SOOT IN THE FLUES

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This 1911 photo of Vinson and Lorraine Gritten appeared in American Thresherman.
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Hi Dear Friends! This is the first issue of 1986Bless you and
hope you have a rewarding year coming up. I have a story to relate
that may give you a little insight into some of our resolutions. It
is called Life’s Hard Tasks. Among some skaters was a boy so
small and so evidently a beginner that his frequent mishaps
awakened the pity of a tenderhearted, if not wise, spectator.
‘Why sonny, you are getting all bumped up,’ she said,
‘I wouldn’t stay on the ice and keep falling down so;
I’d just come off and watch the others.’ The tears of the
last downfall were still rolling over the rosy cheeks, but the
child looked from his adviser to the shining steel on his feet, and
answered, half-indignantly, ‘I didn’t get some new skates
to give up with; I got them to learn how with.’ The whole
philosophy of earthly discipline was in the reply. Life’s hard
tasks are never sent for us ‘to give up with’; they are
always intended to awaken strength, skill, and courage in learning
how to master them. (From Leaves of Gold). Think of this little
story when the resolutions seem to overcome you stay with them and
‘learn how with’.

I’m just very happy that we have more letters this magazine.
I have a feeling there are quite a few folks out there who are
telling themselves they are always going to write and then put it
off, or some tell themselves they’re not good enough writers
don’t you believe it, just tell it naturally and the Iron-Men
Family will be happy to read it. Now onto the correspondence:

A writing comes from BILLY BYRD, 369 South Harrig Street,
Madisonville, Kentucky 42431 concerning the ‘Museum Journey
Into Past.’ It is taken from the Leaf Chronicle and the article
is being used by permission of Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville,
Tennessee from September 2, 1985; sanctioned by Dee Bryant,
editor.

Billy Byrd started out as an engineer on the Old Louisville and
Nashville Line, and his voice grows soft as he remembers how it
used to be.

‘It was a special world. You’d sit in the cab on night
runs, the wind rushing by and the only light coming from the moon
and the flames in the fire-box,’ he says.

‘You’d build pressure, and you’d hear the old girl
talk to you in a language only you and she could
understand.’

The subject is steam locomotives, which were the backbone of
railroading during its golden days before yielding to the cleaner,
more efficient diesel engines in the 1950s.

Byrd, who tugged his first train whistle in 1941, has worked
both types of engines. The difference, he says, is like that
between a how-to book and a volume of poetry.

‘When they took the steam engine away from the railroad, the
romance went, too,’ he said. ‘I ran the diesel and did the
best I could. But my heart was always with steam.’

Byrd thought those days were gone forever until 1983, when he
became a volunteer with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, a
24-year-old collection of vintage engines, coaches and rolling
stock cars.

Last year Byrd, who is 63 and lives in Madisonville, Ky.,
retired, and now he spends every other week running old No. 630 on
the Chattanooga museum’s three-mile track.

‘I call him the Dream-maker,’ said Robert M. Soule, a
Norfolk Southern official who also is president of the museum.
‘Sitting back in the coach by the open window, listening to him
work steam as he comes up the hill to the tunnel I’m old enough
to remember that and, by George, it is 1935.’

Living memories is what the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is
all about. Soule and co-founder Paul Merriman began thinking about
it in the late 1950s when they became concerned about the vanishing
steam engines.

They incorporated in this storied railroad city in 1961 and have
been gathering and refurbishing engines, passenger cars and other
equipment ever since. Now, they have nearly 70 piece sunder lease
or ownership.

‘The thrust of what we were trying to do was to develop an,
operating railroad,’ said Soule. ‘there are a lot of places
around the country that have railroad museums that have equipment
standing still, cold and motionless. To us, a locomotive sitting in
a park is a corpse that really ought to be buried.’

The museum’s 25-acre property includes an early 1900-period
depot at either end of a track that runs through a tunnel drilled
through Missionary Ridge before the Civil War.

