The Good Old Days Revisited

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Forerunner of this 1875 saw-mill were destroyed by pit sawyers who feared the loss of their jobs.
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108 Garfield Ave. Madison, NJ 07940

Recently, a very good friend let me borrow a book from his
technical library. It was Moore’s Artizan’s Guide,
published in 1875. It had an interesting sub-title as well:
Everybody’s Assistant, embracing nearly four thousand new and
valuable Receipts, Tables &c. I thought that it would be nice
to share parts of it with you for there is some good philosophy
applicable to today’s world and some interesting receipts for
the steam enthusiast.

The writing style of that day makes for interesting reading too.
For example, this early version of a handbook goes on to say, in
its very long title, [used] ‘in Almost Every Branch Of Business
Connected With Civilized Life, From The Household To The
Manufactory.’ all of this was available through the mail for
the princely sum, for the day, of $2 which proves that good
publications are cost intensive, the journal in which this appears
being the exception.

As we all grow older there is the tendency to think in the past
and to reminisce about the ‘good old days.’ Let’s see
what Moore’s had to say on this subject in 1875.

‘Occasionally we listen to a great deal of rant regarding
the beatitudes of ‘the good old times,’ during the lives of
our forefathers. These times proved very disastrous to the
enterprising Dutchman, who, in 1663 started the first saw-mill in
England, which he was finally obliged to abandon, and fly to save
his life. In 1767 another saw-mill, at Lime-house, near London, was
demolished by a mob of sawyers, who considered that their business
would be ruined to a dead certainty if things were allowed to go

Really, things haven’t changed that much, have they? That
was the beginning of the industrial revolution. We are seeing
essentially the same thing today at the beginning of the
technological revolution.

When it comes to operating a saw mill there has to be a supply
of logs brought in from the forest. In 1875 this was strenuous work
carried out by strong men with hearty appetites. Moore’s had a
word for ‘Quantity and Cost of Supplies For Horses and
Lumbering Crews In The Woods.’ According to the records of
Messrs. Gilmour’s mill on the Gatineau near Ottawa, Canada, a
span of horses would need 51 pounds of oats and 40 pounds of hay
per day working in the woods. The allowance in pounds per day for
each workman was as follows: flour, 1.80; pork, 1.22; beef, 0.85;
beans, 0.33; fish, 0.12; onions, 0.13 and potatoes, 0.47 for a
total of 4.92 pounds per day.

‘On making inquiry with reference to the item of molasses,
so largely used by our lumbering friends in New Brunswick and
Maine, the answer returned was that owing to the heavy cost of the
commodity, it was entirely omitted from the list of

In doing some research recently for a story on life at sea today
I found a formula that was basically similar but added up to 6
pounds per seaman.

Either we eat more today with lower metabolism or those old guys
were hungry. More likely, though, our diets are lower today in
protein and higher in carbohydrates. Interesting comparison. Oh, by
the way, I forgot to add that the British seaman, even today, gets
his ration of lime juice preserved in rum.

In 1875, when Moore’s was written, we must remember, boiler
pressures were even lower than in the era of the traction engine.
They were designed for 60 psig and Moore’s suggests that the
boiler be run at a high pressure such as 90 psig, to allow for
steam line pressure drop. The spring loaded safety pop valve,
though available, was not mentioned; however, there were some
safety instructions to the engineer upon starting his day’s
work with a weighted lever type valve.

STEAM FIRE ENGINES are or should be constructed with steel
boilers and blast tubes, copper tubes and large water spaces
together with a good fit out of gauges, safety valves, injectors,
&c., with facility of getting up steam in from 6 to 10 minutes
from cold water,

‘Before lighting the fire in the morning, raise your safety
valve [weight], brushing away all the ashes and dust which may
impair its free action, and if it leaks steam grind it on its seat
with fine emery or grind-stone grit.’ Reading this served to
remind me that even today there are simple home remedies for
mechanical problems.

Recently, while being a volunteer engineer on an antique diesel
locomotive, I found that the feed valve to the automatic brake
system was not controlling brake pipe pressure. It turned out that
the brass seat was in need of lapping. We had no valve grinding
compound available on a Sunday morning. What to do? A bit of
mechanic’s paste hand soap containing fine Italian pumice
worked very well.

That brings us to a useful receipt from Moore’s.
‘Composition For Covering Boilers, &c: Road scrapings, free
from stones, 2 parts; cow manure, gathered from the pasture, 1
part; mix thoroughly, and add to each barrowful of the mixture 6
lbs of fire clay; 1/2 lb. of flax shoves or
chopped hay, and 4 ozs. teased hair. It must be well mixed and
chopped; then add as much water as will bring it to the consistency
of mortar, the more it is worked the tougher it is. It may either
be put on with the trowel or daubed on with the hand, the first
coat about 1 inch thick. When thoroughly dry, another the same
thickness, and so on, three inches is quite enough, but the more
the better. Let each coat be scored like plaster, to prevent
cracks, the last coat light and smooth, so as to receive paint,
whitewash, &c.’


Then there is ‘To Prevent Incrustation In Boilers. 1.
Charcoal has a great affinity for any thing that causes scale or
incrustation in boilers. That made from hard wood is the best,
broken in lumps of to inch in size, and the dust sifted out. Two
bushels of this will generally protect a boiler of 30 horse-power
for 3 weeks when running, after which the old coal should be
removed and fresh coal used.’

The charcoal treatment may seem a bit strange in today’s
world; however, item 2 in the instructions is definitely the
forerunner of the patent boiler compounds that were peddled engine
room to engine room by traveling salesmen when today’s older
steam man was just starting out. See if you agree.

‘2. Throw into the tank or reservoir from which your boiler
is fed, a quantity of rough bark, in the piece, such as tanners
use, sufficient to turn the water a brown color;… 3. Add a very
small quantity of muriate of ammonia, about 1 lb. for every 1,500
or 2,000 gals. of water evaporated. It will have the effect of
softening and disintegrating the carbonate of lime and other
impurities deposited by the water during evaporation.’

Tannin and tannic acid were and are old favorites in boiler
water treatment. These along with sodium hexa- or meta-phosphate
(remember Oakite?) were the water treatment man’s stock in

Studying something like Moore’s Artizan’s Guide (price
$2) and thinking of its technology in terms of today’s
technology, it is amazing to note how far we have come in just 100
years. The Industrial Revolution, as a term, refers to the period
of English history from, roughly, 1750 to 1850 in which there were
extensive changes taking place in the economic structure of their
country from an agricultural and commercial base to modern
industrialism. Much of that change was brought about by
developments in steam power in which James Watt stands at the
forefront. The development of the little transistor in 1948 by
Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley is said to be the keystone to the
technological revolution that we are now into. History can give us

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