Thirty Years At The Throttle

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Courtesy of Howard Camp, 18 W. Washington St., Newnan, Georgia 30263 My 24' Whistle Steam Calliope with 17 natural keys and 7 sharps C to E.
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Courtesy of Wm. Gayer, Rock Valley, Iowa 51247 . This is a 1964 wood carving by Jerome Haas, Inwood, Iowa. The engine is carved of wood and was taken from a picture and enlarged twice the size.
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Courtesy of Howard Camp, 18 W. Washington St., Newnan, Georgia 30263 For the benefit of the fellows whom have never seen an M. Rumely around 1910. Rumely's Medallion was a Scotchman dressed in kilts carrying a banner flag up a steep hill. The flag has the
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Courtesy of D. Ross Johnson, Toronto, Ontario, Canada This is a 30 hp George White Engine (1914) with 1,300,000 tons of coal asa background. This engine is displayed and operated at STEAM-ERA at Milton, Ontario each year.
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Courtesy of Mr. K. H. Blair, Drawer 707, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. This is the steam engine which my Father reconditioned and had in running order before he passed away in 1958, This engine is still all intact and in very good condition. If I recall c
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Courtesy of Henry Benn, Ord, Nebraska 68862, Rotary snow plow years ago! (You can scarcely see the plow, but the snow and the smoke is pretty don't you think?? What a contrast! Anna Mae

The first steam engine I can remember was when, as a boy four or
five years old, my father took me to the nearby neighbors and
showed me the steamer used to drive a stone burr mill grinding meal
for neighboring farmers. Though but a child, the image of that
engine is stamped indelibly on my memory. It was a portable, of
perhaps 10 H.P., with wooden wheels, same size front and rear. One
thing in particular I remember was a couple of braces; not unlike
miniature ladders, one end was bolted to the top of the front wheel
and the bottom of the rear wheel fastened in the same way. This
kept the engine steady while running.

As I remember, the mill itself was quite elaborate. The meal was
conveyed up to a loft, passed through a bolter so being rather
refined. The mill was only operated on Saturdays, but I loved to
hear that I telling the farmers to bring the grain. The steam I was
a novelty in  those days.

Father told me one day the engine had been sold to two men from
Garden Grove, Iowa, so we went to see them leave with it. It was
pulled by four horses. The smokestack folded down and the teams
were driven from a small seat mounted on the smoke box.

This ended my direct contact with engines at the time but little
did I realize that the care and operation of engines was to be such
an important part of my life. Even that early I recall crying
because father wouldn’t stop and let me pick up a couple of
joints of old stove pipe thrown in a roadside ditch, for even then
I had in mind building a steam engine.

About the next experience I remember was the day mother, sister
and I were in the house when we heard a sound we compared to that
made by the wind blowing over a jug. Going to the window, we saw an
engine puffing by and at the noise we saw one of our horses in the
lot by the barn leap the board lance and dash to the back side of
the field, knocking clown a couple of rods of fence in passing.
When Dad came home. I asked him if he saw the engine and he said
that he had talked to the men driving it. That was a puzzler for
me, as I thought it would be like a railroad train; only stop at

Time went along for two or three years when a farmer, Lem
McKinney, bought a new 10 H.P. Aultman Taylor engine and separator,
unloading it at Osceola, ten miles south of our place. We lived on
the main road and he would pass our place going home. Word reached
us it was coming, so all forenoon we watched for it and about
mid-afternoon, it came steaming along.

I still remember the bright paint on the engine and the yellow
separator with the picture of the ‘starved rooster’
fattened on an Aultman Taylor straw stack.

This machine, although changing hands, once threshed in our
neighborhood for many years, and many a day I sat in the coal wagon
watching Ray McKinney fire and drive the little engine, always
dreaming of the day I could run an engine. I had many rides on it
while moving from one job to another and I remember the shaft drive
with the big bevel gear on upper end that would ring like a bell
when idling down a slope.

After moving on to another farm over north among the hills, it
was some time before I had a chance to be with a steam rig again,
as horsepower was still used there; but I did gain some experience
cutting bands as I stood astride the ‘tumbling rod’.

About 1900 we took in the Iowa State Fair where I became
acquainted with the Huber salesman who had an exhibit there, along
with dozens of other companies, but the Huber men, seeing my
interest in steam engines, entered into conversation with me. They
asked if I might know of any one who might buy or trade for a
Huber. I told them I had a distant relative who had an old
left-hand Gaar-Scott whom I might talk into a trade. The next
spring they sent out a salesman and we traded him a 13 H.P. Nichols
& Shepard engine, used which I finally ran on a sawmill. My
commission on the sale was $15 and was I thrilled!

About 1902 John Phillips and George Lewis from Swan, Iowa, came
down on Squaw Creek about a mile north of our farm and set up a
sawmill powered with a 12 H.P. Huber #2618. They were living in a
tent, short of money and short-handed, so I asked them if they
would teach me how to run the engine if I would work without pay.
They said they would, so after having a cup of strong black coffee
with them, I hurried home to spend a sleepless night, thanks to the
coffee which I was not used to. So, before daylight, I was on the
job and as I had watched so many engineers start injectors, fill
lubricators and such things, I soon was able to perform all common
things connected with the work. As proof of how much I loved the
work I will tell what happened for a day or two until we took in
pay for a job or two.

We lived on corn meal and water mixed up and fired on a stove
lid, but mother found out about it so she sent us some eggs and a
slab of bacon, also a loaf of bread.

At last the saw needed guming so bad and not enough money to
make repairs or buy cylinder oil they had to shut down and were
unable to make payments on the engine. A man came from the company
and auctioned it off; so uncle and I bought it for $50, quite a sum
in those times.

Uncle being a silent partner, John, the sawyer, and I ran the
mill along for awhile. That summer a former schoolmate of mine from
Lamoni had a two-weeks vacation and came to spend it with me. He
was wild about steam engines and was more than glad to fire while I
set latches–and did the offbearing. We had a royal time, although
I was burned with hot oil one day. The lubricator had quit working
and, not wanting to stop to clean it, I filled the ‘blind
oiler’, which is an oil cup mounted directly on the steam
chest. The threads on the filler plug were worn so loose that when
I turned on the steam it blew out, and the steam-heated oil went
high in the air showering me with hot oil, but luckily the trip
through the air had cooled it enough so I was not badly hurt.

After this set was finished, we were to move several miles to a
new log yard. Uncle came with his team of horses to haul water
while Dad volunteered to act as steersman, leaving me free to fire
and tend the engine. As we were near the creek, uncle decided to
fill the tank. Backing down over a rather steep bank, he filled the
tank as full as it would hold standing at such an angle. Picking up
the lines he started the team scrambling up the bank, but I must
say he made quite a picture, being tall and slender, clad in an old
full length canvas overcoat minus buttons in front, allowing it to
sweep back causing it to look as though he was standing before a
cloth windshield. Just as the front wheels topped the incline the
doubletree pin broke, letting the wagon coast swiftly back to land
in the bottom of the creek, while uncle was jerked flat on his
belly by his grip on the lines, but as they slipped from his hands
he let out a regular bellow of fear and coasted to a stop still
prone atop the tank. You readers should have known Uncle Luke to
get full enjoyment of this. As the wheels were now so deep in the
mud, I brought the engine and found the chain so short I had to
back drivers on the bank and when I started up, she reared up and
would have toppled over backwards. As she came higher and higher,
Dad held on to the steering wheel while I held throttle and reverse
levers to keep from sliding from the footboard. Jamming the
throttle shut, she came down with a crash; but it could have been
much worse. Cutting a long pole we placed it over the front axle
and back under the, boiler and then with several bystanders on the
pole we pulled out. Now began a two-day trip to the next job and
when we arrived, we found the logs to, be big green white elm for
most part and as the breeching was burned out so bad on the old
Huber, we couldn’t keep up steam with the badly reduced draft
and so we decided to use the Nichols & Shepard spoken of
before. It did much better, but before saying good-bye to the
Huber, I must tell you that one Sunday while John and I were at
home two boys fired up the the old kettle and started to drive over
to a patch of timber for some dry wood but ended up in a bog, so
John and I had a days job prying up and planking out.

I must say a little more about the Huber and her former owner,
John Phillips. One thing in particular about the engine was the
location of the throttle. One had to reach out around cab post, so
I learned to open throttle enough to move around and use reverse
for control. Instead of a friction clutch, she had a dog clutch
worked by a long lever from operator’s platform; also had a
variable exhaust controlled by a globe valve. Now as for John, to
show his cheerfulness, when the going was tough one day he walked
from Swan to New Virginia, a lot of miles, and when I asked if he
didn’t catch a ride he said, ‘No, if I started to walk to
the hot place I would meet every one else coming back.’ On
another occasion, he pulled a big knife from his pocket and started
whittling on a track shim. I asked him where he got such a knife
and he said. ‘I found it and still think I am beat.’

