MY FIRST EXPERIENCES WITH STEAM ENGINES

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Here is a picture of Harry Woodman see of Dowling, Michigan hill climbing at the 1962 Old Time Thresher Show.
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Here is a picture of the threshing scene at the 1962 Old Time Thresher Show.

Elmwood, Wis.

I was born over head of a general merchandise store in a small
inland town.

The whole township was covered with heavy hardwood timber, so
steam powered sawmills were many and some had stone feed mills
attached to grind corn meal and whole wheat flour for the early
settlers.

Being mechanically inclined and caring nothing for the store, I
would run away to the mills to see the machinery and especially the
big steam engines that run the mills. My mother hadn’t given me
permission to go, as she was afraid I would get hurt. So I knew
just what I had coming when I arrived homel The tanning I got
didn’t make me lose the interest I still had in the steam
engines, but only the lack of wanting to sit down for awhile.

Fortunately for me, My uncle had a sawmill and a small Gaar
Scott engine. My uncle had a boy about my age so I was allowed to
go there once in awhile. So by the age of ten I knew a lot about
boilers and engines.

By the turn of the century drilled wells were replacing the
springs and dug wells and steam powered drilling machine were doing
big business.

My father needed a new well at home so he got a driller to drill
our well in exchange for a large store account owed by him. The
driller had a large family to support, the pay was poor as a result
he couldn’t afford to keep a helper. So at the age of ten, I
took it upon myself to run the engine for him.

This was an upright 6 H.P. steam engine with the cylinder below
and the crank shaft and pulley above with a cross head pump for
water supply and of course wood for fuel.

Every morning I would steam up for him, oil up, fill the
lubricator, run the engine enough to fill the boiler and have it
ready to run by the time he got there.

His next move was to a near neighbor, so on invitation I tagged
along. His next move was farther away from home, because of this
father would not let me go. That ended my portable steam engine
career.

That same year a flour mill came to town which was powered by an
Atlas Steam engine with the governors in the flywheel working on
the eccentric and valve. The mill was heated by the exhaust and the
condensed water was pumped back into the boiler by a double
cylinder independent pump, so there was very little boiler cleaning
or repairs. This was the nicest power plant anywhere a-round.

How the engineers and firemen ever put up with me and my
questions, I will never know. But most of them seemed to like me
and would even let me stop the engines, open and shut petcocks, run
injectors, insperators, syphons, and etc. One older engineer would
even let me start the big sawmill engine.

Of course my best bet was my uncles engines and as soon as
school was out my cousin and I would run the engines, especially
the planing mill. The shavings were used for fuel and it wasn’t
too much of a job to care for the boiler. Fuel was no object with
all the dry slabs and dry edgings all over the place. On Saturdays
when the mill would not be running, my cousin and I would steam up
the little Gaar Scott and run it around for fun. We placed a plank
across on the tool boxes so we could reach the levers. So by the
time we were through grade school both my cousin and I were able to
do a good job with the steam engines.

Later my uncle acquired four steam threshing machines all Avery
‘Yellow Fellows’ threshers and different make engines. One
was a Nickols and Shepard, one a return flue Buffalo Pitts and 2
returned Averys. We ran all of these engines some, but we both
attended high school and this left only Saturdays and vacation time
to spend running these machines. By the time we were out of high
school gas engines were taking over. My uncle put a big single
cylinder throdling governor Milwaukee gas engine in the planing
mill.

How I wish I had some pictures of all of these engines, mills
and etc., but photography was expensive and kodaks were not in use
then. Perhaps at a later date I will tell more about the portable
and early traction engines in our neighborhood.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment