Farm Collector

My Experiences with Steam and Machinery

5210 Springton Lane Spring, Texas 77379

As long as I can remember, I have had an above average interest
in steam engines and antique machinery. This interest began by
watching locomotives and farm machinery operate when I was growing
up on my parents’ farm in northwestern Ohio. The interest later
grew into an active hobby and has evolved into constructing model
steam engines in my shop.

Along with my hobby, I took time along the way to graduate with
a masters degree in geology from Miami University (Ohio), meet and
marry my wife Vicki, and raise two children. Jeff (18) and Kate
(14). Now I find myself at age 42 with the challenge of sharing my
time between family, my career as a petro physicist for a major
energy corporation, and my HOBBY. With all these demands, I force a
few hours each week to devote to my steam and antique machinery
hobbies.

I would like to take this opportunity to share my experiences
with steam and machinery. Ironically, my first experience with
steam was one that I did not enjoy, or so I am told. At age three
or four (1953 or 1954), my father, noticing that diesel would soon
replace steam on the railroads, took me to the C & O rail yards
in Fostoria, Ohio, to show me a steam locomotive. Well, these were
no small locomotives, but were the articulated four-cylinder
‘Big Boy’ types pulling mile long coal trains from West
Virginia to Detroit. Well, as my father tells the story, the train
was stopped. Taking this opportunity, he carried me right up to the
locomotive to give me a good look. Just about then the signal
changed to green, and the engineer let out with two long, one
short, and two long blasts on the whistle and started to move,
releasing condensation from the cylinders. My father tells me that
I couldn’t get close enough to him and that I cried almost as
loud as the whistle.

My next experience, which I do remember very well, was when I
was around the age of five. This occurred on my parents’ farm
where I spent the first 18 years of my life. My parents purchased
the farm in 1948 but they did not work the land. My father instead
worked for more than 30 years as a postal clerk and retired in
1980. Since my father did not work the farm directly, we always had
a neighbor doing the farming. I would sit in the front yard and
watch the tractors work in the fields, wishing that I could ride on
one just once. Well, one day the neighbor came to the farm to help
my dad in the barn. Instead of taking the truck or the car, he
drove his tractor down and parked it in front of the barn. While my
father and the neighbor were out of sight in the barn, I took the
opportunity to climb up on the tractor, which had been shut off. I
was having a good time playing with the steering wheel and anything
else that I could reach. Well, I found the starter lever! As my
father tells it, they were in the barn when they heard the tractor
start. They knew that I was the only one out in front of the barn.
They must have set the world’s 100 yard dash record coming out
of that barn to shut off the tractor. They ‘helped’ me off
the seat very quickly! It was a good thing that the neighbor had
left the tractor in neutral when he shut it off or I may not have
survived to tell this story today. It was about three years until I
got close to an unattended tractor again. Not all children of this
period were as lucky with farm machinery as I was. About a year
later a neighbor boy about my age was killed when he got caught up
in an exposed power take-off shaft.

My next unique experience with machinery was in 1957 when I was
seven years old. It was not related to steam or the farm but was
exciting to me. My parents thought my younger brother John and I
should have our first airplane ride. We went for a day trip from
Port Clinton, Ohio, to Put-In-Bay, an island located in Lake Erie.
We flew on Island Airlines (the world’s shortest airline). At
that time this line was using two vintage Ford tri-motor airplanes.
So you could say that my first airplane trip was in a
‘Ford’! Not many around today can say that. My second plane
ride was even better. On the return from the island, all the seats
were taken except for the co-pilot’s seat. Well, I got to ride
up front with the pilot in a Ford tri-motor approximately 500 feet
up at 80 MPH, a trip which I still remember in great detail
today.

My first enjoyable close-up experience with steam was in 1963
when my parents took me to the National Thresher’s Association
show in Wauseon, Ohio. That trip was to set the direction of my
steam hobby to the present. For the first time, I saw traction
engines working up close sawing wood, making shingles, and
operating in a parade. The smell of coal and wood smoke and the
feel of condensed steam in the air were sensations that would never
leave me. I remember that they auctioned off a return-flue Kitten
engine at the show. At that point I realized that a person could
actually own his own traction engine. About the next Christmas, my
parents must have sensed my interest in steam because they gave me
a little stationary steam engine. I still have that engine in my
collection today.

My next experience with steam was of a historical nature. It was
about 1965 and the nation was remembering the 100th anniversary of
the end of the Civil War. The railroads sponsored a trip of the
Civil War era engine, the General. The engine operated under its
own power around the country. Well, it came to my hometown. My
Uncle Gordon Barr’s farm backed up to the Nickel Plate Railroad
on which the General was to pass. My father had a friend in the
Fostoria yard tower who told him when the engine was due to pass.
My mother took us to the tracks along my uncle’s farm and we
waited. Well, in the distance I could see a line of smoke and it
kept getting closer. As the engine passed, the engineer gave us a
couple of blasts on the whistle. The engine spent several days in
town and I had a chance to inspect it close up.

Several years passed, and then another opportunity to go to the
National Threshers show came. At this point, I would like to
introduce my Uncle Ralph Lee to you. My uncle spent his early
working days in the B & O shops at Bellevue, Ohio. Later he
retired after many years as the master mechanic at Basic
Incorporated in Bettsville, Ohio. My uncle would take me to the NTA
shows for the next several years until I went off to college. I
really enjoyed these trips to the show with him. He taught me the
basics of steam, what happens when the water gets too low, how an
injector works, and much more. He can look at a piece of metal and
tell you how much it weighs, and other good things like how many
drops of oil there are in a quart. Several times during the course
of going to these shows I was able to toss bundles into the
separator!

In 1964, at the age of 14, I was old enough to work on my Uncle
Ted Schetter’s farm during the summers. This work consisted of
baling hay, cultivating beans and corn, and helping to show his
cattle at the Wood County Fair. I remember one time when a neighbor
boy of my uncle’s, about my age, had a contest on how high we
could load hay bales on the wagon. As I can remember, we got as
high as 14 high. However, we had to take a few rows off when we
could not get under a phone line hanging across the road. Those
were fun times! My uncle had three tractors on his farm: a 1946 IHC
model M, a later model IHC model MTA. and a 1937 Farmall F-20. The
F-20 was bought by my uncle’s father, Ed Schetter, who got it
new in March of 1937. The F-20 started with a crank and had power
cultivators, which ran off the power take-off. The F-20 had a road
gear which was installed after the tractor had been put on rubber.
It can reach speeds of up to ten MPH on the road. In all the years
of going to the steam shows, I have never seen an F-20 with these
features on it. For the next three summers, I spent most of my time
running the F-20. I had so much fun that I would have paid my uncle
for the privilege to operate it. In 1967 my uncle had to upgrade
his tractors and purchased a Case. His problem was what to do with
the F-20. My uncle is not one to let equipment set out in the
weather. He needed the room for the new Case. It so happens that it
was Christmas time, and after a talk with my father, my uncle gave
the F-20 to me for Christmas! That was one of the best presents
that I ever got for Christmas. The problem was how to get it home
to my parent’s farm 10 miles away. Well, on New Year’s Eve
day of 1967, I put on three coats and two pairs of gloves and drove
the F-20 the 10 miles home. It was sub-freezing, but I never felt
the cold. She made the 10 miles without a miss.

The following summer, I spent all my free time cleaning 30 years
of grease off of her and painting her. Also during the next summer,
I found a 1920s vintage two roll corn shedder in a neighbor’s
shed. I purchased it for ten dollars and cranked up the F-20 to go
get it. When I got to the shed, the steel wheels of the shedder had
sunk into the dirt floor to the axles. After I dug it out, I tried
to pull her out with my tractor but it wouldn’t fit through the
door. As it turned out, the foundation of the shed had settled
since the shedder was put in there. I had to jack up the building
before I could retrieve my new ‘toy.’ It still had all its
belts and after I fixed and painted it up I ran it with the belt
pulley on my F-20. For the next several summers, I pulled the
shedder with the F-20 in the Arcadia Homecoming Parade.

During the summer of 1970, my uncle Ted arranged for the
Bloom-dale, Ohio, Grain Elevator to sponsor my tractor and shedder
at the Wood County Fair in northwestern Ohio. The elevator people
came to the farm with a tilting flat trailer and a grain truck to
take my outfit to the fair. We put the shedder on the grain truck
and then I proceeded to drive the tractor up the tilted trailer.
Not a bad idea, except that with the extra weight of the power
cultivator equipment on the back end of the F-20 it made the back
end heavier than the front end. Well, the farther I drove the
tractor up the trailer’s incline the closer I got to the front
edge, which was about eight feet off the ground. I yelled that the
trailer was not going to tilt over and I pushed in on the clutch.
Well, she started to roll back down the trailer and every time I
pulled the brake lever, which only controlled one of the brakes,
the tractor would slip towards the side edge of the trailer. I just
made it down the back of the trailer when the left rear wheel went
off the trailer. That was a close one! We finally got the tractor
on by moving the trailer to the incline of the main barn entrance.
That was enough of an advantage for the trailer to tilt over just
fine. We got to the fair and I drove my tractor in the parade and
exhibited it for the day. A good time was had by all, except by my
mother who was watching the loading process and was not happy at
all!!

