Reminiscing with Steam


| September/October 1971



Nichols and Shepard Engine

This is a Nichols and Shepard rear mounted 20-75 hp. engine, No. 13267, pulling Ben Foster's saw mill near Newton, Illinois, November 18, 1970. This engine is owned by Dale E. Robinson of Newton, Illinois 62448. Courtesy of Dale E. Robinson, R. R. 2, Box

Dale E. Robinson

R. R. 2. Box 82, Newton, Illinois 62448

Many old timers have written to the Iron-Men Album telling of their interests and experiences with steam. I have enjoyed reading these articles very much. However, I feel quilt that I have never contributed any articles for others to read.

I shall try to give a brief history of my experiences with steam. My first experience began when I was a lad of eight, and lived on an old clay, hilly farm in Jasper County, Illinois, near Newton.

I constructed, from an old Karo syrup gallon can, a contraption, which I called a steam engine. Ah yes! I made an engine with a cylinder made from a solid brass 12 gauge shotgun shell. A cylinder piston was made from a piece of round brass. The gallon can, used as a boiler, was placed on a clay base. Oh, how wonderful it looked to me. I fired it up under an apple tree in the old family orchard. I thought I needed more water for my boiler, so I went to the house about fifty yards away, then to the old well for water. While filling my pail with water, a terrible 'boom' took place out under the apple tree. My mother rushed out to the house to see what had happened. As my mother and I arrived at the spot, we found the engine and boiler gone. The parts had ascended upward through the apple tree, leaving a two-foot diameter hole in the tree branches. Only a few particles were ever found. The cause of the explosion was the dire need of a safety valve and a steam gauge. I was too inexperienced to know about these things. Thus ended my steam experience until the age of eleven.

An old friend, Mr. Henry Tharp, from Hunt City, Illinois (Burl Ives' old home town. I knew Burl well. We went to school together.) always threshed our neighborhood, near this little village.

He had a 1915 model Case 65. I can't recall the serial number. One day in the summer of 1919, Mr. Tharp pulled into my father's farm to thresh. Mr. Tharp knew of the disaster of my first steam engine. He knew I was interested in steam engines, and thus took me under his experienced wing. This particular summer, he taught me to fire his engine, how to start and stop it and how, to use the injector to take water into the boiler. Oh! The dawning of a new era arose before me, as I followed Mr. Tharp all through the neighborhood, threshing that summer.