Pulled by the 82-year-old No. 630 or another antique engine,
trains run on a regular schedule, carrying passengers in
authentically renovated coach cars.

‘Everything we’ve got is real and genuine You can see
it, smell it, hear it, and if you get too close it’ll burn
you,’ said Soule. ‘It’s quite different from the
painted-up engines in the park with pigeon droppings on
them.’

ED SIGMUND, Route 4, Box 537, Newton, North Carolina 28658 has
purchased the Lansing 4-wheel drive engine which originally
belonged to Rev. Ritzman. He is seeking any information he can find
on it. How about it fell as? Do you have some data or tidbits that
would interest Ed?

While you are at it Friends, if you have any stories or know of
any articles on the Reeves, MELVIN PIERCE, Route 2, Box 27,
Scranton, North Dakota 58653 would be most grateful to hear from
you.

JOHN BERGREEN, 4564 E. San Gabriel Ave., Resno, California 93726
writes: ‘In the Sept.-Oct. Album 1985, on page 12, a steam
engine is hauling several loads of gravel. In order to handle that
heavy load the hitch has to go direct from the engine axle to the
gravel load axle. All I can say is they have a smooth hard road or
the engine could not handle that load. P.S. Our Reeves engine that
we left at Osage, Sask., Canada was cut for scrap iron before we
got it.’

Another letter commenting on the picture on page 12 of Sept-Oct
issue comes from E. D. DEWHURST, 712 N. Front, Crookston, Minnesota
56716: ‘In regard to the Port Huron steam traction engine with
side hitch bars; these bars were used on Gaar-Scott, Reeves and
Port Huron and their purpose was to put a more even strain on the
axle and or stub slide mounts. All side-mount engines could have
been helped with their side mount bracket troubles if they had used
same. Our old Port Huron 24 HP was a disaster in breaking Sask.
Canada prairie sod and any other heavy hauling. This problem was a
big headache to my family, and I heard later, when in other hands,
it became a disaster.’ (These two letters have answered the
question on page 12, I believe).

‘It’s been a long time since I wrote or contributed
anything. I enclose for your consideration a poem written by a
young woman I recently met. It seems to me she has much talent that
deserves to be encouraged, and to see some of her work in print in
our magazine would be such an encouraging boost to her. I know
whereof I speak, as you printed in your column the first thing I
ever wrote’, says MEL GRENVIK, 115 1st Ave., N.E., Kenmare,
North Dakota 58746.

The poem is entitled: ‘Happy Birthday Jesus!’

If I had lots of money
I would give it all to you
Just to make you happy
But money wouldn’t do.

For I haven’t any money
Any fortune, any fame
I only have my love for you
My charity, your fame
So take my heart, take my name.

I wrap my gift with paper of faith
And think of you above
The ribbon is of finest trust
And the name I sign is love.

So have a Blessed Birthday
And every day year through
Happy, happy Birthday
Dear Jesus, I love you!

By Sue Pflug, Williston, North Dakota.

‘I am sending you a picture of a small engine I have. It is
factory-built, cast iron frame, wood base and a brass nameplate
that reads Columbia School Supply, Indianapolis, Indiana. I think
it was used in teaching. It has a glass cylinder steam chest with
Stephenson reverse. Maybe someone can tell me about this
engine.’ (Maybe some of you folks can help H. PAUL CRUM, 853
Clintonville Road, Paris, Kentucky 40361).

‘Enclosed is a partial picture of our ’80’ Case,
being used as a campaign vehicle, in Jim’s bid for County
Commissioner for Custer County in the Bucking Horse Sale
Parade,’ states ANDY MICHELS, 302 Highland Ave., Plentywood,
Montana 59254.

