I stood a moment, wondering where I would be most out of the way, when the fireman said, 'You will have to take my seat box over here.' I said, 'I don't want to be in your way. Where will you sit?' He said, 'I never sit while we are out on the road.' He made me comfortable on his seat box, the engineer gave 2 short blasts on his whistle and hooked out his reverse and opened his throttle and we were off. I can still see the brown-black smoke roll out of that ponderous stack and hear the soft exhaust that only a balloon stack gave.
What fun! The old engine rolled along smoothly except when a wheel hit a depression at a rail joint or swayed a little at a low place on the track. But I had not seen it all yet. The engineer kept widening on his throttle at intervals and soon that old engine was rolling and pitching and doing about every step known to the dancing profession, and some besides. Even the twist, one of the newest steps, I believe; because the front end kept forever twisting from one side to the other. It was not exactly what I had expected; but it was exciting and I would have given half my life to have been the man with his hand on that throttle. But how that fireman got the coal into that fire box without hitting the door frame and scattering it all over the floor was a mystery. He never missed once on that swaying, rocking, jumping engine. At the next stop, I got down and returned to my car, after thanking the engine crew for a real ride.
Years later I rode a heavy freight locomotive a few miles on heavy well ballasted rail at about the same speed. While some of the characteristics of the old Atlantic were there, it was a quite different ride.
In the winter of 1896-97, I guess my parents decided if they were to keep me on the farm, they were going to have to begin working on it. Father was a died in the wool farmer, and believed that the farmer was the salt of the earth; the independent man of all men. His own boss. He came from a long line of farming men. How I ever got side tracked to love a locomotive and wanted to run one, he never could understand. He pointed out the long hours, the taking orders from other men, the nights away from home, the constant danger of sudden violent death, etc. Revolving wheels held no poetry for him He got his poetry from the beauties of nature.
So in the winter of 1896-97, a subtle start was made that kept me on the farm although it was years before I learned from a friend that the. purpose was just that. No quarrels, no scolding. Father started wondering, that winter, of grinding the grain for some of his livestock (he was a livestock-grain farmer, raising stock cattle, hogs and sheep) would not be profitable.
I was not interested I visualized one of those conical feed grinders, you saw sitting out in barn yards, with a box at the base to catch the ground feed, and a sweep on top, to hitch a horse to, that walked round and round to power it. It did not appeal to me.
We had a buggy and tool shed near by-adapted from an old house. It was perhaps 25' or 30' the long way, 14' to 16' wide with an upstairs.
One day father said-out of a clear sky-'What would you think of putting a feed grinder in one end of the buggy shed?' I thought, 'How would you get a horse in there to pull it.' Still I did not catch on. A few days later he said, 'Robert, I have a notion to buy a feed grinder and a stationary engine to pull it with. Do you think it would pay?' -Would it!!- Why-it would no doubt pay big. Why had not we done it long before? So the die was cast.
Of course, I had a fleeting wish that he had chosen a traction engine for power, because, next to the locomotive they were my second love, but I decided to-let well enough alone.
Across the road from our farm was a brick and tile factory, owned and operated by 2 brothers named Byers. The tile machine was steam driven. One day father, with Charles Byers, started out to look for a good second hand stationary engine and boiler of 10 H.P. or so. There were a few such a round those days, but they found nothing that suited Charles Byers. So they went to Murray Iron Works of Burlington, Iowa, and father ordered, brand new, a 12 H.P. Scotch Marine boiler and a 10 H.P. center crank engine with a fly wheel of 30' diameter and 6' face. The engine bolted to a heavy cast iron base, making a complete almost self contained boiler and engine.
While the boiler and engine were being built, Father bought from a flouring mill, one of the very few flouring mills left of the early days, a stone burr muddling mill, and when his engine arrived it was all set up in the east end of the buggy shed ready to go.
