| November/December 1967

  • The Flying Engineer
    Courtesy of E. R. Dugan, 436 North Library, Waterloo, Illinois 62298 The Flying Engineer, E. R. Dugan and his co-pilot, Joe Dugan, Jr. (Mr. Dugan called this story the Flying Engineer - he did do some flying around, but I was thrown off a bit because I th
    E. R. Dugan

  • The Flying Engineer

436 North Library, Waterloo, Ill. 62298

I had always wanted to be a R.R. engineer, so one fine morning in the Spring of s920 I hired out to the Missouri Pacific R.R. as fireman. I had to take three student runs under supervision of regular fireman. With my experience as traction engineer, I didn't have any trouble learning to fire the big railroad hog. What bothered me most was getting to sit over on the other side as engineer. As we were approaching the R.R. yards on my third run, I said to the old engineer, 'How long will I have to fire to get in your seat?' When he replied, 'A long time,' I asked, 'Well how long?' His answer was, 'About twenty years.' With that, I took my shovel and heaved in some more coal. When we uncoupled from our train and pulled our engine up to the round house, the hostler took over, and in my mind I said good-by to the engine. I shook hands with the engineer and fireman and went into the office to resign. They wanted to know what was wrong and I said, 'Twenty years is too long.'

I took off for home. Dad had just got a new issue of the American Thresher Magazine. While reading it, I saw a picture of a 25 H.P. Nichols & Shepard Engine and a 36x60 Red River Special owned by a man down in the Texas Panhandle. I sat right down, wrote him a letter and asked him for a job running his engine. In about a week I heard from him saying to come on to run his engine and bring all the men I could along to work in the harvest, as they had a good crop that year. Since the time was short I couldn't find anybody to go with me, so I packed my suitcase and tool box. I put on a fresh starched overhauls and jacket, a red handkerchief around my neck and a polka dot cap. Oh boy! As I took a look at myself in the mirror I swore I looked like one of the top engineers on one of New York Central's crack trains.

I left St. Louis for Waynoka, Okla home, via Kansas City. From Waynoka I took a branch line to the Pan-handle country. When I got to my destination, I telephoned the thresherman that had hired me. He lived fifteen miles from town and wasn't home. The lady of the house answered and I informed her the engineer from Illinois was at the R.R. station. She sent the separator man in to get me. An hour passed when a model-T drove up and a man about 300 pounds (burned black) got out of the ford. The ford seemed to raise up six inches. He walked over to me and said, 'Are you the engineer from Illinois?' I said, 'Yes' and he told me to jump in. Away we went! I was trying to churn around in my mind what he was thinking, for somehow i didn't think it was good. I was just a kid seventeen years and weighed 135 pounds. Anyway, we started to talk about threshing and he told me we would have to refuel the engine before we started threshing. He informed me that he couldn't get in the fire box and I answered that would be no trouble for me. The boss was out selling N. S. threshing machinery and wouldn't be home until late that night. The separator man and I were sitting there in the yard when the boss drove up. We got acquainted, but I think he thought the same thing about me as the separator man did whatever that was. He asked me a lot of questions about engines and inquired if I had ever put in flues. I said 'Yes, quite a few sets. 'Next morning, the separator man worked the front end of the boiler and I got in the fire box. We removed the flues and cleaned out all of the scale. The boss heated the flue ends and stuck them in a barrel of lime to anneal them, so is they would bead down good. I also used copper ferrules on the tubes in the fire box end, rolled and beaded them down. When we were through, we filled the boiler and built a fire in it. It seeped a little until it got hot, but we had a perfect job done. The big 300 pounder slapped me on the back and said, 'You fooled me.' The boss agreed. We tried out the outfit a little and in a few days, we started to thresh. The boss watched me operate for most of the first day. I suppose he thought I was O.K., as he left me and didn't bother me anymore.

The water was very hard. They called it jip water. It sealed very badly and you had to use a boiler compound all the time. The coal was so poor, they called it clinker coal, for regardless how you fired, it would clinker.

I run for the boss for several years after. About the third day we threshed, we moved to a new setting. We were set and belted up when, for some reason, the separator man had something to do. We were waiting; the old engine was sizzling; and the steam gauge was on the peg. A farmer drove up in a box wagon with team of mules and threw the lines down. Just then, the old engine popped off, and away those mules ran across the prairie. The wagon was a wreck! When the farmer got his mules back, all they had left was the neck yoke. Boy! I was shaking in my boots. I thought, since I was a stranger, that he would run me clean out of the country when he came back. However, he never said a word to me; nor did anyone else. If he had come after me, I guess I would have crawled in the fire box, and out through the smoke stack.


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