‘The Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is a very big event. Wild
horses are gathered from afar. The horses that ranchers can’t
break wind up here. Rodeos from many states get their
‘slack’ from this sale. A good bucking horse may bring up
to $2,000. This event is held in the spring, and as far as I am
concerned this is more exciting than any rodeo.’ Then Andy
sends us a letter on what he knows about belts:

‘In the beginning traction belts were made of leather, cow
and horse hide mainly. I am talking about drive belts. It took a
lot of hides to make a belt 16′ wide and 120’ long. Some of
the early steam threshers had leather belts.

‘Then came canvas belts. They were light and not too
tractive. Both leather and canvas belts have to be kept dry.

‘Then came the Gandy. This belt was made of fabric, cotton,
many plies cemented together with gum rubber and stitched every
1/4‘ all across the belt, making a very
durable weather proof belt. The thing that made a Gandy belt
superior to anything else was its weight which, because of its
inherent evenness, was a boon to threshers, making it very popular.
If you didn’t have a Gandy belt, you weren’t a
thresherman.

‘Then came the vulcanized rubber belt. They were very
tractive, long lasting and need not be taken off during a rainy
spell.

‘I have a combine 1964 model that has the original threshing
belt.

‘Then came the V belt and shot them all out of the
saddle.’ (Thanks Andy. That was a pretty good explanation of
the belts.)

‘About the time I wrote this letter, I found out that I
needed a pacemaker, so you can guess what I have been doing. I am
fine now, really feel great. Have been taking it easy, but getting
back in the regular routine of things’, says VINSON E. GRITTEN,
109 Country Club Court, Danville, Illinois 61832. (Glad to hear you
are doing so well, Vinson. They do great things these days to
extend our lives, don’t they?)

Then follows the letter Vinson had written on September 2, 1985:
‘The Album is surely enjoyed in this household. It generally
lasts me about a day, including the ads and all the pictures; so
you can guess that I am one of your older readers. I’m at least
a third generation thresher-man, and that goes back many years.

‘In a recent issue you mentioned a birthday party, and it
sounded like you had a great time. Well, I have had seventy-six of
those things, so I go back a ways. My Grandfather Gritten was a
thresherman, blacksmith, operator of a sawmill, and he farmed. My
dad threshed, shelled corn, pulled hedge, graded roads, sold
tractors and threshers. Dad was executive secretary of the Illinois
Brotherhood of Threshermen (in the late teens and early twenties)
as well as Road Commissioner. My grandfather had the distinction of
owning one of the first, if not the first, traction steam engine in
the area and Dad, the same with a gas tractor.

‘In 1923 when I was a freshman in high school, Dad purchased
a hardware, furniture, and implement store in Fithian, Illinois. We
moved in from the small community of Hope, Illinois. Hope and
Fithian are west of Danville a few miles. Danville, where I live
now, is virtually on the Ill.-Ind. line about 150 miles south of
Chicago, and is a county seat city.

‘I have an older sister and a younger brother. We had a
great time when we were small children. I can’t remember when
we didn’t have an automobile. Dad would take me and my brother
with him when he unloaded his tractors and threshers at the
railroad station; also when he got an engine stuck in a ditch or
when one went through a bridge. It was fun to watch them get the
engine out. When I was real small, the engineers would spread their
jackets out in the long tool box on the engine and I would take a
nap there.

‘I went with Dad numerous times as he went from one rig to
another. One time I went to sleep when we were at a sheller, and
woke up seeing the men piling up hedge to burn. To do this, they
used an engine on each end of a cable.

‘When I was three years old, the folks purchased a larger
home nearby, and sold the small house where I was born. Dad moved
that house a few miles, and as they were pulling it out of the
yard, he picked me up and set me in the doorway. So I got to ride
in the home that I was born in, for a short distance. We just had a
great childhood, with wonderful parents.

‘At twelve to thirteen, I was delivering tractors and
threshers. I went full time with the threshing crew in the summer
of 1923.

‘Then we purchased the store in the early twenties, and that
turned out good, too. Farm tractors were coming in, replacing
horses, and the tractors were better and more dependable about this
time. Small threshers were becoming popular at the same time. We
had been selling Case and Twin City machinery; then we took on
International.

We sold tractors, threshers, binders and other machinery by the
car load. It was a fun thing because we had a good parts and
service department, good mechanics, and of course Dad had many
years experience in the machinery business. Dad kept his large
tractor and thresher and I ran them through the threshing season
for several years. In the late twenties we had sold many threshers
and we were beginning to compete with our customers, so we got out
of the custom work, but by that time we had enough business to keep
me busy starting new machines for customers, and seeing that they
all operated well.

‘Then in the mid-thirties we started selling combines. We
were in the middle of soy bean country, and small grains were
diminishing, so combines were the thing. Of course, that was up our
alley too. We sold combines, especially combine parts, in a 50-mile
radius of our place of business. We lost our dad in 1940, so my
brother and I continued with the business.

‘We really liked the business, had a 75′ x 125’ shop
with two-way overhead cranes, a large parts department, a modern
hardware store, and we were active in church and community affairs.
(I was president of Ill. Retail Farm Equipment Ass’n. in 1946).
You would think that one could not expect more. But a few years
after the war ‘non-service dealers’ began to come in and we
were not able to run the business as a service business the way we
wanted to, so we liquidated it in the late fifties.

‘After more or less retiring from the machinery business, I
sold farm and commercial buildings for a good company, which
allowed me to retire comfortably in the mid-seventies.

‘Anna Mae, I have written you a half dozen letters but they
all became pretty involved. So is this one, somewhat, but I’m
sending it anyway. I’m enclosing a picture or two. Last week we
attended the Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) Reunion; visited your exhibit and
would have liked to spend more time there but was unable to do so.
I did meet a Mr. Hoffmaster who knew a lot about Reeves equipment.
Dad used a lot of Reeves equipment so I wanted to know more about
the company. I will probably correspond with Mr. Hoffmaster
further. If anyone has anything about the Reeves Co. I would
appreciate knowing about it. From one who enjoys your writing,
yours very truly, Vins Gritten.’ (Thanks so much, Vins, and
most assuredly we will be looking forward to the stories you plan
to write. Without folks like you, we cannot go on.)

And here is a letter from our faithful contributor, FRANK J.
BURRIS, 1102 Box Canyon Road, Fallbrook, California 92028 and he
begins with: ‘Along the way: So far, in my revitalized
meanderings for the Album, you no doubt have observed that they
have been quite railroad-oriented.

But in one of the first editions of IMA, and I am very proud to
have a complete file, our very revered originator, Elmer,
‘knighted’ the steam traction engine as an ‘Iron
Man’ probably because of its offshoot from its big brother, or
sister, the railway locomotive. Now, while I vividly recall seeing
my first steam traction engine back in my birthplace, Flandreau,
South Dakota, at an age of not over three years, I did come to
acquire much more experience with locomotives during WW#1 when I
fired both coal and oil burners during a period when manpower was
very short. I later became machinist and boilermaker helper at a
C&NW division point, before changing tactics in the early 20s;
going through the finest vocational school at top honors, and then
working for the Case Company. When steam traction went out about
this period, I again changed tactics and went through university in
electrical study. But the sad upshot of all this was that I took
the dear old locos for granted and thought that they would always
be around! What a disappointment and sad ending to one of the most
romantic eras in modern history. So let me get on with a bit more
of railroading Herewith four snaps, a couple shot in foggy weather,
together with some descriptive material for your IMA.

‘#1 snapshot, still with the old Voightlander, of a
miniature little amusement train that must have ‘Gone to
Sea.’ This little engine and its complement of three coaches
was found floating on a large pond down Louisiana way, about 1956,
during my travels under service transfer from California to
Georgia. I am sorry not to have noted the exact location, but maybe
some of our readers may identify this Little Toot. It is a very
unusual set-up to say the least, and it is so like the road train I
now have sitting out in the backyard which is composed of a Datsun
engine mounted in an old Dodge chassis with steam-type
superstructure, and two coaches to haul children and Mr. and Mrs.
Santa Claus in Christmas parades. I will remit a snap of it
later.

