410 North Webster, Fairbury, Illinois 61739
Many years have come and gone since I romped and played on the farm owned by my grandfather in Mclean County, Illinois. I played on a steam engine, threshing machine, clover huller, corn sheller and at a machine shop prepared for such equipment.
It was there my love for a steam engine took over. I remember pleading with my mother to let me go threshing with my dad. It must have been very convincing because in the home in which I was raised, no was no and yes was yes, and one knew better than to sulk or pout to get your way; for a two-inch strap across bare legs soon made you wish you had never been born, and you forgot any desire of your own and very soon conformed to the instruction of mom and dad. I do not wish to convey that my parents were cruel or mean because no one ever grew up in a more loving home than ours, but mom would say, 'You can go but you must stay on the engine.' 'You are not to go in for dinner.'
I suppose there was some method of correction to these orders, but with a boy's love for a steam engine, what kind of pie, cake or cookies could compare to an engine?
I was very careful to comply to my mother's orders for I knew if one was broken that would be the last time for me. You know word would get to the house that the engineer's son was down on the engine with orders that he could not leave. I do not remember how or just what they brought out, but I am sure I faired just as well as any of that thresher crew.
Years soon passed and I was making a hand on the bundle wagon. In the meantime my grandfather died and these hard years took their toll upon the life of my father, for the engine was used the year round.
In the winter time, many things were moved, such as houses and other such likes. Then the sheller and engine would sit for months at a time at cribs. Dad had spent some forty years at this work, being gone many days and weeks at a time from home. After grandfather died and the farm was to be sold, mother pleaded with dad to sell the equipment and move back to Indiana where her folks had lived. This proved to be the biggest mistake he ever made. He rented a half section of land in Jasper County near Rennsalear, Indiana. With inflation, our house burning, and the collapse of our economy after World War I, it took its toll from the lives of dad and mom from which they never recovered. While in Indiana, dad ran a company rig for a few years. By this time steam was beginning to fade out, but my father, being totally a steam man, had very little use for the tractor takeover.
As soon as it did, my father's interest in the great and wonderful era faded. That Golden Age had passed the like of which no other generation will ever know. For in that Golden Age, a part of our life belonged to everyone else. By this time now I was caught up in the swing of this rapidly-turning modern age. I bought the second rubber tired tractor in the Cabery and Kempton area. There was a lot to be learned about field tractor tires. In those days I used to say you could spit on the ground and get your tractor stuck.
The elevator man at Cabery, by the name of Jack Clapp, also sold Case equipment. He also owned a Case Combine and also did a lot of combining in that area. At this time a disease called Sleeping Sickness struck the horses and hundreds of them died causing many farmers to go the more modern way of farming, almost spelling doom to the dwindling threshing machine runs.
It was at this time I bought one of the first combines in that area a number 10, 6' cut John Deere combine. A year or two later the threshing machine was never pulled out of the shed. This opened a new field. Any man owning a combine found himself with more acreage than he could handle. So we bought two and ran two machines for years. John Deere, a Case, Minneapolis Moline and then back to Deeres, finding out that the years and machinery I had worn out had taken their toll on the man that had sat on the seat.
Now, all I have left is some mighty fine memories of the greatest era this world has ever known.
In spite of all the modern trend to this modern age, a never dying love remained for that thing that meant so much to my grandfather, my dad and me. I had always waited and longed for the day when I still would buy a steam engine. In 1941 we moved back into Livingston County, 7 or 8 miles from where I was born, onto the Dr. Goodwin farm. Here there was a lot of hedge to be pulled, so now, the steam engine I had waited for for so long became a reality. I purchased a 1913 Port Huron steam engine in very good condition.
I was to live on this farm for 33 years. Dr. Goodwin and his daughter, Elmeta, have become some of the most precious people and the kindest we have ever known.
The fourth generation of Sylvester Fosdicks are now living on this farm. As the years passed I ended up with the 19 Longfellow Port Huron, a 20 HP Russell, 10 HP Nichols and Sheppard and a 10 HP Gaar Scott. With the repairing of these engines, a small but quite efficient machine shop was required.
With an inward urge to build an engine, in 1957 I ordered my first set of rough castings that came from England. By 1964 I had built 12 of these engines. On several occasions I was asked to show my engines and give lectures in schools.
In 1969 I undertook what I thought was the greatest project of all. I ordered from Ontario, Canada a set of 3/4 scale casting for a 4-6-4 steam train engine. It now sits on a mantle over the fire place a very rewarding piece that I truly enjoy.
In late 1974 a friend, Sam Haley, from Dwight, Illinois, who owned a 50 Case and kept it at my place, came down and we got to talking in my shop one day about building a 1/2 scale 65 Case engine.
You can guess what happened. We decided to build two. So in December 1974 we placed our order with A. C. Otto of Sandwich, Illinois for two sets of 65 castings. Sam, who was an apprentice and a welding engineer at Caterpillar, and I decided to build our own boilers and engines with every detail and safety factor as if Case Company were building these engines, using coded boiler plate in our boiler, staying within the safety factor required by law for miniature boilers. This hindered, of course, the firing ability of our engines, yet giving them enough firing ability for what they were built for.
So now, 3 years, 1 month and 5 days later, my engine is completed. Our boilers were built at my son's place where he turned over to Sam and I a shop which we turned into what we called our boiler shop.
Sam and I will long remember this building, for every spare minute for 1 years was spent here building the two boilers. We made our own press and dies for bending plate steel, with torches and welders and everything required for building an up-to-date boiler, even to putting in rivets which no doubt would number 1500 to 2000 in each engine. That's a lot of holes!
Sam's engine is not yet completed. Many ask: 'Would you build another engine?' I always say, 'Not right away.' For I almost lived engine for 3 years, but I have had a very meaning and full life a wife that could not be equaled, 4 children, one son and three daughters, many grand children, and great grandchildren. I credit all to the fact that as a boy, I came to know the Lord in a very personal way. The church, The Lord, His Doctrines and His teaching have been a great factor in motivating my life. Knowing without the shed blood of Christ upon the cruel cross, I would die like other men, but I wanted to see and know what waits for them who have lived their lives always conscious of His love and care and guidance in one's life.
Now, as the sunset years of life come on, I have no regrets. Life to me has been meaningful. I have enjoyed life to its fullest. I look forward to what God has prepared for those who love Him.