From here I got back to the lowly job of water monkey one
season, pumping out old wells, stagnant farm ponds and sometimes
muddy creeks. This 10 HP. O. S. Kelly had a leaky axle bracket
which leaked badly for a while after each move on the road and a
limed-up boiler check valve caused injector to waste a lot of water
so I had a steady job. After threshing was over, the owner used the
engine for feed grinding each Saturday and hired me as engineer.
The first thing I did was to grind that check valve as I had
learned to do reading J. H. Maggard’s book- ‘Rough and
Tumble Engineering’

One day we decided the boiler needed washing out, so I told the
farmer’s two young boys to wait until the steam went down, then
to remove hand hole plates in the corner of firebox. They told me
later they became tired of waiting and removing nut and yoke from
plate they tried to push it in but, as it was held tight by about
ten pounds of steam, they couldn’t move it so they punched it
in with the poker. Luckily they learned a lesson.

Again back at the farm I helped harvest the corn, then Dad and I
worked in the timber getting up firewood and cutting a pile of
walnut logs for lumber. About this time a mill moved in about a
mile east of our farm. It was owned by John Oliver and Ebe Paul.
They had an 18 H.P. Gaar-Scott return flue engine and they really
sawed lumber. Having plenty of money, they kept the machinery in
perfect shape. Their engineer and his father owned a brick yard
south of Osceola, and when spring came the son had to run the
engine in the brick yard, so I asked for and secured the job as
engineer for the next spring. Their next set was about two miles
west of our farm. It was not far to walk so I took over and helped
set up the mill, about a two-day job digging saw pit, laying track,

John Oliver, the sawyer, and partner took the wheel when it came
to lining up and setting the engine and put me at the controls. We
had to back right up to the steep creek so we could jet water to
the tank for the boiler and you can bet I eased that strange job
with unfamiliar controls very carefully back and forth until he was
lined up to the saw. His confidence in me gave me confidence to do
a fair job, earning a compliment from John.

As we cooked and slept in a shack built on a wagon, we were
right at home after a good supper cooked by John who, through long
experience, was not a bad hand at the chore.

Before retiring for the night I filled the boiler, banked the
fire and turned in. The smell of frying bacon and eggs roused me
next morning, but as I started to roll out, John told me to wait
until breakfast was ready. I could fire up while he filed the saw.
I relaxed, thinking ‘you are the boss’, but I had visions
of the slow firing old Huber that I could never hold fire in over
night and the time it took to ‘fire up’. Hurriedly
finishing breakfast to the last biscuit (they were a regular
breakfast dish), I rushed out to the engine and was surprised to
find steam at seventy-five pounds, a good gauge of water and a fine
bed of coals in the firebox. So I had oilers filled, a tank of
water jetted up and waiting to go when John came and told me to
keep reverse lever in last notch, pop valve fizzing as a warning
that steam was at 155 pounds. Then we can saw and, believe me, we
did; some days 7000 feet. He had a wire from the sawyer lever to
the saw and he would open full power on the large logs, giving her
another nudge as he backed up. Sparks and coals rained down on us.
I painted a jacket with house paint so it would turn sparks, wore
an old felt hat which, when sparks fell too bad I dipped in the
water tank. Tiring of the sparks, we finally put a ten foot.
extension on the stack which shot sparks so high they cooled or
blew away before bothering us.

The crew consisted of four: a latch setter, an off bearer, John
and myself. The customers took the lumber and put the logs on the
roll way. As a crew we were a good-natured lot. The two men
didn’t care too much for biscuits for dinner but it was a time
saver so we got by. The rest drank strong coffee but as I
didn’t, John would buy milk for me and often he would jump from
the table saying. ‘Oh, I forgot our calf’. He liked me, for
kid-like, I thought he knew everything and would obey his slightest
wish. That spring I received a blow on the chin that caused me
trouble years later, although it didn’t put me off the job
then. While sawing we fed water to the boiler with a cross-head
pump and I wonder now how we kept it working, high speed one
minute, idling the next.

We did have trouble with the packing around the plunger and that
caused me to be hurt. One day it started leaking and I thought I
would tighten it while it was running, so I took a pipe wrench and
climbed up on the step by the pump. The packing gland was kept from
working loose by an elongated nut screwed on a threaded bolt, one
end of nut fitting into notch on castellated packing gland.
Slipping the wrench handle under the rod, I let it extend far
enough so the connecting rod came down on it and as the wrench
rested across the pump barrel, the big end of the wrench was thrown
violently up, striking me a nasty blow on the chin. It didn’t
knock me off the step, although things went dark for a moment, but
I groped my way back and pulled the I and shut down. The boys came
to see what happened and, as my jaw was so numb I couldn’t tell
much about it, I asked them how it looked. They said there was a
gash cut to the bone, but since I was not sick we went on working.
I lived on bean soup and bread and milk for awhile. Years
afterwards a cyst on the jaw was removed three times.

