I had been sawing lumber in the mid-twenties with an old 1916
Emmerson Brantingham for power. I had gotten it for five dollars.
Some one had been moving it across country and had stopped and
gotten drunk, so it had frozen and busted. I had patched it up.
My uncle thought I needed a bigger tractor. So in 1930 he bid on
a Big 4 at an auction sale, because the auctioneer was bragging it
up. It was really in wonderful shape, according to him. My uncle
got it for $55.00 and found the price included a grain separator
and a big plow.
The next day I went down to look over my new possession. I
worked all day on it by myself. I wrapped the rotten radiator hose
and disturbed the mice.
Two days later I was able to get a neighbor to go with me and we
planned to bring it right home. We went in his truck with two
barrels of water, a half a barrel of gas and all kinds of tools.
After working all day, we finally got the Big 4 started. The grain
separator was hooked on just behind the tractor, and the plow
behind that. We decided to leave them that way, so off we started.
The plow had sat there so long that a twelve foot cottonwood had
grown up through it. When we started up we watched the plow climb
the tree and tip it, and peel the bark from it. We turned in that
crowded yard and were headed toward a shed barn. We disengaged the
clutch and the Big 4 wouldn’t stop rolling. It was going
straight toward the shed! I didn’t want to kill the motor after
cranking on it all day, but I had to in order to save the shed. We
drained the water out and quit for the night.
That night I drove over to see my uncle. I asked, ‘What
about that clutch?’
‘That’s the way it works,’ he told me. You had to
slow up the motor and it would disengage the clutch at about 200 R.
P. M. s.
The next day we started out again with our truck loaded with
water, gas and tools. In order to get out of that crowded place, we
knew we should ask permission to cross this guy’s yard, so we
walked up to the house first.
We knocked at the door and waited. The lady of the house opened
the door. I don’t know who she was expecting, because she was
dressed only in a bath towel. She was a big lady, but the towel was
small. She did not retreat, but asked us what we wanted. My friend
and I just gasped. Then he started saying, ‘Good morning, Good
morning’ over and over in a loud voice. We finally managed to
ask to cross the yard, and backed off the porch. We hurried toward
the Big 4, still shocked, when a shot rang out. This was followed
by a long string of cuss-words. We thought someone was shooting at
us. On a nearby ditch bank stood a man looking down at his gun. He
wasn’t paying any attention to us. We went over to him and it
was the husband of the lady in the towel. He was still holding his
gunstock in his hands, but about eighteen inches of the barrel was
dangling. The barrel had evidently been plugged and when he shot at
a pheasant, not us, the barrel had exploded.
We all three went to work on the Big 4. We got it started, out
of the yard and up the road.
‘Here, you take the wheel,’ I said. ‘I have to have
a Bull-Durham cigarette after all that excitement’. Boy! it was
good to be out of that place and rolling along the road home.
Soon we came to a railroad crossing. We happened to look back
and here was a prairie fire covering about ten acres. The Big 4 had
evidently blown out a mouse nest and some sparks.
It took us about two hours, with the help of nearby neighbors,
to put out the fire. It must have been about three o’clock when
we started out again. We were getting better on the cranking. After
looking both ways, we started the Big 4 across the railroad tracks.
The train was past due, but not in sight. Nothing could happen,
now. We got the front wheels across the rails, but when the hind
wheels hit the rail, a lug on one wheel slipped on the rail and
bounced. The jolt to the Big 4 jarred the old single speed
transmission out of gear. There we sat. We had to shut the motor
off to get the transmission engaged again. We began cranking fast
and hoped the train would be late today. Maybe, the engineer would
stop up the creek and pick agates, he sometimes did. But, all was
well, we got it started and off the track.
We did pretty well the rest of the day. We went through narrow
bridges and across the track again, without any mishaps. We had
made three miles. It had gotten dark, so we left it on a hill and
went home to do the chores.
Next morning, we filled the water barrels and set out again. We
cranked up and went two miles then ran out of gas. We had to go
clear home for gas. When we got back to the Big 4, it looked like
the County Fair. A crowd had collected around there. It was the
neighbors, and the teacher had dismissed school so the children
could see it.
We got the gas poured in, but no one could help crank. All went
well for the next three miles as it had began to drizzle. No need
to watch for fire when it was raining.
Now, we had gotten within forty rods of homestead, and were
talking how we would get the Big 4 into the shop and really
overhaul it, when the worst happened.
We heard a heavy thump, and I craned my neck to see what was
going on. I watched pieces of the crankcase fall to the ground.
Then, a connecting rod fell, followed by a piston. The Big 4 rolled
downgrade to a stop.
We just gave up then and there. We sat down and rolled a
Bull-Durham cigarette. By this time, the Bull-Durham sack was
pretty greasy. There was nothing more we could do. We sure never
got to saw lumber with the Big 4.