426 Margaret Street, Akron, Ohio 44306.
For several years, your Iron Man Album magazine has been one of my favorite periodicals; I enjoy reading the threshermen's experiences and details of the steam shows. I seldom get to see more than one steam engine meet a year. The past year of 1969, I went to Pion-Era Show at Saskatoon, Canada. If you please, I would like to contribute a few pictures and some comments, in regard to Pion-Era and other subjects. I notice that you already published a very interesting account of Pion-Era, written by Mr. Somerville of Haney, B. C. However, Pion-Era is so big and since my material was prepared, I thought it might still be of some use to you. 1 trust it does not appear that I wish to detract from Mr. Somerville's very splendid account of Pion-Era, in any manner.
The Pion-Era people are so fortunate to have Mr. George Shepherd, for one of their guiding spirits. George is a young fellow, who came to Canada in 1908, when he was eighteen years old. I don't believe in speaking of a person's age, or anything like that but George is so important around Pion-Era, that one can't think of that event and not recall this most helpful gentleman. He is author of a couple of books West of Yesterday and Brave Heritage both books I keep at hand. They are interesting reading and good for an occasional laugh. Even a farm has comical happenings. Ask anyone who has followed a threshing machine.
The Pion-Era show has about thirty-five engines, steamed up and in operation. A larger number are parked, for display. I think they have even a greater number of gas tractors. The tractors are of many sizes, shapes and varieties. Several of the largest types that were manufactured. were in operation.
The friendliness and the cordial manner of all persons involved in the management and work of the Pion-Era was superior. If one stood at a distance, rather in doubt as to how close to approach the engines, those on duty would speak to you and ask you to climb on and have a look. At a machinery show or convention, it is not easy for one in charge, to answer the same old questions for three or four days; and talk to many people, who may not understand a great deal about machinery. I have demonstrated machinery for thirty-five years and know that a person can get very tired, on such occasions. Whether you go 100 miles or 2000, a friendly welcome is greatly appreciated.
I attended another show, which displayed several engines (steam) and associated equipment. Once in awhile five or six engineers would get their heads together, like a football team getting directions for a play. After a few minutes of talk, they would scatter to their engines and start twisting valves or get up on the engines to wipe off the steam gauge or some such task. I suppose if you wanted to talk to one of the boys, you just had to watch your chance with many others. I did want information on one particular engine but could not get a chance to speak to the proper person. At any rate, I found the boys at the Pion-Era Show always ready to answer questions, to spend time with the interested public. Not all shows have a George Shepherd to remind the boys to give a measure of courtesy to those who support the program.
Each day, at a given hour, Pion-Era starts a parade around the track and past the grandstand, with an announcer to give general information on the subject, name of owner and name of the person with the display. There were a number of horse drawn vehicles; such as large covered wagons with two or more teams of horses; farm wagons, spring wagons, Red River carts, buggies. There were also horseback riders and a group of Indians in their native costumes. It is an interesting parade, to young and old and especially due to the fact that all were fully described over the loud speaker by a well-informed announcer.
The horses are a splendid group and many came from distant places. One, two horse wagon, was driven by a lady; who later put her horses on the 'tread-power' to thresh some wheat. I would not advise any man to bet that he could do better than she was doing (particularly if those horses had a vote). Also in the parade were four flag bearers, mounted on beautiful horses; the flags were large and very colorful in the brisk breeze. The flags of Canada and Saskatchewan were carried side by side, followed by the Union Jack of England, and our Stars and Stripes, in side by side position. I felt very proud and very welcome when the announcer called out 'The Stars and Stripes of the United States.' I hope we can, at some time, show as much respect to our neighbors, in a like situation.
Pion-Era has a Case Engine, 12-36 hp. It is the same size I bought about fifty years ago. However, I had the bad luck to have mine stolen, probably by a junkie, when I was away. Now I have a Garr-Scott; I like it much better than the Case. The contractor's fuel bunker made firing with wood more difficult than one which can be fired while standing on the ground.
However, Case has a lot of friends and I am sending several pictures of those engines. One picture shows a Case which had the smokestack knocked off, while under steam at a threshing job.
At Pion-Era, the threshermen play a game called 'Making a Set.' After the separator is unhitched from the engine, the length of time is recorded to run the engine out, turn around, back into belt and bring the separator up to threshing speed. One man has the belt pulled out before the start and helps the engineer get the belt on the engine band wheel. He also blocks the engine drive wheel. The record time is near one minute; some did it in one min. 40 sec; 2 min. 2 sec. and on up to 4 min. I guess if you could not get the job done in four minutes the record was not counted. I sat and watched quite a number of trials. It was very interesting. I was thinking about 'Making a Set,' where and when I threshed some fifty years ago. I can assure you we did not make the set in four minutes. Many of our jobs were in barns, on the second floor; these were the bank barns, with an incline up to the barn floor.
