After reading all the experiences of men of threshing and engines, I thought I would send you the story of my early days. My father bought a new rig in 1898 - a Nichols & Shepard engine, 12 hp. and a Case thresher. It was hand fed and straw carrier. That was a slick little engine and I would play around with it when Dad wasn't looking. Then, I got that I could line up, set and move through the help of an engine and machine expert, a Mr. William Phillips. I learned a lot from him, as he and his father had a machine and boiler shop. He taught me how to set a valve, find dead center, put in flues and etc.
Mr. Geo. Bower, who lived in Randolph, came to see our rig run. I got to know him pretty well and he asked me how much I was getting a day and he laughed when I told him one dollar. He said they paid $5.00 a day in North Dakot and that he had a section of land there and owned a big Gaar-Scott rig there. The next season, I went along with him and ran his engine at $5.00 per day. It was a 25 hp. firebox, return flue, straw burner. You had a fireman burning straw, so it was easy running an engine there. I had the best of luck and had no breakdowns or accidents. This was in 1904 and I was 20 years old then. In 1905, Mr. Bower had his own son to run his engine, so he had me write to John Jestad about running his engine for 1905. He recommended me to him and Mr. Jestad hired me by mail, although he never knew me before.
I left Randolph and arrived at his place to see him about the job. When he saw me he laughed and said he thought I was too young and too small to do a good job on that big engine. The engine was a 25 hp. Gaar-Scott, straight straw burner, about 8 years old. I had a new governor shaft made and rebabbited it in and centered the engine and reset the valve, adjusted the bearings and got her steamed up. Then, he said if I could get the separator out of the shed without breaking all the chains, I would have the job. Well, I had good luck again. He had a m. chain and I had to be careful so with 60 pounds of steam, I pulled it out two feet. It was uphill and soft ground, so it was not easy. I let it roll back and pulled again a little further. The next pull, it rolled out on hard ground and I got the job. We started about the 10th of August and got done the 15th of Octoberno trouble, accidents or breakdowns. Mr. Jestad ran his own thresher, a double belted Advance, 32 inch. He was a fine man. I did a good job for him and he and his whole family treated me fine. Mr. Jestad sold his farm and moved to Canada, so I lost the job for the next year but he referred me to Mr. Jake Umdahl of Galesburg, N.D.
I wrote to Mr. Umdahl and got the job again by mail. If I was the man that worked for Mr. Jestad, he would be glad to have me. I got to his farm the first week in Aug. 1906. The Umdahls lived about 4 miles west of Galesburg. I had never seen his engine, so didn't know what I was getting. The engine was a 35 hp. Buffalo-Pitts, fire box, return flue. There were 6 children in the family, 3 boys and 3 girls. Arthur was the oldest boy and he was 19. Arthur wanted to be the fireman for me but his folks said it would be too hard of work for him. We fired up the Buffalo-Pitts and played around with it had Arthur help me start it up and he soon convinced his Dad he could fire. So we started the run about the 10th of Aug. and I got home in Oct. I taught Arthur how to line up and handle the engine and he was able to run it for his father the next season. The nicest family I ever met was the Umdahl family. Mr. Umdahl raised me to $6.00 a day for the work I did for him.
In 1936, Mr. Phillips, the man that did so much for me in helping me to learn to run and repair engines, went with me on a trip to Galesburg. We only found one man that I knew-his name was John Kettleson. He knew me when I was working in N.D. as Mr. Umdahl was related to him. We had a nice visit with Mr. Kettleson and he also invited us to a fine dinner.
The first thing Mr. Phillips did when he saw I was going to run in N.D. was warn me about the bad water there which was hard on boilers. Here was his warnings I. Never let the water get low. 2. Never carry more pressure than the factory test. 3. Never run a strange engine unless you are sure your fuseable plug is ready to melt out in case of low water. 4. Use the best steam cylinder oil and plenty of it. I put all big quart size lubricators on those big engines and ran them wide open no oil pumps back in those days. No engine will run right with a poor grade of oil or without enough oil.
Well, that's my early days steam engine experiences now I am 82 years young no straw or coal, so the steam is going down fast. I like to take in all the steam shows that I am able to see and I get a kick out of watching some of the old-timers.
The steam engine has always fascinated me. When I was a lad I made engines and played with them. Before I was married, and while farming, I operated an engine for my uncle. This involved threshing, shucking corn, steaming tobacco and beds, hulling clover seed.
In 1924 I bought my first steam engine. It was a Baker 23-90. I have operated 8 steam engines in my time. I used a steam engine for 18 years operating a saw mill. Then I operated a cane mill for 10 years with a Minneapolis steam engine.
When combines took over I sold my engines and equipment to my sons David and Paul. David still steams tobacco beds with the Baker 23-90. He put it on rubber to save time on the roads. I invested in a Speicher ditching machine and ditch for the farmers.
The 8 engines that I have owned and operated have been, Baker 19-65, Baker 23-90, 20 HP Nichols & Shepard, 16 HP Nichols & Shepard, Advance 20, Frick 24, Port Huron 19, and a Minneapolis.