Farm Collector

RELIVING THE DISTANT PAST WITH TODAY’S FASCINATION

Rt. 1, Box 280 Hazelwood, Missouri 63042

Forty-eight years ago this May the 22nd, a new Advance-Rumely
Traction Engine was rolling across country at top a flat car,
enroute to Slater, Missouri, where for the next fourteen years it
was to effective serve an agricultural need among a section of
Saline County, Missouri, Farmers.

The engine had been ordered the previous November for a May date
shipment, by my father, a long time Saline County thresherman.

The arrival of this new engine was without doubt the most looked
forward to event in my now 63 years of living.

That now far back November, in 1921, found me still in
attendance at a one room, rural school with four years of high
school still ahead. For the remainder of this school year plus the
four to follow, if I had given one third as much of my time and
attention to studies as I did this Advance-Rumely Engine I would
have indeed been a top, honor roll student.

During the 1921/22 winter I eagerly watched the passing of each
day, but it was like waiting for Eternity. It seemed the time would
never pass. The somewhat mild winter finally passed and one day
spring came with fields and trees turning green and the Meadow
Larks, Turtle Doves and Bob Whites were filling the air with their
familiar songs. Indeed an important mile post along my life’s
way was near at hand. The longed for month of May was nearly gone
and daily I was watching the mail for a notice to come from the
then Chicago & Alton Railroad Company announcing the
engine’s arrival. On that May the 30th, I shall never forget,
riding six miles into town with my father and my brother in my
father’s Model T Ford. Our first stop was at a produce market
to drop off a case of eggs.

As the Model T came to a halt, an employee of the produce
market, who had been a former neighbor and also a farmer said,
‘Tom, (my father’s first name) did you know you have a new
engine setting down on the side track?’

Hearing this, time at this produce market, was a waste for me
and I quickly took off on foot to make a quick dash over the few
blocks to the side track along the main line of the Chicago &
Alton Railroad where I knew the flat car would be waiting that held
the jewel of my life, the Advance-Rumely engine.

As I advanced beyond the last structure obstructing my view of
the side track, I could see this big new shiny engine setting so
peacefully at top the flat car that had rolled it across country
from the far away factory, into the very range of my sight.

The detailed events of the next four days remain so clear in my
memory that it is as though they occurred only last week. Filling
the boiler with water, arranging for coal, igniting the fire etc.
Watching the big engine, under its own power, roll over onto the
dock and then slowly descend down the ramp soon to have its four
wheels resting for the first time on Saline County Soil.

Soon the six mile journey to our farm was begun.

The engine’s first lap of its fourteen year journey among
Saline County Farms was not an all-together pleasant one though.
Perhaps two thirds of the way along our journey home, while
crossing over a small concrete bridge that numerous other engines
had crossed over, this engine being bigger and heavier the right
rear drive wheel broke through, rendering the engine helpless to
continue the remainder of its first journey into the country.

The next day was Sunday and my father chose to wait until Monday
to remove the engine from the breakthrough that was holding it
captive.

On Monday morning under a pleasant early June morning sun, plans
were started to get the engine back upon the level roadway and to
continue the journey to our farm.

The first task was to dig and place a 6×6 timber deep into the
earth with one end of a long log chain around the timber. The other
end of the log chain was fastened around the rim of the embedded
driver.

One end of a long rope was then tied around one spoke of the
flywheel, at the rim end of the spoke. Most of the remainder of
this rope was then wound around the face of the flywheel leaving
the free end long enough to hook onto a team of mules.

As the mules pulled, the flywheel turned and with this power
being transmitted to the drive wheels and with the one chained, the
engine was slowly lifted up from the hole that had been holding it
captive.

Early July arrived and the big new engine pulled a grain
separator into the harvest field for the first time.

When the engine had been aligned and belted to the separator it
performed nicely and was indeed the spectacle of many curious
people. I remember the morning with such clarity that it seems like
it were only yesterday.

Three days passed and all was not so well. Difficulty was
arising and a long distance telephone call quickly brought a
factory service man, with replacement parts.

With these parts and the service man’s technique, the new
engine was soon off to a successful and completely satisfying
career.

The new engine’s predecessor had been a cross compound
Reeves and though the engine itself had been satisfactory, the
boiler structure had long been plagued with structural weaknesses
and my father was never pleased with the Reeves.

