MEMOIRES


| July/August 1959



R. R. 5, Box 47, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

(In three parts), (This is Part I)

I HAVE FREQUENTLY thought, as I would be reading the IRON-MEN ALBUM, that I might sometime write my own experiences ; hoping they would be as interesting to others as those of old threshers and steam users have been to me. But I never quite got started at it until now that I see in the March-April issue of the magazine the account of the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Reunion of 1958 by Pete Wattach. In this account he calls attention to the 40 under mounted Avery, with picture, that we brought out of Oklahoma last April and rebuilt and showed at the reunion with the 19 hp. we already had. It created a lot of questions by the visitors, so I thought It might be of interest to others as well who were not there.

But first let me say that I do not remember when a steam traction engine did not fascinate me. The first one I ever saw came by the school house at morning recess in 1888. I was eight years old. I remember that the smoke stack was at the back, return flue, and that a man sat on a seat on front of the boiler driving a team hitched to a tongue attached to the front axle. It was a chain drive engine. The engineer stood up at the back on a platform made of planks and with no coal box or anything to sit on. It was held up by chains that ran diagonally up to brackets on the boiler. The engine pulled a small four wheeled wooden water tank, in the front end of which was built a coal bunker, that would hold perhaps two or three bushels of coal. The tank was coupled close to the engine so the engineer could reach his coal with his scoop. On top of the tank were a couple of barrels. While I did not then know it, I later learned they were used to supply water for the boiler while the tank was away being filled. A few rods behind came the separator drawn by four horses.

About this time a neighbor who had operated his separator by horse power sent his son to the Rumely Company at LaPort, Indiana, to learn how to operate a steam traction engine. They bought a Rumely 12 hp. It has locomotive boiler water tank and coal box on engine and was guided by steering wheel. One fall when we started to school I discovered a large pile of wood on the school ground to feed the old cannon stove. And 'oh joy!' one morning when I got to school that engine was sitting just outside the window beside my desk as they used it to saw up that pile of wood. For a couple of hours I could not study a bit. However, the teacher must have understood for I don't remember being scolded. Another time late in the fall, on a cold frosty clear morning while still in bed, I heard it whistle coming by our house. I did not wait to dress but jumped out of bed, night gown, bare feet and all, and ran to the road to watch it go by. I never felt the cold frost on my bare feet until it was gone. Another time my brother and I were playing on the road when it came over the hill. When we ran to meet it the engine men took my brother on for a ride. He rode about mile while I walked forlornly behind the tank wagon hoping against hope they would ask me. They didn't ask me to ride. They came to thresh on my grandfather's farm late one evening. That night it rained and for several days the rig sat there. Every chance I got I was on that engine studying the levers, valves, gauges, etc.

On another occasion, while we were visiting relatives in Pennsylvania, the threshers came one morning at two o'clock. They had started late the evening before and had been caught while on the road in a violent thunder storm. Their engine was a brand new 10 hp. Frick. As most folks know Pennsylvania is hilly, and the next morning when they attempted to drive that rig into my uncle's lot where the grain was stacked it was quite an undertaking. They finally got a team of horses to place the separator between the stacks. But how to get that engine lined up. They had it all over the lot. Backed it against the granary. Showered us all with sooty water when the engine carried over. About mid afternoon they got started to threshing.