For the next eleven years, college, meeting and marrying my wife
Vicki, getting BS and MS degrees in geology, and starting my career
and family took most of my energy. However, the thoughts of my
steam and machinery hobby still had its place in my heart. Even
during this period, I was able to add to my collection of
machinery. My wife, then fiancee, worked as a registered nurse at
the Fostoria City Hospital. One of the older nurses working with
her owned a 1954 Packard Clipper. My wife told steam show. My son
and I had a good time, and he enjoyed watching the engines at work
as much as I did.

About this time (1982), I was able to begin tooling up my shop
with machine tools to build my own engines. I purchased a 6′
Atlas thread cutting lathe and a drill press. I was ready to go!
From plans published in Live Steam, I built my first engine. It was
a small oscillating engine which I ran on compressed air. What a
feeling, watching my engine run for the first time! Over the next
several years, three more engines rolled out of my shop, each one
bigger than the one before.

Trips to the NTA show continued. In 1983, my son and I started
to bring our engines up from Texas each year to run and display in
the model building. Two people who were most helpful and encouraged
us with our model building were Paul Jacobs and Clarence Meyers,
who ran the model display building at the NTA.

The National Threshers Show was a very important focal point in
my steam and machinery hobby. It allowed my son and I the
opportunity to show our engines, and the flea market became a
source for old tools and engines. Over the years I have acquired a
Maytag and a 2 HP Stover hit and miss engine. Then in 1989, as my
son and I were walking in the infield at the NTA show watching the
engines work, a Port Huron steam engine passed us. I yelled up at
the owner, Dean Frye Sr. (Hartford, Michigan), that my son and I
had come all the way from Texas to ride on a steam engine and could
we have a ride? Well that was the beginning of a friendship which
has lasted to today. He let us ride on the back, and later both my
son and I steered it around the grounds. He really made our day
when he asked if we would want to ride in the parade. Well, we did
and got to blow the whistle too! Since then, every year he has
asked us to ride on his engine; his father, who owns a Baker, is
equally as generous. It is people like these who will keep the
steam engine hobby alive. Their willingness to share their engines
should be emulated and applauded. I also got to pull the Joy Wagon
thanks to the generosity of Paul Ford, who let me use his
tractor.

Well, it’s now 1988 and time to build another steam engine.
I had just added a 17′ lathe to my shop, along with a vertical
milling machine, and I was ready. At the NTA Show I saw a 5 HP
vertical engine that Clarence Meyers was selling the castings for.
After many delays and four years later, the engine rolled out of my
shop. Too heavy to take to the show, it sits on a stand in my study
in Texas. Wife loves it there!!

One never knows what the future will bring. I hope someday to
own a scale 65 HP Case engine. That will most likely have to wait
until the children are out of college. One does have to keep the
priorities straight. I plan to start another steam engine or maybe
even a gas engine sometime in 1993.

The last addition to my collection was my uncle’s 1946 IHC
model M tractor. This time my son and I drove it home the ten miles
from his farm over the same route I took in 1967 with the F-20. My
son and I plan to paint it next year while in Ohio on vacation.

The hobby has been a nice father and son event over the years.
We have enjoyed displaying the models and riding on the steam
engines. Now that he is 18 and going off to college we may not have
that opportunity for awhile. Maybe I can get my 14 year old
daughter, Kate, to join me at the show in the future? The hobby has
provided me with many hours of entertainment and a means to relieve
stress built up at work. I can really lose myself while working in
the shop feels good!

I hope that you enjoyed reading about my 42 years experience
with steam and machinery. I feel fortunate that I have had this
opportunity and will be able to leave a part of me behind with the
engines that I have built. Also, my family and friends who support
and tolerate my hobby are greatly appreciated. I hope in another 42
years to report my new experiences.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1993
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