The new Advance-Rumely was to give years of satisfying service.
Perhaps no engine ever performed better nor its owner better
pleased than was my father with this engine.

Before the Advance-Rumely Engine was ordered I can recall
representatives being at our home from companies like Avery,
Aultman & Taylor, Russell and Case.

Of course there were many good engine and thresher manufacturers
and each had threshermen that swore by them. To the end though my
father was ever pleased with the Advance-Rumely Engine. He always
felt that only Rumely, later to become Advance Rumely Grain
Separators were worthy of mention.

My father was a good thresherman and was held in high esteem by
his clientele. He operated what some chose to call a self crew, but
was most often referred to as contractor type of threshing. The
farmer had his grain shocked, but still in the field. My father
furnished everything and delivered the grain to the farmer in
sacks, stacked in ricks. The farmer’s only responsibility was
to pay the threshing bill.

The threshing day started near six o’clock in the morning
and ended in almost early evening hours. My father paid well, was
easy to work for and to deal with. He had a good following, both
with workers and with people with grain to be threshed.

The threshing was done in July and August, but I never knew of
my father going to collect a threshing bill before mid September
and early October. In that rural section, back in those days people
trusted one another. My father never lost a threshing bill and each
worker was adequately paid. I cannot recall a time when there was a
shortage among workers.

I had my start as a traction engineer with the arrival of the
Advance-Rumely Engine. Though I had had no actual experience yet, I
had a good fundamental knowledge of the task before me, having
gained such through close contact with the engineer for the Reeves
Engine, over a period of years. His name was William Cramer, but he
had reached an advance age by the end of the 1921 season. Mr.
Cramer was an outstanding engineer and I had learned many things
from him.

In the early part of the 1923 threshing season I was handling
the engine alone, as soon as the grain separator had been leveled
and the engine disconnected. Rather quickly I could have the engine
manuvered into position for the belt to be placed on the flywheel
and soon thereafter I had the engine backed into the belt. For the
years to follow I was proud of the fact that I could back into the
belt and be in correct alignment without having to make a second
attempt. Many times I look on with pride as the flywheel turned and
the belt traveled with an equal amount of rim space on each side of
the belt.

In a contracting type of operation it was important that down
time be kept at a minimum. There were always plenty of bundle
wagons and at the start of a new setting two would be waiting to
drive in along side the feeder as soon as the engine was backed
into the belt and the threshing cycle started immediately.

Three views of the engine we built.

The days were long, the weather hot, especially during July.
August usually brought some relief, but the work was usually hard.
Because with four men pitching bundles into the feeder much of the
time, the engine was not loafing, but my days with the
Advance-Rumely Engine in the harvest field were indeed happy
ones.

In 1927 I went away to the city to work in a steam power plant,
later to become a licensed stationary engineer and still to this
day hold an active license and such is necessary to hold the job
that sets my table. I was able to obtain a leave each year and go
back to operate the Advance-Rumely Engine and though earlier it had
been my big engine it was now the little one as compared to the
much larger Corliss and Uniflo engines I was then operating one
shift during the 24 hour day; but it was still indeed my pride. The
work was much harder, the day much hotter, but it was my
‘looked forward to’ time of the year.

The activities of the combined reaper and harvester was becoming
more noticeable and each threshing season becoming shorter, and
though no connection, but my leave was becoming harder to obtain
each year.

1936 was the last season. The Advance-Rumely Engine and Grain
Separator was moved back home for the last time. The combine had
been victorious.

I lived on in contentment with the changing times and I
continued to have a direct association with the reciprocating steam
engine until 1964 when I shut the last engine down for the last
time. Today nothing remains except high pressure boilers burning
natural gas as fuel.

No fuss, no muss, no bother and almost no work and several times
the pay, but my fascination and contentment goes back to the
earlier days when in the early morning I was awakened from a
youthful sleep, by an alarm clock and soon I was igniting the fire
in the Advance-Rumely Engine in preparation for an interesting day
ahead.

In the earlier days of my association with the steam power plant
I worked first as a fireman, later as a wiper, an oiler and later
off to the examining board and for many years now a licensed
engineer.

