MY STEAM MEMORIES


| November/December 1971



Small engine

The small engine on the left was assembled in 1968 and the larger one in 1970 by Howard.

129 Bannick St., Bad Axe, Michigan 48413

My earliest recollection of the steam engine is of one that was pulled from job to job by horses. My father, who came to Michigan in 1897, had been in the threshing business in Canada starting out with a Merry-go-round horsepower and hand fed separator with straw carriers to move the straw away from the machine. The way I remember him explaining it to me his separator was made so the chaff would come out separate from the coarse straw. He also told me that this chaff was mixed with pulped mangles and fed to cattle. He stated that they grew a lot of mangles for that purpose. When my father came to Michigan he brought with him a large cutting box, but no power to run it. This was too big a machine to turn by hand very long, so when a lot of work was to be done, my father hired a neighbor who had a small steam engine that had to be hauled from job to job by horses.

This is where my memory of the steam engine started. The year was about 1906. The name of the engine or the year it was made I do not remember, only that it must have been one of the very first ones. Then as I got a little older and the steam engine pulling a separator behind, came into this neighborhood to thresh. I was around the engine as much as I could be. My special delight was when they could not finish in one day and would have to stay for the night.

After all was checked over and the men had left for home this was my delight to climb up and set on the engineer's seat and maybe give the whistle a real wee-wee-toot.

Then all of a sudden I got to the age where I was old enough to follow the machine from job to job as an exchange helper. This was when each farmer put his crops in the barn and the machine went from one farmer to another. I wonder what the boys of today would think of the hours we put in then. About 6:30 in the morning we would hear the whistle blow, and at 7 we started our work day which lasted until 6 at night. If you were not an exchange hand and working as a hired hand you would get $1.00 to $1.25 a day. Yes, you read right! This amount my son-in-law makes in 15 minutes working in a milk processing plant herein Bad Axe, Mich. Most all the work of this time was all hard work, not like driving a tractor or a self-propelled combine which I did plenty of later on. In all the years I was around steam I can remember only one fire around here that was started by the steam engine, and that was a rail fence on my father's farm. We always were prepared in case it did happen, by having three or four barrels of water handy. I often wondered why there were not more accidents than there were. I remember of two silo fillers that blew all to pieces and yet no one got hurt. I found one piece of the wheel that held the knives on across the road, a distance of about 300 feet, in the field I was working. This chunk of iron was about 14 inches long by about 3 inches through and I think it must have weighed about 30 pounds. At the scene of the other blow up a large piece of the wheel flew through the air over the tractor on which the farmer's son was sitting.

The worst accident that happened in our neighborhood happened right on my father's farm. I was about 15 at the time and the memory is as real as though it were yesterday. We had a very large stack of corn stalks that we wanted husked and shredded so my father asked the company that did our other custom work to come and do this job. The steam engine was a Port Huron and the shredder was a large eight roll machine. It was getting late in the fall and the top of the stack probably was a little tough, at least there was some reason it did not feed through the snapping rolls. We had not been shredding long when this happened, and one of the men that was taking care of the machine tried to unplug it without stopping the machine or at least taking a wood stick to do it, with the result that his hand went in. This young man was very quick and braced himself somehow and pulled hard with the result he saved his arm down to the wrist. The engineer stopped and reversed the machine in no. I style, by this I mean quick work without throwing the belt, but his hand would not reverse out. The snapping rolls had one large cast-iron bracket on each side with an extra heavy spring keeping the rolls together and men tried to pry them apart so as to release them enough to release his hand, but no luck. One of the men yelled to get something to break the castings that held the rolls down, and as I was on the ground it was my legs that ran as fast as they ever did and grabbed the axe out of the wood shed and ran back and handed it to one of the men. The axe must have been made of very good stuff because the man sure had to hit often and hard before they broke letting the rolls come apart enough for him to get his hand out. At that time about the only ones who had cars were the doctors and they got there quickly but knew at once the hand would be lost at the wrist. They performed this major operation in our home. This young man was kept at our house that night and taken home the next day.