| July/August 1957

Chattanooga, Tennessee

When I was about four years old my family moved to Madison, a short distance, while my grandparents went on to Pierre where the state capita) fight was being waged. So at Madison I soon was in solid with a pal named Reginald Hanson, whose father ran a foundry and machine shop there. Thus at six years my mother always knew where to send for me at meal time. Mr. Hanson was a master mechanic of the old school and made gas engines from castings as well as doing all the boiler and engine work for all the tractors in that part of the country. And now I became quite familiar with the different types of engines, but while recalling names of only a few such as Case, Big-4 Thirty, Hart-Paar, etc., there was good variety of steamers from return flue both ways. Well do I recall at that time a screen-cooled IHC on one end of the thresher belt when my father was exercising his trotting horse in the countryside. You can see that I am pretty far gone, for 1 remember as though last week, how Mr. Hanson sawed a broken tooth sector out of the bull drive gear of a large three-wheeled Hart-Paar thirty which had become damaged when the flat car slid back from the ramp during unloading. He machined a wedge-shaped replacement with two or three cogs and fitted this back into place, securing same with a few blind studs front and back. And in those days I also first became aware of automobiles, recalling Brush, a White Steamer, and I believe Overland among the earliest in town.

In Madison, Mr. Berther was a very active Hart-Paar sales manager, and many times do I recall when he and his helper, often on an early Sunday morning, would be moving some engines from freight to storage yard, with their characteristic ker-puff, ker puff, choof exhaust from the old hit-and-miss governor which was most fuel efficient but was harder on the machinery. I believe that I last saw Mr. Berther, or possibly one of his helpers, out in Meade County in about 1911 when one of those old babies was being returned to town; probably because of farm failures in those dry years.

We moved to a homestead in that section of the state in 1910, year of the great forest fires in Montana and Idaho, when for many weeks the sky was blanketed with blue smoke for hundreds of miles around and the sun never got through. And engines became lost to me for quite awhile since only sweep horsepower was used on the thresher which made the rounds. This was owned by the Young family, and they later owned an Advance engine and a modern Case separator in place of the old hand-feed conveyor stacker job. My interest became confined to drawing mechanical pictures and consulting the little school house dictionary. But here I began seeing cross-sectional illustrations, so that at about nine years of age it became evident what made steam engines tick. However, I became stuck when visiting New Underwood later, and noticing a train go through, that an exhaust sounded in the middle of the stroke as well as at each end. When I took this matter up with my good mechanical friend John Williams back in the country school, he explained that the engine on one side of the locomotive was assembled 90 degrees off from its running mate. Thus I saw how a locomotive could start up even though the crank I was watching was on dead center. Of course my father knew nothing of mechanics, so I got no help around home. In 1916 or 17 the farmers went in together and bought a 20-40 Case gas engine and 28x50 separator. This was an excellent rig and was still going great guns long after we left the country, in 1918. But we did run across an old neighbor who had an old Russell steamer and Birdsell separator, on the old Belle Fourche River.

Our next move was to Pierre, in the midst of World War I. Strange thing, when you stop to think of it, these world wars are so popular and necessary that they have to number them. Then my' father became employed with the C & N W Railway Company as a bridge carpenter, and [ siezed the opportunity fresh out of the eighth grade, to work in the shops as boilermaker and machinist helper, as well as do a bit of firing at 15 years of age. Frank Anderson was engine foreman, and certainly a finer fellow never lived. He was possibly a bit too zealous in hiring and helping every school boy who looked for a job during vacation. And while he was eluded by some of the skilled hands I think that the company got its value received at 24c per hour, 72 hours per week for all who could do it. What whiskers I would have had, had I remained with the company to this time! I became pretty good at handling both oil and coal burners at this division point, and could just about unload a fiftyton gondola of coal in a single day at 17 years. But a few scuttles would settle me now, because of a dirth of office work. Many tales could I spin from these shops, but that would be railroading. However, let me relate one fact. There is usually always one fellow around a shop who is regarded by his fellows as a hoo-doo; and hero was no exception. I remember upon one occasion when a school youngster became rattled and threw a switch in the face of the hostler who was bringing an engine down past the coal chute, within which was parked another waiting locomotive. This chap threw the switch two or three times, in trying to make up his mind which was the proper position, while the hostler rode into an otherwise unavoidable rear end collision. Needless to say, while no one was hurt, the afternoon passenger train was detained a few hours awaiting repairs. And some oil burners had touchy firing valves, such that upon occasion of firing up with some water condensation in the fuel tanks, violet explosions would sometimes result in blowing a section of the house stack off or burning the eyebrows and whis-kers off the firelighter. While the machinist work appealed to me, I fear I could not now stand the heat of crawling into a freshly dumped firebox to help the boilermakers.

But the war boom then wore off and in 1920 I went to Sweeney's at Kansas City to study practical auto and tractor work, after which I went to work for awhile with the Case Company at Racine, in their testing department. This was very nice for a young fellow, but steam was going out in 1920 even, and so I later went back to school, while the going was still good, after getting in some Diesel and power plant practice. While I am now an electronics engineer, after many years of electrical work, I believe that being around steam engines is the greatest pleasure I have ever experienced. The odor of the valve oil, steam and smoke lends a charm without parallel. And don't forget, steam made this country and a great deal of the rest of the world.


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