| January/February 1982

303 South Market Avenue, Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania 17552

Since Anna Mae was kind enough to ask me to write again, I'll tell you some of my experiences of the years gone by. When I was about 15, my oldest brother, Amos, bought a 12 horsepower Case steam engine. Like most farm boys of that time I wanted to go with the thrashing rig. A few years later I got my wish! I was going to fire the Case to steam tobacco beds. They started me on the first job then left me for a while. Things went along fine and I was feeling pretty good. I was soon done. The farmer helped me load the pan on the cart. I took the pipes apart and tied them into a bundle, coiled up the water hose and put it on top of the pan. I hooked the cart to the engine and they still had not come back. So perhaps a little nervously I started for the next place. I went in the lane on the other side of the road. The lane was only one wagon track wide, down hill and with a short curve, about half-way down. I was driving too fast on a strange road. The next thing I knew the left front wheel was in the ditch. I yanked the reverse lever over the center notch, but I was fast for sure. I got down off the platform and looked at the fix I was in. I turned on the injector and covered the fire with coal. I was going to go for help when the truck came. I don't remember what was said but they took the coal shovel and shoveled ground away from in front and back of the wheel. Then with the poker poked the ground away from under the ash pan. Then they got on the engine and backward and forward turned the wheels hard and got up on the road again. They drove the rest of the way down the hill and set the engine, and started me steaming again. Amos told someone later, 'I was just hoping that boy wouldn't try to drive down that hill.'

Things went quite well for a few more jobs. Then I learned another lesson! This lane was also narrow and cut out of the side of a steep hill. I was scared of the engine rolling down into the Chickes Creek. The boss set the engine on a terrace as the whole homestead was terraced on the side of the hill. I was steaming for maybe two hours when I began having trouble keeping up steam. Lucky for me the boss came along. He looked in the fire door, 'Why you have no draft,' he said. I had the blower half open but he opened it wide. Then he checked the ash pit. I had the ashes scraped out pretty clean but he called 'Come here and look at the bottom of those grates.' Hanging down from the grates were firey icicles or stalagmites or whatever. He took the poker and knocked off all he could. The dirty coal had melted and ran down through the grates like molasses. Then he went to work cleaning the fire. This Case had no rocker grates and all the clinkers had to be taken out the fire door. He had quite a little pile of clinkers smouldering on the ground before he shoveled in coal. That and the full blower soon got the steam gauge rising again.

I heard later that there had been a wreck on the railroad and two cars of coal had spilled. The farmer had gotten a wagonload of free coal for hauling it away. That's why it was so dirty. A few days later we came to a place where he set the engine alongside of the house and beside the tobacco bed. The cistern was maybe 25 feet back of the engine. I took the water hose and threw the strainer into the cistern. I might have noticed a light foam on the surface, but I didn't think anything of it. In about an hour the water in the glass seemed to be swinging up and down pretty far. I was using the injector and while I was looking at the gauge the water went down to the bottom of the glass. What was going on now? Then while I watched in wonder the water came back up in the glass until it was full to the top. I think I changed a pan while this was going on. I fired harder because running cold water in pulled the steam back. My main attention was watching the water as it fell and rose the full length of the glass. I had no idea of what was going on in the boiler. Then about sunset the whole engine quivered and trembled like a horse shaking himself. In about twenty minutes the engine shivered and shook worse than before. That really put the fear of God into me. I had heard about engines blowing up, and I was a little like the old darky 'wait a little Lord I'm not quite ready yet.' But I kept on steaming and kept the injector on all I could and the fire as hot as I could. Then the night man came.

Sam Kinsey was a little younger than I, but he had more nerve and less fear of the engine than I had. I told him about how strange the water glass was acting. We turned the water glass off and blew it out, but the swinging up and down motion continued. He decided that he could handle it and kept on steaming. In our late teens, neither one of us realized the terrible danger we were in and it was later that I learned that the quivering of the engine was called the water hammer. The water hammer is what bursts the foaming boiler. Sam was quite willing to take over the problem and I was selfishly glad to get away from there and go home.

I knew that he would move to the next place during the night. So I followed the wheel tracks to the next job. I saw a wisp of smoke as I got near the place, then I saw the engine. My Lord, what had Sam done? The whole front of the engine was white; smoke stack done, smoke box and front part of the roof all were covered with what looked like lime dust. The first thing I did when I approached the engine was look at the water glass. I asked Sam how he made out? 'Oh, I got along all right. I just fired harder and kept running water in. When the water came up in the dome it blew some of the froth out in the tobacco bed; when the safety valve blew off, it blew some out there. Then when I moved and ran the engine, that pumped some out the smoke stack; and when I blew the whistle that left some our there.' He was using fresh water out of the well at this place and that helped, too. I tried brushing some off with a broom but the stuff seemed to be baked on. I think we had rain in a day or two, and it was too wet to steam anyway. Then when the engine had cooled off, we went to fire up again and we took coal oil and rags and cleaned off the white stuff. When the engine had warmed we took steam cylinder oil and gave it a black shampoo.


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