THE STEAM SHOVEL


| March/April 1967



An Erie Advertisement

Courtesy of Lt. Col. John E. Merriken, 122 Hunting Lane, Simpsonville, Maryland 21150 (An Erie Advertisement, self-explanatory)

Lt. Col. John E. Merriken

122 Hunting Lane, Simpsonville, Md. 21150

The pleasures which occupied a small boy of forty years ago would pale by comparison with the more sophisticated pastimes that engage the youth of today. Though, apart from organized-supervised-subsidized play, the curiosity of any boy's mechanical propensities in those days 'came to grips' with reality in a more tangible sense than Junior's present-day observation of an airplane of the quaint gadgetry employed by his spy hero on television. How many boys currently fascinated by the intricacies of a jet aircraft have ever examined its inner workings? Or what aspiring young rail-fan has actually seen what makes the roar beneath the hood of a GP-35? With good reason, of course, rules of security and safety have ordained certain totems and taboos which inhibit the inquisitive. But in a former less formal era of simpler machines, the young bystander, if he watched closely and listened well, was often rewarded with permission to ask, to touch, even to participate.

It has been said that of all man's many inventions, perhaps the Steam Engine was the most nearly 'human' of all machines. From the feathered opening of a steam valve, as the first motion stirred almost imperceptibly to the thundering fury of The Capitol Limited doing 80-plus, the iron horse was capable of a response not unlike the ones of real flesh and blood. A steam engine was either alive or dead; it could purr or bark; it might drool or spit; but when it did begin, the elemental forces of cause and effect were completely exposed for the more zetetic to see and understand.

In the age of the coal-fired boiler, there was of course the glamorous locomotive, the romantic steam boat, or the highly-polished stationary engine which drove some large generating plant, and the all-purpose farm tractor. But another impressive adaptation of this power was the common Steam Shovel.

'They're fascinating things - - these hybrid brutes. Their throat less mouths ever opened wide, Deliberate - - they gorge on clay and roots, Swinging their great blind heads from side to side' (Frederick W. Branch)

To be sure, those magnificent behemoths that dug the Panama Canal or worked the large open-pit strip mines were also steam shovels; but the more frequent neighborhood variety was a smaller machine, which usually arrived overnight to begin some large foundation or start ripping up the asphalt along Main Street. By some coincidence, all but one of the steam shovel names reflected the industries of Ohio. There was the BUCYRUS, the MASSILLON, the VULCAN, the OSGOOD and the The equipped with horizontal pistons; or the MARION and the ERIE with their vertical cylinders.