MY EXPERIENCES AS AN ENGINEER

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25 hp. Nichols and Shepard Steamer used to this day to steam tobacco beds. The engine belongs to George Schwltz, of Rio, Wis., the man on the engine is Conrad Johnson and on the ground left to right, is Carl Koll, Chas. Biddle and Carl Pepper

Highland View Farm, Cochranville, Pennsylvania

Next morning the livery man loads us on a two-horse rig and
starts toward Gras Lake. When out about half way there met us a man
going into town. He stopped and talked a few minutes, found out who
we were and where we were from, then wondered if any of us were
engineers. Why yes, of course I was one and hired to him for the
season’s run at five dollars a day. That was something. So he
arranged for us to be at his home that night, which, needless to
say, we were only too glad to do after our recent trip from
Nebraska. This man, Jonas Renno, Grass Lake, N. D., then hired
Kauffman to be the separator man and Hertzler got in on the fireman
end on the Gaar Scott straw burner.

We set to work immediately, getting the machinery in shape,
which took us about two weeks. I gave the engine the best I had,
believe me, but cutting wheat was going on full time. So I got a
job with Samuel Spicher shocking until the threshing started. Well,
the day finally came to get the engine fired up and see that all
was in order. These were exciting days, the size of the tractor and
large Red River Special thresher, water tank and straw wagon and
all that went with it. Well, what do we take to start the fire? No
wood or anything like that in the prairie country. Take hay from
the lake, we stuffed it full and put a match to it, but nothing
happened. Someone whispered, just put in a little at a time, which
we did, and soon had the familiar sound, water boiling, getting
steam, blowing off the whistle and all that went with it. That long
180 foot belt, heavy as it was, just did not want to stay on. That
quick starting Gaar Scott would pull out from under it. These were
exciting times but with little practice all soon went well.

Had the thresher going with its thrill that makes the thresher
blood warm up, and the engine, the way it purred. I can, still feel
it under the skin or at least I think so.

The threshing started about September 14, and lasted through
November 11, 1904. That is the end of that first year’s
experience. There could be many things said in detail about this
time and all the exciting things that went with it. The hoboes for
help, they go on strike and quit, putting wrenches in machinery to
make things miserable, etc.

I left Grass Lake or what then was Wolford, the Great Northern
Railroad built an extension into this community during the summer
and winter, but Renno took me to York of the Great Northern and I
took a train for Surry, North Dakota, about sixty miles further
west where I had a cousin, Isaac S. Mast, living near Minot. They
were still doing some threshing here but soon finished. I stayed
here until about Christmas, then went back to Goshen College and
spent some time at school, until March 1905 found me back in Dakota
again helping get the ground ready for spring seeding of more
wheat, barley, oats, speltz. Horses were the power for getting
ground ready for seeding except the prairie land which was mostly
plowed with large tractors. I got a job for a while on such a rig.
This was a large Buffalo Pitts engine, coal burner. We pulled
twelve plows when going was good, but mostly had nine 14 inch plows
turning over the tough prairie sod that had never been turned with
its buffalo carcasses and prairie dogs. There was a bounty on these
little squirrel-like dogs, a penny a tail. This was a pastime in
spare time. Those half-mile and some mile long furrows will stay
with me while time lasts. It was a sight to behold that big Buffalo
Pitts chugging, followed by those plows. That was getting something
done but it was not all fun.

My job was often to get water from a hole or slew as they knew
it. Pretty soft sometimes getting close enough, and one night about
midnight a very heavy electric storm blew our tent away giving us a
cold bath. We ran shivering to the cook shack where the cook, a
fine lady, soon had hot coffee for us and a hot stove to get our
clothes dry.

When this plowing was over for the season I got a job
carpentering, building what is now known as the Fair View Church
just south of Surry. While working on it John Yoder from the Grass
Lake section near Wolford came to see me about running his engine
for the 1905 threshing season. I hired with him but continued
carpentering and did some coal mining in a mine getting coal known
as lignite coal, and helped cousin Mast with his harvest. Then the
latter part of August I left Surry for Wolford to Yoders where I
immediately started getting the tractor in shape for the threshing
season.

This was a Nichols & Shepard engine, which also was a large
engine. We had a fine crew and threshed many bushels of grain that
season. I often wished I had kept a record. It went well except
with a few experiences which were not pleasant. One was a severe
storm while threshing. It hailed something like I never saw before.
Teamsters just could not control their horses and manned teams ran
off. Another time the soft plug blew out while threshing. I knew
there was plenty of water in the boiler but it did put me on the
spot for I was the engineer and it should not have happened.
Another time we got stuck in a low place while moving the rig and
it got dark. Of course it was not the only time we got stuck in
that loose loam, but this time in the night. I put the steam on a
little too soon and nearly ran over a man who had his foot partly
under the front wheel. This was a hard pull for me. I was up all
night bathing the man’s foot with laudnum. Well, he got alright
and was able to work, which was a great relief to me.

On this season’s threshing we scarcely ever got to sleep in
a bed with the exception of Saturday and Sunday nights. Always in
hay lofts or straw stacks, or wherever you could dig in. Coyotes
were plenty and chilled my blood more than once.

As the burning of straw was hard on the flues that terrific heat
caused the flues to leak as well as klinker. The oat straw was the
worst for that, but made more heat than wheat straw which kept the
fireman busy. But firing was much better.

Regards and best wishes to the ALBUM magazine.

Farm Collector Magazine
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