Of Steam Shovels and Operators

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1920 Eric ''B'' shovel with yard bucket which is currently being restored by Earl Hamilton.
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38120 S.R. 518, Lisbon, Ohio 44432

This is the beginning of a story of my interest in steam how I
grew up with it and things that happened connected with it, but
mostly with steam shovels.

When I was born my father had a steam engine, a sawmill and a
threshing machine. As I grew older my interest grew in the
operation of steam engines. I can barely remember seeing the Huber
steam engine my father had. Then he sold it and bought a 12 HP Case
engine, which I had a little experience firing at a very early age.
After the Case engine he bought a Russell engine and it was the
first engine I fired on both a sawmill and a threshing machine.
Later on the Russell engine was replaced with a 50 HP Case. It was
one of the first steam engines that I really operated. Later this
Case engine was traded to the Case Co. for a Case Crossmount
tractor, which was used on the sawmill and the threshing run. We
then lived about four miles north of East Liverpool, Ohio, in a
farming community.

During this time I had my first encounter with a steam shovel
working near my home on a road grading job taking a steep hump off
a hill. It was a The steam shovel a small shovel used primarily for
road grading. I was very interested in this machine and used to
spend many evenings after school and many Saturdays watching the
shovel load dirt into dump wagons that were pulled with a team of
horses and that sparked my interest very much in steam shovels.
Also the person who operated this shovel lived near our place and I
used to talk to him about his machine. This particular shovel did
not have caterpillar tread but was a wheel shovel. It had four wide
wheels on it for traveling and it could not travel very well in
soft ground. It would have to run on planks or mats when on soft
ground. It probably did not weigh more than 15 or 20 tons.

Then in the middle 1920’s we moved near Negley, Ohio, about
12 miles north of our previous home to a farm formerly owned by my
great grandfather and took with us the farm machinery mentioned
above. We threshed, sawed barn frames, and did some commercial
sawing. In the meantime we needed another power to operate the
sawmill and threshing machine as we had to operate both at the same
time on a commercial basis. We found a used 45 HP Case steam
tractor that we could buy reasonably and we used it on the sawmill
and threshed with the Case Crossmount 22-40.

When we moved to Negley there was a large steam operation in a
coal strip mine which had two large shovels and two smaller ones
with which they loaded coal. This was about 4 miles from my
father’s farm and was near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, in
South Beaver Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. I spent some of
my spare time watching these shovels at work.

One winter when saw milling was slack, I got a job firing a
shovel on a road job, which was my first experience working on a
shovel. And from then on I had an idea of getting on the front end
and operating a shovel. Of course, it takes a long time to learn
about the various operations and items on a shovel. One of the
requirements then to run a shovel was that you must have at least
three years’ experience firing and oiling on a shovel before
you could run it.

320 Bucyrus shovel that was new in 1923. Weight: more than 300
tons; 90 foot boon; 56 foot dipper sticks; 8 yard dirt capacity

Over the next period of years I worked on the sawmill. One
winter I went to the large strip mine east of home. They were
hiring people in the labor gang, and I was hired and put to work
cleaning coal with a hand shovel. The big shovels put out ash and
cinder and the labor gang had to clean them off of the coal before
it could be loaded. This coal was then sent to the tipple in a
narrow gauge railroad with side-dump cars and small saddle tank
locomotives of about 20 tons each. At the tipple it was loaded onto
railroad cars to go to market.

Another job of the labor gang was to help build railroad track.
After each cut of coal the railroad track had to be moved and
re-laid in another cut of coal, which added up to a lot of

All the time I was working there I had my eye on the shovel and
I put in for extra fireman if they needed someone. On many
occasions I did get to fire one of the shovels, if someone was sick
or had to have a day off.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment