Roy Boling and son. Randy, on the engine ''built for two''. Courtesy of Roy Boling, Route 1, Box 280, Hazelwood, Missouri 63042.
Route 1, Box 280, Hazelwood, Missouri 63042.
From before my time and into the 1930's traction engines were a familiar sight and were extensively used in a section of Missouri known as Saline County.
With improved design of the internal combustion engine and changing methods of harvesting small grain by the late thirties they had all but disappeared from the scene.
It had been more than thirty years since smoke from a traction engine's stack or the sound of their exhaust had penetrated the air in that leisurely rural central section of Missouri, until along came the engine built for two.
For those that may care to read along as I write I would love to relate the pleasures that were mine last August the 21st as my son and I drove through what had been the land of my youth, riding on the engine built for two.
In that same locality, sixty five years earlier, my life had its beginning. In the same region, all of sixty years ago, the traction engine had found an exceptional fondness within me.
Before the Model 'T' made it's debut in that section, my parents, who were farmers, had as their means of travel, the family surrey, drawn by a team of hefty corn and oat-fed mules.
It had been in that surreys seat, at a pre-school age, as we traveled to and from town, to visit an aunt or an uncle etc. that I developed an intense interest in what I now look back upon as the Grand Old Engines, that then sat along the roadway.
Many were the times, in that surrey seat, as we passed engines along the way that I watched with the fondest of interest, as we passed, and envisioned days that I hoped would come and in these years that since have passed most of those early day wishes have now come to pass.
With my father being not only a farmer, but also a thresherman my chances were greatly enhanced and before grade school days had ended I had experienced a closeness, not only in desire, but also in reality, with the traction engine; a part of my life, that is yet to be surpassed by another man.
Without question there have been others with more hours of operational contact than I may have had, but there have been none with a more consistent, almost heart felt interest in anything than I have, for almost a lifetime, had in the traction engine.
I was, the hardest of losers and it was with a sad defeat that I witnessed the end to the threshing custom and the discontinuance of the traction engine.
The reciprocating steam engine was indeed my lure in life. Though my preference has always been the traction type, for many years I earned my living along side the stationary ones.
A saying! Perhaps nearly as old as the hills. 'All good things one day come to an end.' So it was one day, with the stationary engine also, in my life.
Confronted with that reality and realizing there was no use to which I could harness one of the earlier manufactured traction engines I sought to create a way that I could continue, for the remaining years, with the traction engine remaining an interesting part of my life.
I believed the answer to be to build a size, that I could run along the roadway at speeds approaching twenty miles per hour. It would burn coal as fuel by hand firing the boiler.
In what I now consider the most cherished years of my life I found the most interesting to be those in which I had operated my father's traction engine, while we threshed and when I operated the engine and hand-fired the boiler with coal. Such experiences seemed to stand out the most.
After lengthy consideration and determining that I could obtain a liability insurance coverage to operate a traction engine, in traffic, along the roadway and clearing with the State Patrol that 1 would not be in violation, I set out to build such an engine, the one I have referred to as the engine 'built for two.'
By early summer of 1970 with the aid of my son, Randy, I had such an engine ready for road testing.
Like anything built from scratch, created for a purpose not yet used, changes in design and or construction were found necessary. By mid 1971 we had the specially built engine ready for distant travel.
Forty-five years earlier (1926) 1 had been a member of a high school graduating class in a small Missouri town some two hundred miles away. Until in the late thirties this had also been my home town.
For a number of months, plans had been in the making to hold a reunion of that 1926 graduating class and a date of August 22nd had been selected.
It had been nearly thirty years since I had known but little of that rural region in which I had been raised and had lived into young manhood. Many times I had realized how I would love to re travel those roadways of my early life and to visit with people that had then lived there.
With my fervent love for the traction engine at an all time high I realized that no spot on earth could tie anything closer to another than could this region tie the traction engine to me.
Therefore I chose the occasion of the class reunion to return to my native rural Missouri Region. It would be wonderful to re travel those early roadways of my life that had since come to be remembered as the happy ways of my life, and to use the engine built for two as my vehicle.
A steak supper had been planned for the evening of August 21st as a preliminary for the class reunion the following day. We made our plans well in advance and early in the morning of August 21st, while the sun shown bright, though its rays were not especially hot, my twenty year old son, Randy, and I drove North from this small Missouri town out into the region that had been the land of my youth.
In the years of my acquaintance there the road we were starting to travel upon had been only a good dirt road, but that morning found us driving out on a fine black top; level and smooth and resembling my impression of a turnpike.
This road, being among the first traveled in my life, brought back many memories. As the miles of this fine road rolled up around the wheels of our engine a pleasure was mine that is yet to be exceeded by anyone. Traveling at a speed of sixteen or so miles per hour we were able to visit many points of interest to me.