The grain was hauled into the upper part of the barn and placed in the mow. At a later date the hay would be stored for winter time use. Sometimes the entire barn would be filled, excepting for a space where the separator could be set, when threshing. The grain sheaves were laid around in certain order, but not with the care required when building a rick for outside storage. After a period of several days or a few weeks the grain went through a sort of cure or sweat and was then in fine condition to thresh. The crop was safe, if the barn did not catch fire, and threshing was more or less independent of weather conditions. Ohio weather is rather ladylike, or shall we say unpredictable. Some farmers did not have barn space, or for other reasons, wished to thresh the grain in the field. This was called field or shock threshing. The two methods, in barn or in the field, gave the money making threshermen, a little more road work. He could move at night and have days for work. As said before, these conditions were, as I remember them, 50 or 60 years ago; where I lived in the hilly area, in East Central Ohio. The circumstances were not the same nationwide, or statewide, perhaps only in my neighborhood. The boys making a 'one minute set' in Saskatchewan might not know the details regarding some of the 'sets' I was thinking about while watching their operation. For those who are not acquainted with our customs I will describe the work as I remember it.
The hill country bank barns, as a rule, were located to take advantage of the sloping ground to make a more gradual approach to the barn floor. A wagon load of grain made quite a pull for the horses, if the driveway onto the barn floor was rather steep. Also, the amount of clear space associated with the driveway was often limited by trees, other buildings, fences, a deep cut roadway or many other things. Maneuvering a steam engine and separator around some barns could get most complicated. If you never did it, you have something to try. We have all noticed the semi-trailers being turned and backed and placed into narrow quarters. All due respect to those drivers and their skillful operations. They have no problem at all, compared with what the thresherman had before him, at some locations. With ample, more or less level area, to turn the separator for backing it into the barn and room to hitch the front end of the engine to the tongue of separator, you could line up the whole outfit and with care, could push the separator into the barn without too much loss of time. All jobs did not go in that manner. With limited space, the separator must be pulled sidewise to the ramp and barn door, and a distance past the door. The wind stacker was swung out and a man watched to keep it headed into the door. This is when the fun began. As you pushed the separator backward, you turned it up the ramp at a 45 degree angle. A rather green engineer, a single cylinder engine and a steep ramp sure can get you in a bind quick.
My little Case engine, with water and fuel bunker at the rear, tended to be light weight on the front wheels. Pushing the separator up a ramp on a curve, the front wheels of the engine would sometimes slip or creep sideways on a curved steep ramp. I sometimes required a lot of hitching and unhitching, with hard work and loss of time to get the separator into a certain few barns. Six or eight men watching and waiting to start threshing, were not any comfort to the engineer's nerves. They could sit in the shade and rest, so they had the advantage of the deal. For the engineer, you could say it was 'uphill work' all the way. When the separator was on the barn floor, the well-rested gang of men, could push it to the proper position for working. The wheels were blocked with used plow points and threshing was soon started. Fire danger was a consideration when the engine smoke stack came near, or into the barn door.
Some engines had a screen spark arrester, which on my Case seemed to hinder steaming. A closed bottom boiler, like Aultman Taylor or Garr Scott, will damper down with a greater degree of safety than an open bottom type using an ash pan. I did not thresh many years and certainly had my share of problems as well as some fun. I did develop a small measure of skill and at times came to think I was getting rather clever with the little Case. Then I might happen to watch a man in our area, making a 'set' such as I have described; after that I would know that I was still in first grade, in the school of engineering. I'm speaking of Mr. Walter Blakely, of Jelloway, Ohio. He really was a master engine man and thresherman. I have known him to back a separator around a curve, up a ramp, onto the barn floor and never stop moving. The boys did not get much rest when Walter was on the job. His equipment was always in tip-top shape; he never hurried and the wheels were always rolling. He threshed for my people as long as they farmed. When I bought a saw-mill, I asked Walter to set it up and start me sawing, which he did. In recent years, he has attended many steam engine conventions and I am sure many Iron Men Album readers know him.
I would like to suggest to Mr. Shepherd at Pion-Era, where there is plenty of room and good equipment, that they establish another ring. They can set two rows of posts to mark a roadway, with 45 degree turn, in a distance of approximately 125 to 150 feet. The boys could hitch the nose of their Case to the separator steer it around the bend, then pull out the belt and start the machinery. That would be more like what I understand to be 'making a set.' No one would need to mind the wind stacker to keep it from folding up against a barn and I saw no hillside to make trouble. It would, to some extent, compare to the condition of my threshing experiences. It might be advisable to use rubber posts to mark the path for the separator.
At Pion-Era, you need not carry a lunch. There are several places on the grounds and also outside, in which to eat. Certain places specialize in foods of various countries. Another remark I would like to say here is that one day I stopped in a tent for a bowl of soup. The soup and the home made bread (huge loaves) was most excellent. So if you can, ask someone where the tent is that serves such delicious home made bread; you will get a treat!
Taking pictures of equipment at a show presents certain problems to a photographer. Backs of heads, elbows and other parts of on-lookers get between the lens and the subject. The larger the crowd, the less of the machinery is visible in the picture. At Pion-Era, the show grounds are very extensive. The displays are grouped in four or five 'rings.' The sawmill and woodworking machinery is one group (or ring). Threshing machinery is another ring. A sound truck, with announcer, gives the time each ring will operate. When the action starts, the announcer describes the machinery and gives general information on the activities. Some of my pictures show very few people, because as a rule, I got to a ring where there is very little or no action at the time. In such cases, there is no action in the pictures but much equipment of interest. Sometimes the weather is not suitable or the sun may be peeking behind a cloud or trees, so even the photographer has problems. But regardless of problems, who doesn't have a good time at a show?
Ill close, wishing good health to the Iron Man Album people and all the readers; and the information I'm sending is my arm load of wood for the boiler to keep up steam in the Album.