The Byers brothers Helped us set the engine and get started. They gave me some instruction on firing the boiler, and impressed on me very carefully what would happen if the water got low in a boiler with a hot fire; and to keep the water a couple inches in the glass, or more, at all times while running. They said to throw earth or damp ashes over the fire, in case of low water. Our boiler was supplied with water by a Hand cock inspiration, a type of injector. I used them on 3 different stationary boilers and always found them extremely reliable. I never found one on a traction engine. The Byers also cautioned me that a water glass could break occasionally and to be sure to shut it off quick, and there by hangs a tale.
Several months after, we started grinding, the water glass broke. I was not near by when it happened, and with the din of noise in that little building and the rush of steam and water all around, I panicked. I rushed to the front of the boiler, forgetting all about shutting the water glass valves, jerked open the fire door, grabbed the fire hoe and began pulling the fire. Father, who had been back tending the mill ran up, shut off the engine, grabbed a shovel and started throwing the live coals out the door to keep the building from catching on fire. We got thoroughly wet from the water and spray.
When we got the fire pulled, we stepped outside to wait until the boiler should blow itself down. It must have been only a very short time, though it seemed much longer, when a man dashed around the corner and as he entered the door, asked, 'What goes on here?' In an instant he had the valves closed. Oh! Blessed quiet. We stepped inside and he said 'Robie did not you know you do not need to pull your fire if a glass breaks?' I do not know what I answered, but he asked, 'Do you know how to put in a new glass and do you have one with gaskets?' Then he showed me how, by putting in the new glass and warned not to draw down on the packing too much as you could crush the glass.
He then turned open the valves, and we had about ' of water. He opened the smoke - bonnet door and found the bottom of the glass was well above the tops of the top row of flues. The steam gage showed about 50 pounds steam. He helped us get our fire what was left back in with some old boards and we were soon raising steam again.
While the Hand cock inspiration was was all one could ask, for reliability, the Detroit Sight Feed single connection, pint lubricator furnished to lubricate the engine cylinder, was just the opposite. It would work well for an hour or so, then get hot. The oil would boil and foam and the lubricator would stop feeding. We tried several different brands of cylinder oil but they all worked the same. So there was nothing to do when the lubricator stopped feeding, but to shut it off drain and refill with cool oil.
One day I started to do this. I shut it off, placed a container under the drain and took out the filler plug, forgetting to open the drain cock. For a moment nothing happened and then a squirt of boiling, foaming oil shot out and landed on my right cheek and slowly trickled down taking the skin as it went.
With a yell to Dad to come take over, I dashed to the house to get mother to take that burning mess off my face as best she could, and to see if she could put something on to ease the pain. As I entered the kitchen, there stood a young lady I was pretty fond of. I had a fleeting thought that now I might have two pairs of gentle hands to help me over my predicament. But it was only fleeting; for the young lady said, 'I don't like you when you look like that. 'turned on her heel and went to another room. We learn by experience. She had come with her mother to make a social call. I was so disgusted and nettled that after mother had patched me up as best she could, I went back and helped finish the day's grinding.
A few days later father said to see if I couldn't find a lubricator that would work more satisfactory. I sent to Montgomery Ward and got a Detroit double connection1 pint sight feed lubricator with glass by which you could tell at all times how much oil it was carrying. It worked perfect.
As time went on, father took on more and more custom grinding. He chose Monday of each week as grinding day. But often we were unable to finish in one day. Also he discovered the stone burr perfect for grinding corn table meal and graham flour. So he sent to Nordyke and Marmon company makers of the mill, I think of Indianapolis, Indiana, and got corn meal sieve and bolting attachments for graham, rye and buckwheat flour, to attach to the mill. They produced the finished product. We lived well on that home made meal and flour and could always have it fresh. Dad raised, not only the corn and wheat, but the buckwheat to grind. Mother made her buckwheat cakes the old fashioned way, with yeast, raising them from a starter at beginning of buckwheat cake season, and keeping a constant supply of the batter clear thru to the end adding to, as she took out, each day. Do I need say more?