Past and Present:

| September/October 2002

Traction Engines and Threshing Machines

This must have been about 1932. Because of a poor crop in our section we decided at a rather late date not to pull our rig out this fall. So I started out to try to find an engine job for the fall. It was so nearly time to start threshing that I thought I might have to take some other job. But I was lucky, I found a man in the northern part of the state (North Dakota) that was about ready to start threshing and did not have an engineer yet. I was rather young looking at the time, and I imagine he would rather have had a man that he knew more about. He seemed mostly concerned about if I would be able to get the engine in line and into the belt without losing too much time. He also made a point of mentioning that the pillow block next to the crank disc was touchy, but that it was correctly adjusted and I was to leave it alone.

The engine was a 35 HP Advance tandem-compound. We were to thresh in a day or two so I steamed up a day ahead of time, after washing out. When we started threshing 1 had no trouble getting belted up. I had brought my own steam gauge along and had it on the engine along with his and I noticed that mine showed about 20 to 25 pounds pressure more than the one on the engine. I let the pressure run up to about 185 or more and the pop valve showed no sign of opening. When I pulled the level it closed again right away, so I set it open at 175 by my gauge. I had my gauge tested each year. The engine was running anything but good, and sounded as if the valves were way off, steamed hard. In fact, we stopped for steam several times. It ran anything but satisfactorily.

This went on for two or three days. When a rain stopped threshing for several days, I knew I would have to find out what was wrong with the engine. The owner wanted me to set the pressure back to agree with his gauge. When I told him I would have to have the gauges tested before doing that he did not like it very well. But he took the gauges to a power plant about 30 miles away and found that mine was correct within a couple of pounds and his was way off. Meanwhile, I had checked the valve setting, and found the high- and low-pressure valves did not open exactly together.

While the fireman was bringing up pressure to start threshing again, I set to looking at the engine and knew I had not really found the trouble yet. It came to my mind that I should investigate the stuffing box between the two cylinders. Well, I found that there was hardly any packing left in the stuffing box. It had not leaked at all to the outside, but the steam had been passing through from one cylinder to the other. When we started to thresh, the engine had the nice even muffled chug of the compound, and kept steam easily. The piston rod must have had a corroded spot that made it hard to keep packing on it, so after that at the end of the day's work I would blow out all the old packing and repack the box in the morning.

I did not tell the boss what the trouble had been, so he thought my setting the valves had done the trick. I should have, of course, located the trouble right away, but it just had not occurred to me. I guess the fact that there was no leak to the outside was what led me astray. I had seen pictures of this stuffing box arrangement in an Advance catalog, and knew just how it was made, but I was just too dense to tumble to the trouble. I put in two more seasons on this engine. Farming was done on a larger scale up there and the small rigs did not get started as soon as at home.

Sterling Boilers

Thomas Downing, Village of Wurtemburg, R.D. #3, Box 149A, Ellwood City, PA 16117, writes in this issue: