STORY OF A TRACTION ENGINE

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 28×50 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.

So, after having spent some years with G E in several of their
factory plants, I wish to work by myself and relax a bit. Maybe a
second childhood is getting me early. But now I want a full-sized
steam engine. 1 would take even a locomotive, if possible, but
would be very highly gratified with a Monarch road roller which
might be found resting in some county or city storage yard
someplace. Anybody know of one not too far away? I would do my best
to put and keep it in the best of condition for a festival. One of
the last Case 9hp. steamers would also really be something, since
these were about the size of the 6-inch scale model which you saw
on the cover of your May-June, 1955 ALBUM. Or, if you wish to get
away from prototypes, a twin cylinder, uni-flow steamer with
superheater and anti-friction bearings would really make a
formidable model even in this day of gas and turbines. My good old
Daddy recently passed on at the age of 94. If I can have some of
those years maybe I can come up with some good ones for you one of
these days.

Best wishes to the ALBUM and all its readers. A nice job!

FRANK J. BURRIS, 5824 Lake Steilacoom Avenue, Tacoma 99,
Washington

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