MEMORIES OF THE STEAM DAYS

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20 hp Double Peerless owned by Bun Boner of Butler, Ohio, and son John of Mansfield, Ohio. Getting up steam to run off low boy the day we brought it home from near Tiffins, Ohio.
2 / 5
20 hp Peerless, double cylinder owned by Bun Boner and son, John, of Mansfield, Ohio.
3 / 5
16 hp Reeves owned by Rodney Kiner of Westerville, Ohio. Back to camera on right of engine. Taken at Gurbird Bros. near Westerville on Labor Day, 1959.
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A 16 hp Reeves and a Case Separator. Engine owned by Rodney Kiner, Westerville, Ohio. Separator owned by Gurbird Bros. of Westerville. Picture was taken on Labor Day, 1959.
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Close-up of the Minty gang about 1910-12. Note the whiskers and 'toothbrushes'.

127 South Douglas Street, Bronson, Michigan

Not all the old time threshing and allied experiences were
galloping, rollicking days of pleasure to be long remembered with a
desire to re-live as many are wont to believe, especially the
younger generation, as evidenced by this experience from my
storehouse of memories of my boyhood days. Looking back at it now,
however, there was a thread of humor running through the whole
thing.

Some time around about, or immediately following the turn of the
century, there lived in our community, in the extreme northern part
of Indiana, a big (for that era) farmer by the name of Ezra Keasey,
who had recently had erected one of the community’s first
silos.

Ezra, now long deceased, was large boned and angular of build.
He was, as I remember, around 65, about 6 ft. 2 inches in height,
wore a goatee and somewhat reminded one of our emblematic
‘Uncle Sam’. He, with a couple of other early silo farmers,
had purchased a large size Cyclone ensilage cutter, which fed in
from both sides. They had anticipated that my father, who was the
local thresherman, would power the silo cutter when needed with his
16 H.P. Rumely engine.

When, however, the season arrived that the corn was ripe for
silo filling, my father still had several jobs of threshing to do
for customers, who were patiently waiting. Besides, clover hulling
was near at hand, and my father had but the one engine. Due to
this, after Ezra had contacted my father, it was decided that it
would be necessary for him to look up another engine for the
job.

Shortly before this, another man had moved into the near-by
village of Lima (now Howe), who, Ezra thought had just the
equipment he needed. He thereupon drove into the village to confer
with one Mr. Al Storms, proud owner of a chain driven 10 H.P.
traction engine of ancient vintage. I was too young to remember the
make, but I do remember that when I saw it in operation it thumped,
groaned and rattled, and leaked in every joint.

Al Storms had a build very similar to that of Ezra, though he
may have been, if possible, a little thinner; although he may have
just seemed that way because he was an inch or so taller and
slightly stoop shouldered. He was about the same age as Ezra, near
65, his deep furrowed face was smooth shaven except for a short
scraggly moustache and his deep hollow eyes were set beneath long
bushy eyebrows.

Al had been a farmer, a logger, a rough carpenter and a fence
builder. He had also sold nursery stock and sprayed trees, sold
insurance, books and traveled for a rope manufacturing company.
Later, he ran a country store, manufactured ink and dabbled in real
estate. Now he had settled down in the village. As I remembered
later, my father said Al had swapped a horse for the old engine,
which he used to buzz wood and grind apples for cider. Then he had
rigged up a feed mill and corn sheller in his barn and put the old
engine in for power.

Ezra had seen the engine pull the corn sheller with ease and, to
his notion, this would fill the bill handsomely. An agreement was
reached in no time and so, on the appointed day, Ezra was up early
and waiting. There were ten teams with wagons loaded high with
green fodder and a man on every wagon. Besides, there were four or
five men in the nearby field with plenty of corn down for the early
start, as the big machine would be fed from both sides and the big
silo was to be filled with ensilage by nightfall.

From Storm’s position it now looked different. He got the
pre-dawn start alright, but half a mile out of the village the old
engine cast off the worn drive chain which wrapped up in the
sprocket and broke in two or three places. This Storm repaired with
extra links in due time by the light of a lantern and then he
proceeded down the road another half mile where he stopped to get
up steam. Here, while punching his fire with a length of galvanized
pipe, his grates fell in so that he had to pull the fire to replace
and temporarily block them up. Then he had to rekindle the fire and
get up steam again.

This all consumed so much time that it was by then mid-morning
and, Ezra, seeing all his help standing around, became fearful,
sent word to the field to stop the corn cutting, hitched up his
gelding to the family buggy, and took off down the road to see what
had become of Storms. He met him a mile or so down the way and they
came in on the run, governor belt off, smoke stack shimmying and Al
trying to hold her back somewhat with the throttle.

It was mid-September, before our school had opened, so I was
there early as always when possible for the exhilirating experience
of watching machinery in operation in our neighborhood, especially
an engine.

It was 10 o’clock when Al finally got his engine belted to
the big Cyclone cutter with a loaded wagon on eitherside, steam up
and ready for business. The safety valve was set at 90 lbs. which
didn’t allow much working margin and when the big knives began
to bite into those bundles of tough corn stalks the power would
start to sag, so it wasn’t long until the blower became
clogged.

Cleaning out the blower gave Storms a chance to steam up again,
but it wouldn’t last for more than 10 or 15 minutes, so the
machine was standing idle more than half the time. Storms adjusted
the safety valve to 100 lbs., which was probably over the margin of
safety, but Al, not being much on technicalities and even less of
an engineer, was frantic and willing to take a long shot on a
gamble. Ezra was pacing in circles and looking madder by the
minute, so now with Al, it was do or die.

Along about 3 in the afternoon Ezra checked the silo while the
blower was being unplugged. There was 4 or 5 ft. of silage in the
pit and nearly an equal amount on the ground, which had been
cleaned out of the blower. There was plenty of black smoke
funneling from the stack and his coal pile had more than half
disappeared, while the teams of the idle loaded wagons were slumped
in peaceful doze, and the help was all out leaning against the hog
fence swapping yarns.

That was more than Ezra could stand. When the blower plugged
again, and as Al was shutting down, Ezra threw off the belt and
ordered Storms to get his contraption off the farm. I can see them
even now, though I was but a small scared kid, frozen in my tracks.
Al refused to budge on the grounds of a verbal agreement. His time,
trip, expense and all. Ezra yelled, ‘Get off, you’ve wasted
my time, cost me my help, eat my food, burned my coal and you
couldn’t fill that silo in three weeks with twenty tons of
coal. Get your junk off my farm.’

At that Al climbed off, or more nearly fell off, his old engine
platform, rushed at Ezra and swinging a haymaker which missed by
three feet says, ‘I’m damned if I’m leaving — I’ll
sue you.’ Ezra pushed a fist, like a small ham under Al’s
chin and said, ‘You couldn’t win a suit if you was both
judge and jury! Get out.’ Al yelled, ‘I’ll break you in
two.’ Ezra snapped back, ‘You wouldn’t know it if you
did because you can’t even count two!’

At that they went round and round and, as I see it now, one was
afraid and the other didn’t dare. The only one who was really
scared was me, and I was too scared to run. Finally, wheezing and
puffing, they parted and as the old engine started popping off
violently for the first time, Al, glad for the excuse, ambled over,
closed the draft, and started off across the field toward town.
After a few paces, he stopped, turned and looked back at Ezra,
whose goatee was still flopping, and yelled, ‘Remember I’m
suing.’ Then, from a distance, there were a lot of words that I
never learned on my mother’s knee.

Ezra then strode off, hitched his horse to the family shay and
took a long drive in the opposite direction to engage another man
by the name of Sam Chrystler, who had an old Gaar Scott, 10 H.P.
engine, which had long been retired to wood buzzing and such menial
tasks, to finish the job.

Sam must have fired up in the night for he was there bright and
early along side the ‘old chain drive’ and belted up before
breakfast. The help and teams were all there and the wheels started
rolling right after breakfast was over. The giant cutter, however,
proved too much for the leaky old 10 horse Gaar Scott, and in a
couple of hours with the steam down the engine stood, it seemed,
nearly ankle deep in water. Every tube in the boiler was leaking a
stream and the water was running out of the ash pit. The silage was
now only about 6 or 8 feet deep in the 35 ft. silo and Chrystler
gave it up as a bad job.

My father came by in a few days and, having made arrangements
with his next threshing customers, cut the separator loose at the
road, pulled in and completed the job. With a few hours work he was
coupled to the separator and back on the road. The only trouble was
the help’s inability to keep the corn up to the machine.

Some days later Storms took his engine home, and true to his
threat, he started suit for breach of agreement against Ezra
Keasey. The case was tried before the local justice and, as Al had
been into most every kind of business and trade imaginable, he
decided to act as his own council. As might have been expected and
in line with the common results of all his previous adventures, he
lost his case.

The trial occurred shortly before Halloween and it was the talk
of the town. So much so, in fact, that a group of high school boys,
on Halloween night, scrounged around and came up with an old
‘4×4 two-holer’ which they dragged in and set up in the
center of the village main street. One of the embryo artists
attached a large sign to it which read OFFICE OF AL STORMS –
ATTORNEY AT LAW.

As I recall, the building set there for several days while
Storms was sleuthing to locate the culprits who did it. He never
did.

This is a true story as I saw it when just a lad before my
teens. There is no thought of disrespect toward either of these
honest, hard-working pioneers. Both, of course, have long since
gone to their reward and may it be bountiful. Only the humor of the
whole thing, as I saw it in later years has kept it alive in my
memory.

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