The Education of a New Engineer


| May/June 1998



4745 Glenway Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45238-4537

The sight of Dan Warren, Case expert from White Pigeon, Michigan, shouting at me will remind me not to make a certain serious mistake. On July 19, 1997,1 was exhibiting my 65-horsepower Case engine, Serial Number 35654, at the Will County Threshermen's Association reunion when Dan strode toward me, his voice raised.

I am a novice when it comes to running an engine. By that Saturday, I had conquered the jitters I had felt when the show opened on Thursday and was confidently guiding my Case around the grounds. This was only the second time I had exhibited my engine and the first time 1 had worked the levers. In 1996, at the Central States Threshermen's Reunion near Pontiac, Illinois, I had simply observed while steam experts John and Jim Haley put my Case through her motions. The Haleys had completed major restoration work on my engine at their shop near Odell, Illinois, and were interested in seeing how well she would perform. I watched and learned. In 1997, at the Will County thresheree, I did more than observe; I ran the engine.

With the help of Mike Garity of Plainfield, Illinois, I drove around the grounds. Along the crest of the hill, giant oaks overhung the line of parked engines. The flea market was spread like a picnic in the dappled shadows of the woods beyond. 'Spectacular' was the best word to describe the view of the valley with its wheat fields. There, a thresher was belted to an engine sending puffs of black smoke toward the horizon. The postcard-perfect threshing scene recalled the hard but happy past.

I had fallen into a peaceful feeling which contrasted with the anxiety of Thursday. On that day, Jim had told me it was time for me to learn the levers. I knew that the throttle was tight, so I gave it a strong tug. I thought I destroyed the governor. In an instant, I had opened the throttle wide, and the nut at the top of the Judson governor had come loose. Jim closed the throttle before worse things happened. The governor had just been rebuilt, and the nut had not been attached securely. Jim repaired and adjusted the governor while assuring me that I had done nothing wrong.

Earlier that morning, Jerry of Jerry's Video Productions in Wichita, Kansas, had called Jim 'Mr. Steam.' Sue Haley, Jim's wife, laughed when Jerry coined that title, but she acknowledged that her husband is a steam-engine pro. I felt honored to be tutored by Mr. Steam, but I made mistakes because I was afraid I would make mistakes. My nerves were as jumpy as the governor, and I felt as much pressure as the boiler.