Leroy Blaker and Me
For those of you who knew or know about LeRoy Blaker, many thoughts come to mind. While I was a bit young to have really remembered LeRoy, his legacy has greatly influenced my life. His legacy for me includes the National Threshers Association and the 24-75 HP Port Huron steam engine #7948! My family purchased this engine October 25, 1975 at LeRoy's estate auction. Dad bid on it just to boost the bid, and walked away with it. When he presented the auction invoice to my mom that night, she told him that the decimal point must be in the wrong spot! Oops, it was not, and the Port Huron was destined for Ottawa Lake, Mich., - he just neglected to admit that to us kids! Dad tried to tell us that the engine was just being stored at our house for a while until the new owner was ready for it. But, we knew something was up.
I distinctly remember the extra care that he took in pulling the engine from its place in the sawmill and the snippets of conversation about it. The engine had sat in LeRoy's sawmill for many years and had sunk into the ground. We had to remove portions of the building to bring it out safely. I remember the line that went to the sawyer's platform so he could adjust the governor from there. I remember the extra long stack to take the smoke out of the building. I remember asking Dad specifically on the way home in the cab, 'Is this OUR engine?' He just grinned and said, 'No,' Yeah, right!
That first year we were gone for 30 days with the engine to shows and parades. Being 1976, there were bicentennial celebrations, parades, steam shows, fairs, and birthday parties. The show season started at Wauseon with LeRoy's daughter, Donna Goshorn, admiring the engine all painted up. (Anyone else remember that OSHA blue jacket and aluminum paint that ringed the flywheel and wheel?) Then we were off to Greenville, Ohio, then to London, then to Bluffton, and to the Monroe County Fair. The memories that this engine generated for us just playing with it are tremendous like Billy Kennedy lighting fireworks out of the Kitten's firebox. It truly brought the family together and greatly increased our realm of friends. The steam gang all pitched in to help us learn how to operate the engine correctly and coax the best showing out of it.
My personal favorite operation is pulling the sawmill. The harder they worked the engine, the better I liked it. This challenged my ability as an engineer because I had to make sure my fire and water matched what was coming. I always figured that if the guys could do it so could I. Being a farm kid who would rather be running the equipment than be in the house, the field was the perfect place for me. The Port Huron allows me to be a part of something special and compare it to the modern equipment. The air conditioned cabs, stereo and no dust are wonderful when you really have to work all day in the fields, but the smell of steam engine smoke, grease, steam, and sweat can't be beat.
Over the years, we have retubed and piped the engine and done some stay bolt work, but nothing major until 1996 when the clutch started acting up. Knowing that this engine had given its all for many years, as detailed in LeRoy's story, we were prepared for some major work, but not as much as we are ending up doing. Extensive boiler and engine work is being done to restore this fine engine to its original condition.
Enjoy reading about this fine old engine in LeRoy's firsthand account from the July-August 1962 issue of IMA.