Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
If I remember correctly, it is about 2 years, may be a little
longer, since I wrote ‘My Memoirs’ and sent them to the
Iron Men Album.
In them I undertook to describe some of my experiences with
steam power on the farm and other uses back thru the years, and
wound up with the story of the trip my son Bob and I made to
Oklahoma in the spring of 1958, when we brought out the 40 H.P.
Avery undermounted Steam plowing engine and restored it.
Since then we have taken it, each fall, together with the 18
H.P. Undemounted Avery we procured a few years earlier, (just one
jump ahead of the junk dealers), to the Old Settlers and Threshers
Reunion here at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
Since those Memoirs appeared in the Album, I have had repeated
requests from visitors to the reunions and from steam friends here,
to add some more to them. So far I have hesitated, fearing anything
I could add would be an anticlimax. But the requests have
continued, so here goes, and I hope you will not be disappointed. I
think this 2nd installment will be to tell you how I got that way.
A rather long story in itself.
But just a moment to give Bob Jr. credit for making it possible
to preserve these two specimens of my favorite engines. I owned two
of them in the past and found them to be powerful, reliable and
easy to handle. the first an 18 H.P., then a 40 H.P.
With Bob, it was different, he came on the scene just as the old
faithful were puffing down the other side of the hill into oblivion
and the junk dealers’ torch. But he has taken to the task of
helping me put these two engines in shape and caring for them, with
a will, both here at home and at the show. And has become a careful
painstaking steam engineer. His special delight is to care for the
18 at the show and run it in the Parade of Power. Says, ‘It is
just his size.’ He will help me with the 40 when and if needed.
But says, ‘Just too big.’ This suite me fine. For that
means there can be no rivaley on that score. After owning and
running a 40 for 18 to 20 years at about every kind of work, (and
it never let me down), my whole delight is in the one I now have. I
only wish I were able to go out and do as I did of yore.
And here is a point, I believe a little out of the ordinary,
Bob’s wife, Ruthie, likes the little 18 about as well as he
does. And when on parade loves to take her turn at the throttle,
which she does with proficiency and care. And if she has a chance
to drive it here at home occasionally believe me she is expert with
the whistle, too. From the time I can first remember, until the end
of the iron horse era, the sight of a steam locomotive thrilled me.
As they grew bigger and bigger, and, to me more and more beautiful
in design, (as I also grew bigger and bigger and more and more
‘bigger’) I loved to wait at a crossing and watch one bear
down on me, the smoke and steam rising and floating lazily back
over the train. And as it rushed past, the drivers and rods a
frenzy of movement with a constant roar and tattoo of exhaust from
the stack, the whistle growing softer as it moved away-well what
greater glory in this world, than to be that man sitting on the
right side of the cab with his arm resting on the upholstered
window sill and controlling his steed by a touch. And if he would
see me and answer my wave, I got a lift for the rest of the day. By
the way, they did not all wave back either. I learned that some
engineers were real sour pusses. And like wise If I happened to be
at the station when one of those beauties rolled in pulling its
load of passenger coaches, the drivers turning slower and slower
until they came to rest, it seemed like real poetry to me.
I have no doubt many a boy thrilled as much over a locomotive as
I, the trouble was that I had it so bad I never got over it; while
most boys soon out grow it. So while I never became a locomotive
engineer, a certain sense of disappointment lingered until the
steam locomotive was no more the I have been happy as a farmer.
Have I ever ridden a steam locomotive? Yes, on two occasions at
the break neck speed of 20 miles per hour or so.
In the late 1870’s or early 1880’s some of my fathers
next of kin moved to St. Francis, Cheyenne County, in the very N.W.
corner of Kansas. It is about equidistant from the Colorado state
line on the west, and the Nebraska state line on the north. A
branch line of the Burlington, built about that time, leaves the
main line at Orleans, Nebraska, and heads S.W. across the
Kansas-Nebraska plains to St. Francis end of track about 100 miles
away. One train left Orleans for St. Frances in the morning and one
left St. Francis for Orleans in the morning. It took each train all
day to run the 100 miles making a very leisurely schedule. It is
said they had been known, on occasion, to stop out in the open
country between stations and allow the passengers to get off and
limber up their fire arms on jack rabbits and coyotes.
On one of his visits home, when I was about 16 or 17 years old,
one of my father’s brothers knowing my fondness for locomotive
sacked me if I had ever ridden one. I told him, ‘no’. He
said, ‘If you ever come to visit your Kansas cousins, and would
like to try it, go out to the engine and ask for a ride. I would be
much surprised if they do not let you. Our train crews are a
friendly bunch’. I decided to try it if ever I went that way,
and the opportunity came sooner than I expected.
Within a year, my father and mother decided that my brother and
I should go visit at St. Francis. So we were put on the train at
Mt. Pleasant, and in due time found ourselves aboard an
accommodation train of about 10 or 12 freight cars and one day
coach. We were the only 2 passengers at 4:00 A.M.G moving slowly
out of the yards at Orleans, Nebraska, on a cold December morning a
few days before Christmas. For what seemed hours and it was we out
ran the day light and the only light was what dim light was in the
car and the glow of the little red hot stove in the corner.
Remember those little stoves? But finally the morning light began
to gain on us, and objects to take vague form. Soon one could make
out the shadowy outline of rolling hills and flat plains. Here in a
hollow the remains of a sod house, and hard by a run down small
farm house and barn no paint. And a wooden tower, wooden wheel,
wooden vane windmill one section of the wheel flapping loose-but
still running. And, Oh! my first coyote loping slowly away to join
his fellows, out of reach of his enemy, man. Although I had never
seen one, somehow I knew what it was. In places sage brush and
occasionally back on hills, cattle.
The train switched at every least way station. The stations were
sometimes no more than 10 or 12 houses, mostly like the farm house
we had passed, unpainted and weather beaten. And each station
seemed to have one long low rambling building with a big square
front, marked ‘General Merchandise’ or ‘General
By 10:00 A.M. it seemed to me they were spending more time
switching than out on the road. So deciding to try my luck asking
for a ride on the engine, I told my brother where I was going and
climbed down on the right side of the train, with out overcoat or
mittens, into one of the bitterest, coldest wintry winds I ever
felt. Not a single tree to break that wind, and what a desolate
long distance view. How I missed the trees. It was lonesome.
At that age I was an awkward over grown bashful boy, and I had
to screw up my courage constantly to keep from backing down before
I ever got up front to ask for a ride. But I kept on on only to
find when I got to the head carno engine. They were switching a
little way back. They soon came, backed down and coupled on. But I
could not bring my self to ask for a ride. I stood there for a
moment trying to make conversation. Between the howling wind and
their lack of interest, it did not come off very well. I did get to
look the engine over. A 4-4-0 Atlantic, with balloon stack, large
square head light that stood well out over the smoke box, a cow
catcher that stuck out so far front that it seemed to be running
ahead to prepare for the engine when it arrived, and rather high
drivers. I stepped back in front of the gang way just as the
fireman turned to his engineer from looking back along his side of
the train, said something I did not catch, and rising, picked up
his shovel. I called ‘Are you pulling out?’ He nodded, I
said ‘Gee! I will have to hurry back to my car.’ The
engineer stuck his head around the sill back of him in the cab,
instead of opening his window, and said ‘You won’t have
time to get back to your car. You will have to get up here with us,
and we will let you off at the next stop.’ G-L-O-R-Y, what
luck. I had made it without asking. I was up that gangway like a