In this issue are several stories about ‘Steam Schools’
around the country. This one was written by Dan Gehrnan.
Instructors: Butch Biesecker, Norm Gay, Ivan
Zimmerman, Dave Adams, Jim Martin, Jim Conte, Grant Huddle, and all
the steam guys at Rough & Tumble.
The text book: Rough & Tumble Engineering,
by James Maggard.
Classroom: Rough & Tumble Grounds.
Supplies: Traction engines, wood, coal, flue
brush, shovel, poker, etc. Also Little Toot – 15′ gauge
railroad (Grant Huddle).
First, we spent some time talking about safety features,
building a fire, keeping good water in the boiler, keeping the
boiler clean, water treatment. You know, classroom stuff.
After lunch, we formed small groups of three or four students
and one or two instructors. Students now operate the engines. Learn
to maintain even fire, safe water levels. Learn to shift forward
and reverse with even, steady power. NO! Don’t jerk the lever,
just move it when needed. Timing is important. Even steering is a
Okay guys, let’s belt to the Baker Fan.
Backing In The Belt
Some guys make this look easy. Well, for some guys it is easy.
But not for the beginner. Remember, we are all beginners sometime.
Why does the belt run off the outside? Move the front end over to
the right a little. No, not that far. Now the belt runs inside on
the flywheel. Stop, take a deep breath. Relax a bit, walk over and
look over the pulley from the other end. See, the engine is too far
to the right and the front end is too far left. Hop on and try
again. Uh oh, losing pressure, so first tend the fire. Yes, I need
to add some water and coal and run the blower a little. Finally the
pressure is okay. Let’s go. This time I’ll line up that
belt just so. Move up the crank left, then right. This looks to be
about right. Back up, helpers are holding the belt ’til it
takes hold on the flywheel. Block the wheels, belt runs outside,
again! BUTCH, IVAN, NORMHELP! Push the front over to the right! You
can’t? Well then you line up this_ _ _ _belt! Let’s say
that was my first time.
Chester Lewis was kind enough to let us use his 1902 model O
Peerless at Steam School. A fun and easy engine to run. Thank you,
Waiting for steam at the 1997 R & T steam school. Rough
& Tumble’s 75 HP Case 32-106 Massey Sawyer in
All the students did a fine job. We try to teach safety. Keep
the pressure down, to just run around the grounds you don’t
need more than 65-75 pounds or so. If you run a thresher or sawmill
then you build up more pressure. Don’t pop that safety valve.
It is for safety, not a regulator. The engineer is to be the
regulator. If you can’t regulate the pressure, go back to steam
school. Some safety features are: safety valve, fusible plug, water
column, tri cocks, and the pressure gauge. But the most important
safety feature is still #1, the engineer.
I wish to thank everyone. The students for participating, Rough
and Tumble for use of the grounds and equipment, Roy Herr for use
of his Buffalo Roller and his input, Butch Bie secker for use of
his engine and his excellent instructions. Instructors, helpers,
all thank you.
And so I’ll go steaming merrily on my way, Dan
P. S. To participate in steam school, you need to be a member of
Rough & Tumble. Then read The Whistle (the quarterly newsletter
for Rough & Tumble) for dates and cost. The 1998 dates have not
been decided at this time.
Following are excerpts from letters from individual participants
in the 1997 Steam School.
Reason for Going to Steam School
By Grant Huddle
One would think that the main reason for going to steam school
was to ‘get my hands on the throttle of a steam engine.’
Although this playful attitude is justification for most of us,
this was not necessarily the case with my class. They had a need to
They understood the responsibilities and demands of boiler and
engine operation; at least if not before, certainly during the
course the realities sunk in.
Even though I was the instructor of the most diminutive of
engines, ‘Little Toot,’ a 15′ gauge locomotive, most
all basic principles are the same for bigger traction engines.
As one student put it, ‘I’m kept so busy throttling,
injecting, firing, blowing, starting, stopping, I’m glad not to
have to steer!’
This engineer apprentice took the course only to see what it was
for his father to go through as a steam plant manager, i.e.
‘What difference does coal make in my firing, or what condition
will my boiler be in after using this water?’
An auto mechanic instructor, production manager, and a chemist
rounded out my group.
Yes, it is easy for some to open a throttle and ‘run the
engine.’ But this school gives an opportunity for a collective
group of individuals to start ‘good habits’ from a group of
experienced engineers. Besides, I benefited by acquiring another
engineer that got off on the right foot!
Those Who Do For Others
By Arthur R. Driedger Jr.
Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others is a
favorite slogan of mine. And I never saw so many happy men as I did
during the recent Steam Engine School at Rough & Tumble.
The instructors, from a variety of backgrounds, knew their work
and were willing to share their knowledge, experience and engines
with the students. The students in turn helped one another and took
pleasure in firing the boilers, cleaning the tubes, removing ashes
and reminding one another about watching the glass, the draft, the
size of the fire and all the little arts and techniques to make
these run efficiently and safely.
Rough and Tumble’s 1903 RR Peerless. Students learn the work
and dirt as well as the fun of engineering at steam school.
No question went unanswered and the instructors knew when to
give confidence and advice and also knew when to step back and let
the kids play.
I like Dan’s remarks about having golden objects on the
grounds with golden people taking care of them. But best of all was
his sincere invitation to volunteer and get involved helping the
owners of the engines or doing volunteer work wherever it was
needed. He noted the need for workers in the stationary steam
engine building, as well as the need for workers in the food line,
and other places. I regret that I live as far as I do and that I
cannot put more time into the organization.
