AROUND 1900, IN a town of average size, lies a great brick
building. From its depths come the bangings of many hammers. On
entering you would see the smoke of many hot forges and what little
light you have plays on a huge monster. Hot and sweaty men pour
over her form, banging and drilling.
Up front an old man rubs the front of her boiler as if to give
last minute instructions for a race.
A few days later the monster was snorting and spitting fire and
smoke as if in defiance of being created. Steam came from
not-yet-tightened pipes and her cylinder seemed eager to move. Then
her pipes were tightened and final adjustments were made and with a
heave on the mighty whistle she moved forward, bursting finally
into the sunlight, brass-work glittering, her boilers shining as if
the light came from within. She snorted triumphantly as if she
approved of herself, and the old man was proud of her, too.
Delivered to her owner, she worked hard and faithfully for
years, and never did she fail her task. Summer and winter she
worked because she knew her faithfulness meant food and clothes for
Rain or shine she would lumber along at her modest 3 to 5 miles
per hour. Years passed and the engine was beginning to show her
years. She wasn’t quite so shiny and she was getting greasy,
but she was still proud and independent.
In some parts of the country people began using gas and oil
engines and they were getting popular. The old traction engine
seemed to know what was happening. She was on her way out after 60
years of being. She still worked hard because it didn’t seem to
make much difference.
Her last days were memorable ones because she was closing a
chapter in the book of traction engines. She seemed to work harder,
but it was a losing battle. Gas was winning.
Finally the day came. She was shut down for the last time. Her
rod and crank came to rest to turn no more. Even before her steam
pressure came down, she was towed to her final resting place.
As her crew walked away her whistle, in some way, stuck open and
throughout the countryside everyone heard the last woeful wail of
her whistle in the fading sunlight.
Months passed, then years. Rust had begun to take its toll.
Birds nested in her once mighty stack. Her governor belt frayed and
gave way. The weeds grew up between her frame and boiler. Her brass
was covered with tarnish and her paint covered with years of
Rains poured, the snow came, winter and summer came and went,
but the engine didn’t go anywhere.
Around 1946 people began to take interest in the old engines of
years ago. They began to collect them and restore them.
Men walked into the field of rusting iron and stood looking at
the dismal sight of the old traction engine. She was brought out
and taken to a strange place. There she was cleaned, her brasswork
shined for the biggest thing yet. For the first time in 25 years
she hurled her mighty rod again in defiance of the gas engine. She
showed off at reunions and contests. She was still around, because
she wouldn’t die. She’ll live forever and so will steam
power live forever.
HAD I KNOWN IT WAS PUBLISHED
I am a comparatively new reader of the ALBUM, but would have
been one of the first had I known it was being published. Now, of
course, it is only wished that this best of publications could come
My interest in steam stems almost from birth at Flandreau, South
Dakota, in 1903. While my grandfather was a newspaper publisher
there, others of my relatives maintained that I was born with a
monkey wrench in my hand. Before I was out of baby buggy it became
necessary to wheel me down to the depot daily so that the passing
through of the local passenger train might be reviewed. Otherwise a
big squawk went up.
At three years of age I would plague one of my uncles to obtain
one of the toy steam engines which were on display at the dime
store. I can still see that selection of toy engines on the top
center shelf. And my first recollection of a steam traction engine
dates from that time when one was traveling on the dirt road back
01 the printing office over which the family lived. I remember on
this first occasion how the fireman jumped down, picked up some
stray boards and placed them ahead of the front wheels in order to
reduce them to firebox length. He then chucked them in the old girl
and the machine proceeded, probably returning from a job.