Two teenagers' love for steam takes hold
How did we get such a pair of “rusty blood” daughters? Janice, my wife, and I ask ourselves this on occasion. A few years back our daughters became fixated on steam. Since then, they have been hanging out at our nearby steam engine museum grounds – the Rough & Tumble Engineers Historical Assn. – which means they are hanging out with truly dirty old men!
Spectators who visit the Rough & Tumble Museum in Kinzers, Pa., to see the antique steam engines, may have been surprised by two of the operators there – and, just as important, their ages. My daughters, Andrea Glenn, 16, and Megan Glenn, 13, of Parkesburg, Pa., are present for every one of the exhibitions throughout the year.
The girls operate a variety of different engines during weekend festivities at the Rough & Tumble Museum (the annual Spring Steam-Up in May; annual Thresherman’s Reunion in August; and Time of Harvest in October). Andrea and Megan are at the point where they can operate most of the engines by themselves. The girls have gained the respect of their peers as being trustworthy and responsible with these antique machines. At the shows, Andrea and Megan run the steam engines around the grounds the entire weekend and belt them to different implements.
Belting is quite a task for a young girl. They must align the flywheels accurately by jockeying the 10-ton-plus machine into position and maintain belt tension by chocking the wheels. These machines are difficult to maneuver due to the fact it takes some 30 turns of the steering wheel to turn from lock to lock. While it could actually be considered a man’s hobby, Andrea and her sister, Megan, have demonstrated a keen interest in steam engines.
“Very unique,” Megan says, when asked what she likes best about them. “They’re old and the people that run them are very special.” Megan is now a certified operator and says there are very few girls who have taken an interest in steam engines. Most of the current operators range in age from their 30s to their 80s.
Andrea became keenly interested in the steam engines and developed the knack of keeping it up and running. For Andrea, she likes the idea of the engine coming alive, when starting an engine up from cold. You can hear all different noises inside as the engine begins to build steam pressure. It’s often a contest during a steam up to see who can build steam pressure and be the first to toot their whistle. Knowledge wise, Andrea has a bit of a jump on her younger sister, Megan. However, Megan is right behind her. Megan has gained favor with some of the older operators by helping with some of the start up procedures such as cleaning the flues.
What I find amazing is that my daughters took a liking to old steam engines on their own, even though I only have knowledge of internal combustion engines and antique machinery.
I’m somewhat clueless when it comes to the steam engines. Megan at times openly corrects her dad’s steam terminology. A few years ago I bought an antique Caterpillar D2. I always thought my daughters would take an interest in antique tractors, such as the Caterpillar, and participate at the tractor shows. Instead, they became exposed to the world of steam engines and they have never looked back.
After an entire day of operating one of these old engines you get very, very dirty from all the smoke and coal dust. One time the girls were so filthy I almost didn’t recognize them. Megan and Andrea even make a steam engine fashion statement as they wear a variety of steam engine related t-shirts. They have shirts with a lot of the major brands such as Frick, Russell, A.D. Baker, Case and Peerless. There is even a shirt that depicts antique oil cups. You know, the kind with the glass globe and the adjuster on the top to set the number of drips.
Andrea enrolled in the Rough & Tumble Steam School in the spring of 2003. She is a capable operator, having attended steam school. It’s a course in which the students learn what it takes to operate these 100-year-old machines safely and proficiently, and is put on by the local steam engine enthusiasts at the Rough & Tumble Museum. Rough & Tumble offers the steam school in part because interest in steam engines is dying. The age gap is pretty significant. It’ll be interesting to see in a few years who will take over.
One particular Saturday, Andrea spent four hours in class and then four hours running a 1909 Peerless steam engine. She was really tired and dirty when I picked her up. She commented that she had difficulty throwing/aiming the coal onto the cold spot in the firebox. She also said the levers were very hard to operate as they were sticky and a little rusty. Andrea stuck it out and completed the R&T Steam School in the weeks afterward. Andrea treasures the photo I took of her during her steam school graduation, holding her certificate. Her instructors returned her to us tired, bruised, with second degree burns and filthy dirty – but with a big smile.
Megan completed the R&T Steam School in March of 2005, being awarded an operating certificate. Apparently, the steam school is nationally elite as people come from as far away as California to attend.
Andrea and Megan have been reading up on steam engines; Andrea has purchased about a dozen or so books about them. She searches out the 75-plus-year-old books on eBay. She now has a steam library worth several hundred dollars. One of the books was actually a hand-written guide and notebook written with a fountain pen. There just isn’t a current source of reference for operation of these old engines.
Andrea and Megan have become remarkable contributors to the Rough & Tumble organization, as they spend time preparing the steam traction engines for exhibitions. Andrea and Megan love operating the antique steam traction engines. Their hobby has grown from a mere hands-on at the local Rough & Tumble grounds to traveling around to a series of exhibitions in the multi-state area.
Many historical organizations are now paying the transportation costs to have the Rough & Tumble Museum transport these 10-ton behemoths many miles away for the purpose of putting on an old time threshing demonstration, etc. Both Andrea and Megan have been following the steam traction engine exhibition circuit. The girls work to ready the steam engines and tend them (all day!) on exhibition day. During these exhibitions the girls would do things such as belting to the sawmill (or to another device) or perform a plowing demonstration just to put the steam engine through its paces.
With the start of school, Andrea viewed her scholastic duties as being a conflict with her steam engine exhibition hobby. It was her desire to take off from school for these affairs. We suggested she discuss this with her school administrators – which she did. She presented them with her case and they granted her excused absences to attend two shows during school time. Andrea took this a step farther and used the steam engine operation as her high school community service project (this is a requirement for graduation). Not to worry, Andrea made up all of her assignments.
I wanted to take a family vacation last year. So, I surveyed Andrea and Megan to see where they might like to go. Options like the New Jersey shore, Florida and the Grand Canyon were some of my suggestions. The prevailing question (with Andrea and Megan) was when to make the trip. You see, throughout the spring, summer and fall there was a steam show every other weekend the girls just had to attend. We came to the agreement that we would go to the steam shows as a family, based on Andrea and Megan’s anticipated schedule.
Typically what happened was the girls would depart home and travel to the steam show with anyone of two families a few days before the weekend event. They would stay on the steam show grounds in that family’s motor home or camper. Janice and I would arrive on the weekend and meet up with the girls. In our case, they would rent a hotel room close by instead of camping on the grounds. It was a schedule that made everyone happy.
Even though Andrea is earnestly into the masculine hobby of steam engine operation I just want everyone to know that she does have a feminine side. For instance, one day when she was having trouble getting the fire lit in the firebox of a dead cold steam engine she utilized some of her (flammable) perfume to help get things under way. That seemed to do the trick and gave a pleasant aroma to the surrounding area, albeit briefly, until the wood and coal smoke took over.
Not sure where my daughters got that rusty blood transfusion.
Contact Bill Glenn at: 3601 Leike Road, Parkerburg, PA 19365.