My Memoirs

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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