‘#2 is still along the way, at Chattanooga, Tennessee. In
L.A. this would be called ‘Angels’ Flight’; however the
L.A. line was only one block long up an even steeper incline. The
ride at Chattanooga is quite a thriller, since it climbs from a
very low altitude to the top of Lookout Mountain. Some similar
lines in the eastern states were used for towing regular freight
cars up mountain passes to interconnect with other rail lines. This
saved many miles of going around some of the old Appalachians.

‘#3 is a close-up of one of the incline railway cars. It is
of ultramodern design and reminiscent of the last ‘PC electric
cars to operate on the L.A. and other American city lines. A cable
winch, driven by electric motors, is located at the summit; and the
towing load is divided between two cars; one ascending while the
other is descending. But no matter what the motive power, it is
always a thrill to ‘ride the train’ or at least it was for
those of us who were so fortunate as to live through this Golden
Era. Certainly nothing of today can compare; but then, likely the
old trains could not fill the bill either, by any stretch of the
imagination. Go for a ride, anybody?

‘#4 is of a fine little retired old steamer down in northern
Florida. Possibly ‘Frog’ Smith’s buddies can fill us in
on the details of this remnant of a once prosperous lumbering
industry. I was later to pass by the remains of the old mill which
was being dismantled. A junkie outfit was busy with cutting torches
separating all the larger pieces of iron. And what do you think?!
As I arrived they had just finished trying to cut up the giant old
brass whistle which had called all hands to work and announced time
for the noonday meal. This fine specimen had been burned into three
sections and originally was of about six inch diameter by some
thirty inches long. What a deep tone it must have had. And had
these junkies known what they were doing, they could have sold the
whistle intact for much more than the prevailing price of junk
brass. But I did make one rescue I ventured into what was left of
the shop and ‘bought’ a complete deadweight gauge testing
set for $7.00, just before it was about to be swept up into
miscellaneous junk! Oh Boy!

‘Now I have mentioned my first recollection of seeing a
steam traction engine which would place the time at about 1906.
This goes back some 79 years; but I see it as though of yesterday
as I also recall many more of my childhood scenes. It was about the
same time that my father brought home a tiny cast-iron floor train
consisting of engine and two coaches. My first train; and my aunts
often reminded me in later life that I was want to cry if they
would not wheel me down by the depot to watch the noonday train go
through. And the thing that clings in my mind about the old
traction engine which now bears in mind resemblance of an old 10
horsepower N & S was the act of the fireman jumping down off
the platform and running ahead to pick up an old roadside board and
place it before the front wheels to break it up into firebox length
while the engineer took care to slowly bring the old girl ahead.
Apparently they were short of fuel while returning home.

‘My father had been a brakeman on the railroad just prior to
the above times, and bore a split fingernail on one hand as mute
testimony of the risks of making car couplings in the old
link-and-pin days before the advent of the Janney automatic coupler
which later became a legal necessity on all railroads in this
country.

‘So much for these tales; perhaps they may arouse thoughts
in your minds of those halcyon times, the Golden Era. I will spin a
few more for you in an upcoming edition of the Album.’ (Come on
fellas, send in your thoughts, too. We’re all waiting eagerly
for them).

And that about ends the correspondence for this time. I’m so
happy there is more this time than we have had for awhile. Now keep
up the good work, all you steam folks.

And some of that good food for thought and action Don’t
force issues. Learn to wait and be patient. He who is on his way to
heaven will not be content to go there alone. Don’t get in the
habit of telling people where to get off unless you are a bus
driver. Bye for now. Happy New Year Love ya!

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment