W. 168 N12172 Century Lane, Germantown, Wisconsin 53022
It all started back in 1983 after my husband and I purchased a 1919 A. D. Baker steam traction engine. She is a 21-75 and was the subject of an article in the November, 1985 issue of IMA. In 1984 we were exhibiting our Baker at the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association show, as we are both members of Branch 2 of Sussex, Wisconsin. I was doing what I do best steering and firing to keep the steam pressure up while my husband, Wes, handled the controls. After the two day show was over and it was time to return the engines to the barn, Reiner Nettesheim approached me and asked if I would like to help him drive his 22 HP Keck-Gonnerman back home. On the way he asked, 'How would you like to run the controls and drive it down the road?' I could feel panic start to set in and said, 'I don't know how.' 'Well, we'll fix that. You can't own a steam engine and not know how to run it,' was his reply. So, at that point, I started steam engine school, and Reiner Nettesheim and his reliable Keck-Gonnerman were my teachers.
Now, this was no easy task, as I am a nurse with only a slight mechanical ability, but a fast learner and eager to absorb interesting knowledge, and steam engines are very interesting to me. Over the winter months I studied books like Boiler Safety Act and Boiler Rules, Clarke School of Traction Engineering, Part XII, Value Gears and Reversing Mechanism, Traction Engine Troubles, and Steam Engine Guide. My co-workers just shook their heads and would point to the picture of the Baker engine on my locker at work.
By the time June had arrived I was eager to get started on the practical factors. It was a very warm Saturday morning as we fired up both the Baker and the Keck-Gonnerman and proceeded down the road to Reiner's housea three and one half mile trip from the engine storage shed at Harold Meissner's farm. Half way there the bottom hand hold under the fire box on the Baker let go. This was lesson number one: how to put a fire out in a big hurry. With the water and the steam all gone, we put the Baker in tow behind the Keck-Gonnerman and continued on. I was shaken with the whole experience but was comforted by Reiner's easy going manner and reassurance. 'Take it easy. Things like that happen now and then. We'll fix those hand hold plates.'
The next couple of weeks were spent getting the repiping and the repainting done on the Baker. By the time July 4th arrived, it was time to take the Keck-Gonnerman in the Hartland, Wisconsin, parade. Reiner, his cousin Ivo, and I took turns running the engine and handing candy and sample coal out to the kids. The next parade was the Sussex Lions Daze, and with it came the challenge of climbing hills and going down again. I watched Reiner's every move. He was surprised as he hardly had to say a word when it was time for the return demonstration. Just when I was getting the hang of those small hills, we went to the Pewaukee Fireman's Day Parade. Going up was not so bad, although I had to work to keep the steam pressure up, but when we turned around and it was time to go back down, I was ready to abandon ship. Those hills were so steep and I kept thinking, 'what if something goes wrong?' And, did you ever notice that when they set up the line up for a parade, it never fails that you end up with a small motor scooter or small car in front of you that you can hardly see. Sure, I might have felt better if there wasn't anything out in front of us, but with marching bands and horses and little children, I was getting more nervous by the minute. Reiner kept a reassuring hand on my shoulder and said, 'you're doing just fine. Don't worry, the Keck would reverse in an instant if you pull the lever back too far.' Before starting down I made sure we had enough water in the boiler and that the draft door was closed. We had about 125 pounds of steam pressure on. In my mind I kept going over all the things I had seen Reiner do and all he had taught me as we started down. It seemed like we would never get to the bottom. I was so deep in thought that I hardly saw all the people on the street yelling and waving and asking us to blow the whistle. Once down, the rest was easy, and on the way home, Reiner said, 'I couldn't have done better myself.' Boy, I was on a high all the way home!
Then it was time for the engine shows to start. First we were off to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin for the Dodge County Antique Power Show. Here I operated the Keck-Gonnerman on the threshing machine and ran it on the tractor pull. Reiner just sat back and enjoyed the fact that he didn't have to do any work. I was proud of all that I learned and Reiner was proud of me. Now, at our engine show at Sussex it was time for Wes to take the back seat and let me run the Baker, and I did on the threshing machine, sawmill and just out running on the little hills in the park and giving friends a ride. I was beaming with pride and self-confidence and I owe it all to a tall, slender, kind, gentle man who never thought women didn't belong on a steam engine.
I owe you a lot, Reiner, and this is my way of saying 'Thank you for a job well done.'