Through these many years I often watched the flywheels turn so
smooth and one in exact synchronism with another. At one time with
three identical engines in a row and with all three running, their
speeds so accurately controlled that the spokes of all three wheels
lined up and looked as though there was only one wheel turning. The
engines ran so smoothly and were nearly silent. All one could hear
was the hum from the alternators, but the inspirational days go
back to the harvest field when I stood or sat on the little in
size, but big in inspiration, Advance-Rumely Engine and felt the
rhythm of the engine’s rock and listened to the sharp echo of
the engine’s exhaust as I opened the fire door and looked into
the almost white hot, fire box. Though long and often time hot, the
days never grew weary.

A tragic end finally came to the cherished Advance-Rumely
Engine. My father had finally sold the engine to the city to heat
road oil and they had now retired the engine and one day, just
across the street, not more than 100 ft. from where I first saw the
engine at top a flat car, the engine fell prey to the
salvager’s torch. The newest engine in the area was hauled away
in pieces.

When I learned of its fate it brought grief to my heart, because
my happiest hours had been spent on the operator’s platform of
this engine.

When there ceased to be a reciprocating engine in my life I
realized that the steam engine had been as vital to my contentment
as food is to my life and I looked for a solution.

There were traction engines that had not fallen prey to the
salvager’s torch and occasionally one could find one for sale,
but I was unable to see how I could adapt one into my life, since
there were no useful purpose for them to serve anymore.

One sitting in the back yard was not the answer. I wanted one
that I could fire under real load.

Along life’s way I had acquired machine tools, had become a
good machinist, had a good knowledge of steam engines so I decided
to build an engine that I could travel with over roadways and along
highways.

A thought of having a belted load for the engine did indeed
appeal to me but in lieu of this I was willing to settle for
roadway use.

I bought welding equipment, sent my son to welding school and
then set out on a course to build my own engine along the lines of
my need. I had no ambition nor desire to copy any particular
make.

Being convinced this was the answer to my problem, with the
never tiring help of my son Randy, who had become an excellent
welder, we made the start.

Today we have a very fine engine. 5′ bore and 7′ stroke.
A better single valve engine (D slide valve type) has never been
built.

In some cases patterns were first made. The part was cast and
then machined to completion with close tolerance. In other cases
the part was created by fabrication and then machined.

The cylinder barrel, piston, piston rod, valve rod etc. was
ground to exact size. Piston rings were of special manufacture and
there is no ring gap leakage. The steam cylinder is truly steam
tight.

All bearings are either roller, ball or needle type. Free
running gears are fitted with roller bearings at each end of the
hub. Any shaft with a rigid gear turns on roller bearings. Instead
of the cross head sliding within a bored guide, it travels on
roller bearings.

The entire engine is almost frictionless and the shaft was
balanced in position, but with the piston removed. A perfect
balance was achieved.

The reversing type valve gear is in principle the Wolff, though
the approach to construction is considerably different.

The boiler is fully insulated except for the door sheet and the
front sheet and a neatly fitted metal shroud encases the
insulation, with polished brass bands girthing the metal
shroud.

With a crankshaft speed of 250 RPM, travel speed can be varied
between 2 MPH to 25 MPH.

You should see this engine perform. With a completely steam
tight cylinder and piston and a perfectly balanced shaft plus
friction free bearings, it turns at a slow speed that will exceed
your imagination. You should see the smoothness at higher
speeds.

The ease of starting will surprise you, but more surprising
still is how near to the point to actual dead center that this
engine will start.

This is truly a fine engine. It is well proportioned and Randy
and I have built the entire assembly with the precision, the
exactness and the tolerance that jewelers build fine watches.

It would be foolish to say that it has all been fun, because
there were times when the task certainly tried our patience, but we
stuck it out and now that construction is completed we look forward
to the fun stage.

We plan to determine the maximum output of the boiler in lbs. of
steam generated per hour and the lbs. of water evaporated per lbs.
of coal burned, the lbs. of water required per mile traveled at
various speeds, and also the lbs. of coal burned per mile traveled
at various speeds of travel.

Enclosed are three separate views of the completed engine. The
engine has an over all length of 12′ 6′, a width of 67′
and a height of 77′ to the top of smoke stack. To date we have
no exact total weight, but I believe it will exceed 7,000 lbs.

With today’s creation I look forward to reliving a cherished
past.

  • Published on Nov 1, 1970
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