Farm Collector

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH A STEAM ENGINE

Ulman, Missouri 65083.

When I was just a kid, my grandfather had a little 10 HP Nichols
and Shepard steam engine, and also one of the same make that they
called an 11 HP We kids used to play around these old engines a
lot. In the hot part of the summer the boilers of these old engines
would get pretty hot from the hot sun. We kids would catch frogs
out of the pond and roast them on the hot boilers. I guess we ate
them . . . the best I can remember. I expect they were a little on
the rare side, but we sure had lots of fun playing around these old
engines.

I can remember when my father and grandfather had this little
engine and sawmill on a neighbor’s farm about two miles from
home. One chilly morning when they went to the sawmill I decided I
wanted to go along, so they let me go with them. After we got there
I was cold so my father put my feet and hands down in the saw dust
pile to warm me up a little while he built a fire in the engine.
After he got a good fire going, I made my way back to the engine
and crawled up on the platform to keep warm. After a while Dad came
back to build up the fire a little more and someway or another a
coal of fire went down my shirt collar. That warmed me up pretty
good for a while. The best I can remember Dad put some steam oil on
the burn and I made it pretty good the rest of the day. That is
about all I can remember about my trip to the sawmill. I guess I
was about 3 or 4 years old at that time, but I do remember them
bringing the old engine and sawmill home some time later. They
pulled it up by a small pond where it sat for a number of years
without being in use. It just sat there and the wheels sank down in
the ground several inches.

One warm summer day, I guess I was about 9 or 10 years old, one
of my little brothers, George, and I were playing around the old
engines so we, or I guess it was me mostly, decided it would be fun
to fire this little 10 HP engine up. Our folks were all gone some
place except our great grandmother, who was at the house and
didn’t know what we were doing. So we got started. First we had
to put the manhole cover in the boiler at the bottom. We had a
little trouble trying to tighten it because Grandad kept his shop
locked up most of the time and we couldn’t get a wrench to
tighten it with. We tightened it the best we could by hand. Then
the work started. My little brother, George, and I each got an old
bucket and started carrying water from the little pond. George was
about 4 years old and I was about 9 or 10. We carried water for
hours . . . tadpoles and all went right into the boiler. Finally
around noon we had water in the glass and by that time we were
getting pretty tired.

We thought we better go see if Great Grandmother had us any
lunch fixed rather than have her come looking for us. Sure enough
she had cornbread, butter, fried potatoes and onions all ready for
us. Believe me, we cleaned up everything she had fixed because we
were really hungry as well as tired. She never did ask us about
what we had been doing so we beat it back to finish the job.

We started carrying water and tadpoles again. Finally we had
over half the glass of water. It would have been better had we had
more water because the manhole was leaking badly. I don’t know
how we knew how much water to put into the boiler, but anyway we
decided we had enough water in it to build a fire. We had already
made up our minds what we were going to use for fuel. There were
plenty of corn stalks just above the old engine where the cattle
had been fed the winter before. So we built a fire in the firebox
and then in a little bit we saw smoke coming out of the smoke
stack. Boyee, I mean we went after those corn stalks after that.
They would burn faster than we could carry them but we didn’t
give up … we just kept carrying corn stalks. After a while we
heard the water begin to boil. Man, we were in business!

We checked the manhole and it was leaking pretty badly by now
but we couldn’t do anything about that. We found an old lard
can and put under it to catch the water. As if that would help
matters any. George and I just kept on carrying corn stalks and
putting them in the firebox. It wasn’t too long when we looked
at the steam gauge and thought it had moved off the peg a little.
So we wiped a little sweat and took off after more corn stalks.
After a little while longer we had enough steam to blow the
whistle, but we didn’t dare make a sound. We just kept right on
carrying corn stalks.

It wasn’t too long until we had 50 No. on the gauge. We
thought that was a plenty, so we decided to see what would happen
if we opened the throttle. Sure enough . . . the old engine began
to turn but you could have heard it screak for a mile, I believe,
because it hadn’t had a drop of oil for years and we
couldn’t get any out of Granddad’s shop because it was
locked up. We let it run a little while and then had to get more
corn stalks and fire up again.

The next time we decided we would try to see if it would move
itself. It just had a forward gear because Granddad had taken one
of the eccentric rods off while he was using it on the sawmill to
make it a little quieter. We found a piece of shafting and stuck it
through a hole in the flywheel and on into the clutch. Now we were
ready to see if it would move. But we never did get it to pull
itself out of the holes where it had sunk in the ground over the
years it had been sitting there. It is a darned good thing that it
didn’t because there was a tree right in front of us that had
limbs hanging well below the smoke stack and governors.

We decided we better let well enough alone and quit before we
got hurt. Anyway we were just about worked out so we gave it up.
And then, too, we got to thinking about that razor strap that we
would get on the seat of our pants when Dad got home . . . Me for
sure. We just took it easy the rest of the afternoon until our
parents got home, and believe it or not … we DIDN’T get the
razor strap. I still think we should have . . . What kids won’t
do.

I am 56 years old now and I still love those old engines. I have
a 22 HP single cylinder Keck-Gonnerman Engine that I have had 7 or
8 years and I sure think a lot of it.

I would like to hear from someone that has done a thing like
this.

  • Published on May 1, 1973
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