I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED steam power, for I grew up in an environment of steam mixed with cylinder oil and green sawdust. My father and his father before him operated a sawmill powered by the steam engine.
The first traction engines I saw operating under their own power were at the National Thresher's Reunion at Montpelier, Ohio, in 1956. After seeing the engines operate I became fascinated by them and wanted to buy one that I could restore.
About a year later, I was talking with a junk-man who told me where there was a steam traction engine near Moscow, Michigan that a former thresherman wanted to sell. He said that he had tried to buy it but the thresherman would not sell it to him because he wanted to scrap it. The junk-man and I went to look at the traction engine which is a Port Huron.
I learned later that it is a Port Huron 24 with a short boiler. Mr. Mitchell said he would sell it to me providing I would not junk it or disassemble it and use just the boiler. I told him that this stipulation was satisfactory to me because I wanted to restore the engine and take it to steam threshing reunions.
I told Mr. Mitchell that before I bought the engine I wanted to talk to a friend, Mr. Pawson, who powers his sawmill with a Baker engine. I had operated stationary steam engines in nay father's sawmill, but I never had operated a steam traction engine and did not know what to look for in purchasing a steam traction engine.
I talked with Mr. Pawson and he said that he used to have a Port Huron, but he scrapped it because it rusted out below the rear draft door. He said the Port Huron had a bad. habit of rusting out in the ash pit and around the rear draft door.
I went back to see Mr. Mitchell and we inspected the boiler to see if it was rusted through in either the ash pit or around the rear draft door. I also looked at the front tube sheet to see if it was rusted through. I found the tube sheet pitted near the bottom, which is to be expected, but in good condition. The bottom half of the smoke box was rusted through in a couple of places. I told Mr. Mitchell that I was not overly concerned about this condition because it could be fixed by cutting out this part of the smoke box and welding in a new piece of metal.
Having found the boiler in good condition, we agreed upon a price and I bought the engine. Now came the task of moving it home. Mr. Mitchell had used the engine to power his sawmill but had not operated the sawmill for the last eight years. This was evident because the roof of the sawmill had rotted and was lying on the engine. Jacking the roof up and moving the engine out from under the roof proved to be the most difficult task of moving the engine to our sawmill in Addison, Michigan. After I got the engine home I re moved all the old pipe fittings from the boiler and plugged the pipe holes in the boiler in preparation to testing it with cold water pressure. I then filled the boiler with cold water and pumped it up to two hundred and fifty pounds pressure to check for any weak spots in the boiler. It held the pressure without rupturing or leaking so I concluded that it was safe to steam up. I drained the boiler and put on steam and water pipes and repacked the stuffing boxes on the engine.
Having the boiler and engine in operating condition I proceeded to steam her up. When the steam pressure had reached one hundred and twenty five pounds I turned on the boiler injector. I opened the steam valve and water valve, but all I got from the injector was water spilling out the overflow.
About this time I was beginning to get a little frantic and began to close first the water valve and the steam valve, but I just could not get the injector to work.
However, lady luck was smiling on me. A sawmill man that used to operate traction engines came to the sawmill for some lumber. I asked him now to operate the injector. I told him that I opened the steam and water valve but all I got was water spilling out the overflow. He replied, You cannot open the steam valves wide open because the injector sucks in too much water to inject into the boiler and as a result the water runs out the injector overflow.' He further added, 'You open the steam valve and then open the water valve so the steam is able to suck just enough water into the injector and then the steam will force the water into the boiler without any water running out the overflow.' I followed his directions and the injector worked.
Since learning how to operate the injector I have had many pleasurable moments running the engine on some near by gravel roads and using it to power a cutoff saw and cement mixer. I believe the happiest moment will come when I get the engine completely restored and show it off at either the reunion at Montpelier, Ohio, or at Hastings, Michigan.