We were riding out into what had been the land of my youth, doing so upon an engine that was of my own creation. One that I had literally brought the raw material, from which the engine had been built, in my car piece by piece and I had watched the engine grow from nothing to a real live steaming reality. Nothing had ever been closer to the heart to its builder than was this engine to mine.
No engine ever ran better. None performed more smoothly. With it's exhaust sharp and an almost perfect roadway ahead the engine ran as if it too were conscious of the mission we were on.
Along the road we were then riding, I had many times earlier traveled. Along it's way there had been happenings of special interest to me. One had been the time when my father and I had traveled home with his new Advance Rumely Engine after unloading same from a flatcar in the town Randy and I had just left. Out in fields along this road I had many times threshed. It too had been along this same way, in the surreys seat, that I had earnestly wished for much of what has later happened.
As we sped on our way I realized I was simply riding back into the beginning, from a mile post far along the way. Realizing that I had lived the major part and was growing old but I was thankful to my creator for giving me an opportunity to tie my life so closely to the reciprocating steam engine.
No one knew of our plans and all were taken by complete surprise and of course to have a traction engine come steaming down the road at a speed of fifteen miles per hour was about as much expected as was a dinosaur. I would not be able to convey the smiles, amazed and perplexed, that came from people. Some ladies waved from the front door, porches and yards. Some men walked toward the road.
There were numerous happenings that I could write about, but space will confine to only these few.
While we were stopped, from a nearby house came a young lady and she said, 'I happened to see you coming down the road and not knowing what this was I called my husband who works in town. He was very curious and if you could wait a few minutes he and some of the fellows are driving out.' Soon they had arrived. However by then other cars had stopped also. We had quite a crowd that was hard to break away from.
In the early summer the Post Dispatch, a St. Louis paper had printed a picture of the engine and myself in the colored picture section of their paper. A local farm couple there subscribe to this paper. The wife had been a girl back when I was a lad and we had each attended the same country church. She recognized the name and the next Sunday morning took the paper to that same country church. Another farm couple, that were also kids back at that time were also present.
As we drove along that day, Randy was frequently blowing the whistle. This farmer hearing the whistle decided the whistle must tie in with me. Since they lived on a different road to the one we were driving along, he had his wife call a lady living on the road we were traveling and ask her to have us wait until they could drive around.
I saw a young woman walking toward the road from a house we were approaching and I asked Randy to stop. She gave us the message.
We waited until this couple arrived. As you can well imagine our meeting was a friendly one.
On one occasion as we approached a farm I recognized a man I saw walking toward the road. He had been a young man in the neighborhood when I was a lad attending grade school. When he started toward the road he doubtless did not know it was me, but we recognized each other as we approached. This meeting was also a cheery one. Of course passing cars soon created another crowd.
I could fill several pages with other pleasant experiences, but the days near ending, found us returning to the town we had driven from in the early morning. We had driven through localities that I had not been in since 1926 and most enjoyable had been my experiences.
As we arrived back in town the hour was about six o'clock; a Saturday late afternoon. Most people were at home. To reach the motel where we would spend the night and where my wife and other son were expected to be waiting we had to drive completely across and through mid section of the residential area. A traction engine had not been in that town in many years and none had ever traveled down the street so fast.
You would have no idea how many people that came out into their yards nor how many that got into their car and drove out to the motel. If I were to make a guess on that number it would sound fantastic to you.
Of course I need not write that we were quite late for the steak supper.
That day had been my most eventful one, yet some things I had been forced to cut short. Nice friendly people had delayed us so many times.
Some twenty years back my father and mother had been buried in a cemetery a mile out of town. I had planned to visit their graves, but time did not permit then. My father was also a traction engine enthusiast. I was certain that if they could each know that no way that I might come would appeal to them as much as to come riding on the engine built for two.
The next morning when I arose I built a fire in our engine and when we were ready my two sons and I riding upon the engine 'built for two' drove across town and out the last mile of the way to the cemetery.
One could not walk that route without being noticed, but to drive out with a traction engine was even more conspicuous.
You would have been surprised if you had seen the number of people that then came out to the cemetery also. One man rode a horse there.
On our return trip cars stopped. Some took pictures.
Events of that morning and the previous day convinced me that traction engines with their smoking stack and impressive exhausts have left an indelible impression upon mankind that decades yet will be required to erase.
Events at the class reunion later in the day were also impressive, but as the day was nearing it's end I thought of the importance the traction engine has always been to me and I realized earlier it had been those grand old engines whose wheels had earlier been of iron and steel and whose torque had come from steam that had furnished the first power that massively plowed open the furrows, sawed the logs, and threshed the grain.
I realized that gone now are most of the engines as well as most of the years of my life, but thankful indeed am I for the hours of contentment they have up to now brought me. Then I made this wish.
When my life has reached its last and final day I hope that I can then still remember as I now remember the joy they have been to me.