The Day Adam Harmon Believed

| July/August 1992

  • Ralph Bangert
    Ralph Bangert and son Larry.

  • Ralph Bangert

Auburn, California In memory of a 22 HP Keck, Gonnerman owned by his father.

Submitted by Ralph L. Bangert, 804 W. Jourdan Newton, Illinois 62448

It was the spring of 1958 while I was still in grade school that Adam came face to face with the reality of a real live 22 HP Keck Gonnerman tied to the front of his truck. The reason for the dubious honor of the predicament he faced that day was that the time had come for the phosphate to be spread on twelve acres of our land.

We were at the house when Adam's truck pulled into the field. He started across a small ditch and promptly buried the truck in the soft ground until the axles touched the grass. Adam then proceeded to race the engine and try to rock the truck back and forth while all the time sinking lower into the wash with the grace of an elephant in quicksand. In a few minutes, he walked across the field and made his way to the garage that Dad operated and sort of inferred if our steam engine was as good as Dad thought, then we should try to pull his truck and the eight ton load out of the wash. I can still remember the way Adam was cursing and fuming about the whole thing like it was the first time he had ever been stuck.

Normally, because of the loaded truck and soil conditions, the job of extracting his truck from the mud would be a major challenge. But for Dad, who knew his engine, it was a simple case of being willing to help someone and the chance to pull the frame out of a truck if the wheels did not follow along. The engine had been steamed up earlier that day and the fire allowed to simmer so there was steam to start the blower immediately, and Dad was ready in about twenty minutes. I can still remember the steam gauge climbing quickly with the blower providing the draft. This engine would normally roll out on the road with just fifty pounds of pressure so Dad was on his way west with the boiler gaining pressure as he headed toward the field. He pulled into the field a quarter mile later, carefully avoiding the muddy area and backed up to the truck on plowed ground. I watched as he ran forward a few feet and then backed up again twice to ensure the road cleats every advantage on the plowed soil. Dad wrapped the cable around the frame of the truck and connected it to the engine drawbar. Now I have to admit as much as I liked the engine, I did not truly know its capability until Dad eased into the cable gently and opened the throttle only when the cable was tight. The Keck only barked loud about four times and the truck just seemed to jump out of the hole it had made for itself like a frog. I will never forget the look on Adam's face as he gunned his motor and hung onto the steering wheel while the Keck engine simply launched his truck out of the earth. The impact of the launch was sufficient for him to hit his head against the roof of the truck as it was pulled upward and forward about forty feet before Dad stopped. As for Adam, he believed that very day in steam traction engines and for those who did not see the pull, there was a reminder for all with the permanent imprint of the cable on the frame of that 1957 Chevrolet truck.


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