Running an engine is more than meets the eye; it is not just
fire, smoke and steam. Jim Conte pointed out the necessity of
controlling the type of water; others pointed out the quality and
size of the fire, the draft, pressure etc. Ivan Zimmerman and
others let us play with their ‘toys.’
Thanks to all for their efforts, time and experience. It will be
a long time before I see that number of happy people again.
Thanks, Ivan Zimmerman
By Allen C. Gruver
Dear Ivan, thanks for all your help with the R & T Steam
Here is my ‘student’s view’ of the course.
I remember as a child seeing the ‘huge smoking
monsters.’ Not working in the fields, I’m not that old. The
first place I recall seeing them was at the PA Dutch Days exhibit,
in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with my parents.
My first thought was, ‘Wow, are they big!’
Many years later, I found myself drawn to the farm and old iron
displays. I have always been fascinated with mechanical things. My
thoughts at those times were ‘Look at all the knobs, levers and
valves, nothing is marked. How can anyone figure out how to run
Enter the Rough & Tumble Steam School. What an opportunity!
This school was operated by a group of very dedicated and
knowledgeable men. Using the book Rough and Tumble Engineering as
our textbook this school had something to offer anyone interested
in steam. Stressing safety first, with enough stories to make us
realize the importance of safety, and enough knowledge to know how
to prevent us from becoming one of those stories.
The ‘hands on experience’ of course had to be the best
part. Cleaning the flues, grates and smoke box is very necessary
and demonstrates that it’s not all fun and games. Building the
fire and waiting for steam teaches a lot about patience. No turning
a key here!
Finally the moment of glory. Being in complete control of 11
tons of ‘huge steaming monster’; what a rush! Learning to
operate with our ears, knowing how it should sound. Using our eyes
watching how everything is operating, and constantly checking the
water level. Having the knowledge of what all those valves and
levers actually do and knowing that your instructors have enough
confidence in you to be standing off on the sidelines while you are
in complete control.
Thanks, guys, for everything!
Dear Rough & Tumble . . .
By Barry Sheinin
I’d like to tell you that the July 1997 Steam Traction
School was both overwhelming and spiritual. Let me explain.
Some boys go out and play ball with their fathers, but my father
is not that type. He is a college graduate with a high IQ, for what
it’s worth, but with all his education he was a door to door
milkman. He worked seven days a week from 1:00 a.m. to whenever he
finished the deliveries and collected money. I guess you would call
it the red-eye shift plus. As children we were on the 8:00 a.m. to
school shift which meant having no time to spend with him. He would
be sleeping when we came home, and we would be sleeping when he
went to work. When my brother and I became old enough, between nine
and ten years old, my mother would send us on the milk truck to
work with him and spend some time with him. My brother worked one
night and I would work the other night. One night I asked my
father, ‘How does the engine in the truck work?’ He started
to explain that first, I should understand how the steam engine
works. He then proceeded to explain it to me with great accuracy
and detail. He drew pictures and sometimes he would use model
trains and pictures he found in books. After I understood the steam
engine he went on to explain and teach me other engines. The thing
is, I was always able to work on other engines and operate them
but, because I was born in 1951, steam was all but gone. I went on
and learned all I could about engines.
I have been a mechanic and diagnostician for a number of years
and now I am a New York State Automotive Technical Training Program
teacher (A.T.T.P.), so when I said that it was overwhelming and
spiritual you can understand that the experience made me realize my
The Rough & Tumble steam class has given me the chance to
really learn so much more than I ever realized about steam engines,
and the hands-on from cold to motion is the closest to being a
It has made me realize my own understanding and has given me a
better outlook on all things. At past shows, I learned about
threshing to grain and I have been amazed at what 1 have seen over
the years of my coming to Rough & Tumble Museum shows. It is
wonderful that the Museum is so dedicated to what was and still is.
The people could not have been more helpful or want ful to share in
this great historical society.
I traveled from Brooklyn, New York, to come to this school, and
it is a dream come true. It’s in my blood. I hope to be more a
part of this association. I plan to use what I have learned in my
future classes that I will give as an A.T.T.P. Trainer.
Special thanks to Butch Biesecker, John Gerb, Tom Wilfred, Ivan
Zimmerman, Grant of the ‘Little Toot,’ Jim Conte, Dan
Gehman, Dan ‘1903 Peerless.’
There was a lot of learning to remember, so for those whose
names I did not mention, a special ‘thanks’ to those as
To Butch Biesecker
By Ray Peppier
I am writing this after I got home from our last session with
the steam tractors. Want to thank you for a most enjoyable class. I
believe I learned a lot about a subject I knew very little
The only suggestion I would have would be to include a good
sketch of a steam tractor with some good close ups of the crown
plate, grease cup, exhaust valve etc.
Will try to include here a little paragraph you might use.
‘I attended a very interesting three day (one Saturday for
three weeks) course put on by the Rough and Tumble Engineering
Society to learn to drive and maintain steam tractors. Since these
tractors are unique and very scarce, anyone interested in these
vehicles has a great opportunity to relate to them by attending
this course. The group met the first Saturday morning and had a
classroom session till noon. We were instructed in the
design/operations of them and, more important, the safety aspect of
In the afternoon we went out to the engines which had been fired
up by their operators. We reviewed many parts and functions of
The next Saturday each group on their engine, and under the
supervision of the operator, cleaned the engine, built the fire,
got up steam, greased and oiled it and then, in turn, drove it.
On the third Saturday this was done, but without the benefit of
the tractor operator’s supervision.
This course is down to earth and different because it is taught
by instructors who own their own vehicles. Thanks again.’