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Crack! Crack! Crack! The big engine smashed the rails like paper
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Clem drew up and threw a bag on the ground that clinked of steel. ''I got it!'' he cried

Reprinted from The Youth’s Companion, September 16,
1926. Submitted by Wayne D. Jacobs, 220 N. Water St., Pinconning,
MI 48650

There is a certain part of Indiana where the soil is so
productive and the climate conditions so favorable that it bears
the name of ‘Sugarland.’ Indeed, it has borne this name so
long that many people living there and in the surrounding country
know none other for it. It is bounded on one side by a county line,
on another by a town, on another by a river, and on the fourth by a
state road.

Threshing men always made an effort to clean up neighboring
‘sets’ as quickly as possible and get into that section,
because the wheat yielded more, and because the ‘sets’ a
set is the amount of wheat threshed on one farm were large and
close together, which reduced to a minimum the amount of
‘pulling’ from one farm to another. Moreover, the roads
were better. In fact any threshing man could give a large number of
reasons why threshing was most profitable there.

These very advantages were the cause of much friction among
threshing men and of dissatisfaction among the farmers. Sometimes
there were eight or ten different ‘rigs’ in the community a
condition that was objectionable because it prevented the farmers
from helping one another. Moreover, the threshing men always rushed
the work in order to get as much of the ‘picking’ as
possible, and consequently much of the valuable grain was
‘blown over’ into the straw pile. Many straw stacks became
green with sprouted wheat after a few rains.

When they had endured these conditions for some time, the
farmers finally found them so disagreeable that they met to decide
upon a remedy. The result was that every man who owned or
controlled a threshing rig, and who intended making Sugarland his
goal, received a letter.

Clem Ward sat on the doorstep of his home, frowning over a
letter the mail carrier had just left. He was a clean cut young
fellow of twenty, working on his father’s farm during the
summer to pay his expenses during the winter in an agricultural

Rising, he went into the house and laid the letter before his

‘Read that, Dad,’ he said. ‘I thought it was for me,
our names being the same.’

His father read aloud:

Dear Sir: Owing to the unsatisfactory conditions that result
from a large number of threshing rigs coming into this locality
every year, we have decided to give the entire amount of wheat to
be threshed in this settlement to the first machine that pulls

It was signed by the secretary of the farmers’ corporation
of Sugarland.

His father was astounded. ‘We’re in a nice fix,
aren’t we? Three sets here to make and our drum smashed!’
He referred to an accident that had occurred two days before when a
pitch fork had gone through the machine and played havoc with the
big drum. ‘And we can’t get those repairs before day after

‘Yes, and Big Ike’s rig has only two days here, and
he’s at it now,’ said Clem, pointing to a spiral of smoke
half a mile distant. ‘Even if we didn’t have a bundle to
thresh here, we couldn’t get those repairs in time to get into
Sugarland ahead of him. We’ll be the last ones to pull in. I
suppose we shall have to pull round over these hills and thresh
about a thousand bushels a day and make enough to pay our

‘I’m afraid it can’t be helped, Clem,’ said Mr.
Ward, ‘but let’s go over to the machine. Maybe we can patch
her up without the repairs.’

The new separator was at a neighbor’s a quarter of a mile
distant, where the accident had occurred. When they arrived Clem
stopped, looked at the wide mouth of the cylinder and said
despairingly: ‘Think of it! That big mouth just hungry for
wheat and capable of taking and digesting more than any machine
hereabouts, and knocked out by a little old pitchfork!

He followed his father round to the rear of the machine, and
together they viewed the damage. It was hopelessly beyond repair
without new parts. The cylindrical covering was ripped half open
where the fork had emerged, and half of the blades of the fans were

‘It’s no use, Dad,’ said Clem hopelessly.

‘Guess not, let’s go back to the house.’

Across the field came the short blasts from Big Ike’s
machine, calling for, ‘More wheat! More wheat! More wheat!’
Both carefully refrained from noticing it.

‘I wish that we had asked them to send those repairs by
express,’ said Clem earnestly. ‘They’ll send them by
freight, and it’ll take a week. Today’s Thursday, and they
can’t get here before Saturday at the earliest.’

‘No use to wish, son,’ said Mr. Ward with a note of
discouragement in his voice.

That evening about eight o’clock Clem was sitting on the
doorstep, brooding, when a buggy stopped at the gate.

‘That you, Clem?’ said a neighbor. ‘I was in town
this afternoon, and the station agent said a telegram had just come
in for you, and he asked me to bring it out.’ He handed Clem an

‘Much obliged, George,’ said the boy. ‘Maybe I can
favor you some day.’

‘Don’t mention it, Clem,’ returned the man as he
drove away.

Clem tore open the envelope on the way to the house. As he came
into the light he took in the contents at a glance. It was from the
machine company and read: ‘Shipped goods by express, knowing
value of time at this season. Should arrive fourteenth.’

Clem dashed into the house. ‘What day of the month is
this?’ he cried to his father.

‘Why the fourteenth; but what’s all this noise

‘Read that!’ Clem handed him the telegram and dashed
out. Presently the sputtering of his motorcycle shattered the air
and then rose to a roar as he shot down the road toward town.

When the shaft of light from his headlight reappeared, coming
from town, it fell upon Mr. Ward, waiting at the roadside near the
place where the machine was.

Clem drew up and threw a bag on the ground that clinked of
steel. ‘I got it!’ he cried

They proceeded directly to the machine and by the rays of the
lantern installed the new parts.

‘I guess the old girl will be on her feet again
tomorrow,’ said Clem as he patted the now neatly repaired drum,
‘but we’ve got to hustle. We’ve three regular days work
here, and Big Ike has only two.’

‘We’ll have to start early,’ said his father.
‘Let’s go home and call the men so that they can be on hand
early in the morning.’

The next morning long before day Clem was feeding coal into the
fire box of the big thirty-five horsepower engine, and before sunup
the whistle, under a hundred and fifty pounds of steam, was
hoarsely calling the men to work.

Across the fields came an answering whistle from Big Ike’s
rig; it seemed that he also had received a letter. As the men had
been informed of the situation, they wasted no time in rolling in
the wheat.

‘We’ll choke your old rig up so full you’ll never
get her empty,’ jestingly remarked the neighbor who had brought
the telegram to Clem the evening before.

‘Try it,’ said Clem, with a grin; ‘you’re
welcome.’ His confidence in the machine was not misplaced. The
big cylinder swallowed, nonchalantly, all the wheat the men could
throw into it and seemed always to be calling for more.

‘That machine is sure some feeder, Clem,’ said the
farmer for whom they were threshing. ‘Never saw one that would
take so much wheat; it’s turning out good too.’

Clem was a good engineer; and no better separator man than his
father ever looked into a cylinder. In addition to that their rig
was not equalled in that country. But they had a task ahead of them
three days’ work to do in two, and possibly less. Big Ike was
sure to speed his crew, even though he had the lead of a day. He
was the only competitor that was likely to prove dangerous.

Mr. Ward’s crew had three sets to make, including the one
they were now on. Ordinarily it would require three days, but they
planned by exerting themselves to the utmost to finish in two. The
set they were on would require until the middle of the afternoon,
the pulling to and threshing of the second would involve the
remainder of the day, while there was a full day’s work at the

Clem watched the diminishing number of shocks closely. They were
disappearing at an unusually rapid rate, but to him it seemed
exactly the reverse. By the middle of the afternoon, however, the
last bundle was thrown into the feeder; barely had the separator
cleared itself before Clem threw off the belt, coupled up and
rumbled down the road to the second set.

They finished the second set by working until ten o’clock in
the evening. Then, after eating, Clem and his father returned to
the engine and prepared to pull to the last set in order to get an
early start on the following morning.

‘You’re not going to pull tonight, are you?’ asked
the owner of the farm.

‘Yes. Got to,’ was Clem’s cheerful reply.
‘We’ve got to finish that job of Mr. Brown’s

‘Say, I’d like to know why you fellows are in such a
thundering hurry! I was past Big Ike’s rig this afternoon as I
came from town, and he sure is sending that old rig of his for all
it’s worth. Says he’ll finish by four or take off the
governor belt and let her run.’

‘That’s why we’ve got to go some,’ replied Clem,
and he explained the situation.

‘Sam Hill!’ said the farmer, as he watched the rig
rumble away.

The next morning Clem approached the farmer for whom they were
to thresh. ‘Mr. Brown,’ he began, ‘we’ve got to
finish this set by four o’clock. Will you put on a couple of
extra haulers?’

‘By four o’clock!’ exclaimed the man, who was an
eccentric old fellow. ‘Great Scott, boy! I didn’t expect
you to finish until tomorrow.’

‘But we’ve got to beat Big Ike, over there.’ And he
again explained the situation.

‘We’ll beat him or break a hamstring!’ cried the old
man. ‘I’ll keep the men in water!’ And off he dashed to
his buggy, in which he hauled water to the field for the men.

The men worked with a will, and with the two additional helpers
they kept the big mouth of the separator full. Indeed, they kept it
so full that occasionally the steady drone of the cylinder
decreased. Clem, who was always watchful, opened the throttle of
the engine a little wider and smiled as the drone rose again to its
accustomed note.

The old farmer drove up with his horse in a gallop. ‘Great
Scott!’ he ejaculated. ‘The boys are absorbing a powerful
lot of water!’

He unloaded the two big jugs of water, replaced them with two
empty ones and drove away at a gallop.

Work as hard as they might, by noon the field was only half
finished. The old farmer put two more wagons in the field; he also
kept six men pitching to the machine.

‘Guess we’ll have to take out the dividing board,
Dad,’ said Clem with a grin. ‘I’ve tied down the safety

The dividing board kept an over-supply of bundles from entering
the cylinder. It was removed, and the men who sacked the grain were
all but overwhelmed by the deluge that poured out.

Mr. Ward came round where Clem was firing. ‘Takes some coal
to keep up steam,’ said Clem, wiping his brow, ‘but that
separator is a dandy. I don’t believe that enough men could get
round it to choke it down.’

His father smiled. ‘Seems as if this engine is doing pretty
well too. How’s your water?’

‘It’s getting pretty low,’ replied Clem seriously.
‘I’ve been expecting the tank for half an hour.’

Mr. Ward looked at the gauge. ‘I should say it is!’ he
exclaimed. ‘There isn’t a sixteenth of an inch of water
showing. Don’t hold out too long, Clem; there have been many
accidents of this kind. If the tank doesn’t arrive in a quarter
of an hour, shut down.’

‘All right, Dad, but I hate to be beaten now,’ he said
as he stepped to the whistle and began signaling for water.

Just then the old farmer drove up. ‘What’s the matter?
Isn’t your tanker showing up?’

‘No,’ said Clem ruefully, ‘and I’ll have to shut
down pretty soon unless he does.’ And he pointed to the

‘Great Scott! I’ll get him.’ And off the old man
went at a mad gallop in search of the water-hauler.

Clem went to the tool wagon, secured two jacks and proceeded to
jack up the fore part of the engine. The purpose of this was to
keep as much water round the walls of the fire box as possible.

Mr. Ward came round about fifteen minutes later. ‘Hasn’t
the water got here yet?’

‘No. I’ll hold out just five minutes more, and then if
he doesn’t come I’ll shut down.’

At the expiration of five minutes Clem was just reaching for the
throttle when the water wagon appeared with the old farmer

‘Much obliged, Mr. Brown,’ he said. ‘You’re just
in time. What was the matter with the tanker?’

‘It wasn’t all his fault I saw somebody that looked a
lot like Big Ike going over the hill as I came up. One of the boys
that has just come from there says he’s broke a swinger and
will lose about an hour guess he wanted to stop you awhile

‘Well, I guess he won’t this time,’ said Clem
grimly, as he admitted the water very slowly into the boiler.

For the next two hours the big separator devoured the wheat in
monster mouthfuls. Clem kept a heavy head of steam and never
allowed the motion to slacken. Just before four o’clock the men
tossed the last bundle into the cylinder and Clem shut down the
engine and climbed upon the separator, where his father stood.

‘Two thousand bushels!’ exclaimed Clem, pointing to the
grain tally. ‘That’s going some; but I expect we’d
better get out of here. I’m looking for Big Ike to come over
the hill any time.’

He ran back to the engine, coupled up to the separator and
pulled out on the road that led to Sugarland. This road forked
about an eighth of a mile beyond their present position; the two
forks came together again only a few rods from the state road that
formed the southern boundary of Sugarland. One of the roads was
more than a mile shorter, but the other was more level.

‘Dad,’ said Clem as his father climbed up beside him and
took the steering wheel, ‘which road shall we take?’

‘Which do you say?’ asked his father.

‘Well, the lower is more than a mile farther, but the upper
fork is rough and hilly, and I believe we will make time by taking
the lower fork.’

