My Experiences with Steam and Machinery


| July/August 1993



Gerald Lee

Gerald Lee at home in his shop.

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.