Farm Collector

PIONEERING THE WEST

I was a lad of 17 summers. Sweeten brothers had ordered a 32
horse-power Reeves steam traction engine with full plowing
equipment which was due to arrive in Malad City, Idaho, the nearest
railroad to their ranch in Curlew Valley, a distance of 35 miles
over a rugged mountain range.

We drove from Mendon, Utah, our home town, in a white top buggy
and arrived in the terminus town at dusk. I did not stop for supper
but rushed down to the station to see if the Reeves engine was
there. Sure enough, she occupied the big flat car on which were
several big boxes and a water tank all stamped, ‘Reeves and
Company, Columbus, Ind.’

To say I was thrilled would be expressing it mildly. I
didn’t sleep much that night and before day break, I was down
to the railroad siding opening crates and placing the shiny brass
boiler fixtures in their respective places and by the time Mr.
Evans, the factory expert, could eat his breakfast and get down
there I had her all ready for filling and firing-up.

I watched with eagerness the steam gauge raise and kept up a
slow fire, oiled all the moving parts and filled hand oilers with
cup grease as well as using what waste I had to shine up the pretty
boiler trimmings. It was indeed an inspiring sight and presented a
dream to my boyish ideals. I longed to pull the throttle and draw
the whistle cord.

The others were busily engaged building a run-way of wood ties
to roll the monstrous beauty off the flat car onto Mother Earth in
the wilds of Idaho where the red man had but a few years previous
held sway, and the coyotes howled and mountain lions ran at rampage
unmolested except by some disturbance of a lonely hunter. The steam
had now risen to 40 pounds and I announced the pressure by a gentle
touch of the chime whistle cord and was instructed by Mr. Evans to
open the globe valve and to warm up the cylinders as well as the
valve oil. After a few moments of suspense, I gently opened the
throttle and Oh! Boy! did she start off nice. –A little siss,
alternate blows from cylinder cocks and she was rolling the large
fly-wheel to a perfect balance. The sudden impulse of exhausting
steam livened the fire and the steam crept up to 100 pounds
pressure. On inquiry, I learned from Mr. Evans the safety valve was
set at 150 pounds. Everything was now in readiness for the
descent.

I watched with a heart of rapture and impulse of emotion with
many other on-lookers, who had gathered to see the first Reeves
engine drop or western soil. As the factory expert carefully
engaged the gears and the drivers slowly rolled the huge monster of
harnessed steam down onto the ground. It was really inspiring to
see her safely landed and we were soon turned in a direction of
Westward, Ho!

The culverts, and frail bridges were crushed like straw beneath
its heavy load, but only one disrupted our course of journey when
we went down in the Malad Canal. We were three days getting out and
on dry sod. The shiny trimmings, chocolate brown, black and yellow
glow were terribly smeared and soiled with that Malad white clay. A
rain storm also added to our adversity, but the sun finally came
out brilliant and we were gradually ascending the summit of the
great Wasotch range which separated the valley of Malad from the
Curlew.

What an accomplishment to reach the Zenith — the air was clear
after the heavy April showers. We could see in the far distance on
either side of the summit. To the east, pioneer villages stood in
place of the recent savages hunting ground (founded by the hearty
Mormon colonists). To the west, a vast purple hue as far as the eye
could reach (of open space) and a few scattered homesteads. A land
of sage brush and grease wood yet to be inhabited and pioneered.
The main route of the subdued Indian from the Washakie reservation
to the Fort Hall. Some outrages and massacres by the stealthful
uncivilized natives were yet common stories related by the early
settlers and the cattle kings. The Bar M and Mule Shoe suffered
some losses by the savages as well as from ferocious beasts, as
they tried to occupy the entire valley of Curlew and Bannach on the
north, with their great herds. Some difficulties between the early
settlers also arose with the Eastern magnates, as the settlers
tried to homestead and endeavored to convert a wilderness into a
flowing grain field.

A shrill blast of triumph sounded from the chime whistle as I
was permitted to pull the whistle cord, on reaching the summit. It
also was a signal of defiance to the savage cattle kings and
ferocious beasts who were yet endeavoring to stave off civilization
as long as possible.

We had the distinction of bringing West of the range the first
modern steam traction engine (a portable Ames engine and boiler
having been transported by horse teams in the late 70’s to
operate a saw-mill). We felt justly entitled to our new
accomplishment.

The whistle sent the coyotes, mountain lions, bob cats and
reindeer back into their respective places of rendezvous. A few
pack trains of Indian families perhaps were frightened with their
characteristic superstition. The Herefords and spotted cattle threw
their tails over their backs and went bellowing to places of refuge
as- we slowly descended the western slopes into the valley of
wilderness. Plowing with steam power and firing with sage proved a
great success and a vast amount of heavy sage brush was broken up
and the land cleared to provide for a field of flowing grain as a
result of modern equipment (which followed the same summer). I got
some real experience as an operator of the Reeves engine and was
thrilled beyond expression, enjoying every moment. Even firing up
this engine before day-break was perfectly agreeable to the
Sweeten’ boys.

But alas! How soon was I to retrace my steps and return back to
Bannach as my elder brother drove up and demanded my services on
the ranch, notwithstanding my pleadings to remain and the faithful
promises of the Sweeten boys to pay me well for my work. But to no
avail, I was soon headed north ward beside my brother leaving
behind me the joy and ambition of a youthful career.

Soon I was landed at the Bannock homestead to follow a foot
burner (a walking plow), a job to occupy my time the remainder of
the summer. What a contrast to the 24′ disc plows the big
Reeves drew.

  • Published on Mar 1, 1960
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