‘I think so too,’ replied his father.

Knowing that Big Ike still had a chance of taking the upper road
and perhaps beating them, Clem kept the engine hot ‘popping
off’ a great part of the time. The speed if a traction engine
has speed they made was remarkable. About eight miles down the road
a short but very steep hill curved down to a bridge directly at its
foot. Travelers descending the hill could not see the bridge until
they rounded the curve within a few feet of it.

Clem had the engine ‘wide open’ and rolled down the
slope round the curve rapidly. His attention was focused on the
engine, while his father, who was steering, watched the road.

‘Reverse her, Clem!’ he suddenly shouted.

Clem snatched the lever back and set the engine in reverse. The
shock of the sudden reverse was so violent and the strain so great
that for a second or two it seemed that the gears would be
stripped. However, the engine halted a scant yard from the bridge.
They both jumped down to examine the bridge.

‘That’s queer,’ said Mr. Ward. ‘George Cohan was
over this road an hour ago and said nothing about this.’

Clem pointed to one of the supports, which bore evidence of the
hasty use of an axe. ‘Looks to me as if it had been knocked
down purposely,’ he said.

They crossed the ditch, in which less than a foot of water was

‘Look here, Dad,’ said Clem, pointing to the imprint
left by a light automobile tire, which had been turned round at
that point. ‘Whoever did it came in a car.’

‘Perhaps the car came after the bridge was down and had to
turn round.’

‘Maybe,’ assented Clem, ‘but they could have crossed
a little below. And what do you think of this?’ He stooped and
picked up a heavy leather glove, black with grease and oil.
‘Nobody but some one that works round an engine has such a
glove as this.’

‘You’re right, but let’s try to get out. We
can’t back up the hill.’

‘I believe we can shovel the banks down and fill the ditch
with fence rails and get across.’

‘Good idea; we’ll try it anyway.’

They worked like beavers and in less than an hour had the ditch
well filled with rails and cemented with moist soil. Clem climbed
upon the engine, guided it carefully down upon the rails and then
opened the throttle to its fullest extent.

Crack! Crack! Crack! The big engine smashed the rails like
paper, but it went over, dragging the separator after it. When they
were safely across Clem drew a deep breath of relief. His father
took the wheel, and they moved on.

They were within a quarter of a mile of the point at which the
upper and the lower road joined when Clem, who had been watching
the other road for some time, pointed to a burst of smoke that
suddenly appeared over a small hill.

‘Big Ike!’ he exclaimed.

‘And he is two hundred yards nearer the line than we are,
and has a down grade,’ said his father.

Sure enough, the rig that appeared was Big Ike’s; he had
them hopelessly beaten, it appeared.

‘He couldn’t have done it if his dirty tricks hadn’t
helped him,’ said Clem despairingly, sitting down on a coal

Big Ike was within twenty rods of the line where the upper and
the lower roads came together when a large load of hay approached
him. The road was narrow, but there was sufficient room to allow
them to pass, by careful driving. Big Ike had now seen Clem and Mr.
Ward, and he had even waved his hand sardonically. As the hayrack
pulled toward him he began to shout to the driver to pull out of
the way. Big Ike was ‘hogging the road’; he seemed
determined not to slacken his pace or to pull out to the side.
Apparently he expected the hay wagon to turn and go back to the
state highway. But the team was young, and the two horses suddenly
became frightened at the iron monster puffing and rumbling toward
them. The driver tried to urge them on, but, whirling suddenly to
the right, they upset the load of hay squarely in the middle of the

Big Ike yelled loudly and shut down his engine just in time to
prevent a collision. For a moment he seemed about to attempt to
drive his machine round the wreck, but, seeing the futility of such
a move, he stood scowling in his tracks and watched Clem and Mr.
Ward drive over the line into the state road.

The earnings of the Wards that season far exceeded the
expectations that Clem had entertained at the outset, but what
pleased father and son still more was that their big new machine
did such excellent service in those rich wheat fields that the
farmers of Sugarland unanimously agreed to give them the contract
for succeeding years as long as they wanted it.

‘Think of it! That big mouth just hungry for wheat and
capable of taking and digesting more than any machine hereabouts,
and knocked out by a little old pitchfork! Shucks!’

Clem snatched the lever back and set the engine in reverse. The
shock of the sudden reverse was so violent and the strain so great
that for a second or two it seemed that the gears would be

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