't pay any attention to the steam off and I couldn't get him back to thank him for saving my life. They had to cut me loose.

I sold out and went to work in a shop tearing down and rebuilding. I kept track of the flues I put in until the number was over 10,000. Also, I was a trouble shooter. I worked for the John M. Brant Co. in Bushnell, Illinois. One day I went to see what was wrong with a 20 HP Advance Rumely. The man said the Illinois River running into the boiler would not keep it full. Well, I pulled the valve cover and set valve, which was off some, but not bad. Started up to threshing and I never heard an Advance sound like it. Keen on one end, blow on the other. I checked the valve once more. The boiler would not steam. I looked up under the steam chest and said to shut her down. He asked what I was going to do now and I told him I was going to fix his engine. He had piped the steam chest drain into the cylinder cock pipe on the live end. As you know, on these engines that made her get live steam all the way on that end and then get live steam on the back stroke to work against which made her blow on that end. She sure sounded queer. He said it was funny the company would pipe it that way. I said I don't want to call you a liar, but I had seen lots of Advance engines and never one piped like that. He finally admitted that he had done it to drain the steam chest. You should have heard it when I started it up then. After that he said the pump would not work so I took it apart and it was full of pebbles. I told him that I wouldn't have a pump that wouldn't pump rocks either and that he should put a screen on the hose.