For a ten-hour day I received $1.50 for firing, mostly with
green slabs, which I chopped by hand. Also board and lodging or
really $9.50 for five and one-halt days as we quit at noon on
Saturday; however, the long wagon ride to town was about as
tiresome as working. I held this job for two springs and summers
and many were the things that happened, as the time the pipe
leading from the pump and injector limed up where it entered the
boiler so the last day I had to use injector altogether. On Sunday
I found the water was forced through a hole at the end of the pipe
about the size of ten-penny nail so a lot of water was wasted at
the injector.

Once the keyway broke out of a fly-wheel hub causing a new one
to be ordered from Richmond. About this time Paul’s son, who
lived on a farm, decided to build a large barn and as they had the
mill, we were to but logs to furnish dimension timbers. Since we
lad the custom sawing finished for the time being, they hired our
crew to cut logs. By now it was getting real hot in early summer
and we got a real work-out. John and I on one end of the crosscut
saw, the other two on their end, four of us on one saw. A kid like
I was could not hold enough grub to last from one meal to the next
and I think that was the hardest I ever had to work to keep up my
end. As we had finished cutting, we were ready to start sawing, but
much to my disgust, Paul and his son wanted to pull the saw with a
new International tractor they had just bought. It was simply a big
single cylinder gasoline engine mounted on wheels and instead of
cogs, the master drive on rear wheels was a smooth band and motor
being mounted on rollers. The whole power plant could be moved back
by a long lever, bringing paper pulleys in contact with the smooth
rims, giving one speed forward; and idler spool gave reverse. The
cylinder was so long and the engine ran so slow it would fire
‘ump’ and bounce from force of shot, then exhaust would
open ‘bang’, so it kept up a steady ‘umph

As we had no regular gas cans yet, I carried gas in open milk
pails, pouring it through a non-filtering funnel into the tank. I
remember those waves of explosive vapor floating from those open
pails and off the funnel. I shudder to think of the fire hazard.
Gasoline cost nine cents per gallon, no tax, but still I didn’t
like it.

On short logs we got along fairly well from stored up energy in
the heavy flywheels but it was slow on pickup on long logs and also
took a lot of cooling water which I also carried. When the sawing
was done, we were ready to build, John was an experienced
carpenter, as was the latch setter, but John asked me to stay and
help and when I told him I was an engineer but no carpenter, he
said, ‘You are a top hand on a saw and I want you to help
mortise those beams.’ So, as he was such a good friend, I
helped finish the barn.

My next job came that fall when another sawmill friend of mine
hired me to run his engine about ten miles across country to a new
set. He had an old C. Aultman, chain drive, return flue which
looked old enough to have been used to saw out planks to build the
Ark. I got up steam and found the old relic had enough slack in the
drive chain to make it easy to handle on the road as slack in the
chain allowed to get momentum in the fly wheel so there was no
stopping on dead center. After a wood gathering trip, we arrived at
the set. Not realizing at this time I would work for some time next
year as engineer on this engine, I found it not too good a steamer
on green wood, unless fired carefully, keeping wood away from sides
of main flue. As I remember, it had no steam dome but didn’t
seem to produce unduly wet steam.

One rainy day I removed the steam chest cover and found a
balanced valve I never heard of before or since and as it was
shimmed up with tin, I put the cover on and let well enough alone.
Later that summer two farmers, Jesse Brim and Bob McQuern, bought a
16 H.P. Gaar-Scott engine and separator and hired me to drive it
home eight or ten miles; so with Bob at the wheel, we started out.
Bob, never having guided before, did all right for a mile or two
but just as we were leaving a small wooden bridge, thinking we were
safely across, I turned to put in a fire when suddenly Bob got all
mixed up and spun the wheel to the left. As the grader ditch was
shallow, I didn’t try to stop but just went on through a barn
lot and out on the road again.

Late I took over Bob’s share and became Brim’s partner,
although that fall I engineered for them. One winter while working
in the mill, my uncle, Ira Smith, came, to visit us and asked what
wages they paid and when told $1.50 per day at the mill and $2.50
when threshing, he said, ‘Come up next fall and I will find you
a job at $7.00 a day and you will have a fireman as they burn
straw.’ That sounded so good I wrote my cousin in Nebraska
inviting him to go too. So the next summer we helped uncle during
haying and harvest and he took us to Maxbass, about fifteen miles
from his place, and introduced us to Abe Mc-Caslin who owned a big
Avery return flue, 30 H.P. engine and 42 x 70 Avery separator, a
real money-making outfit.

As he had hired his engineer from the year before, he offered me
the job as fireman at $3.50 with the promise of the engineer job
for the next year. I accepted it, while cousin, took a bundle
hauling job. So we were all set to earn some Dakota money.

When we started threshing I found the big Irish engineer, Mike
Klece, not too friendly to a kid fireman and as he liked his hard
liquor and I was a radical teetotaler, that didn’t improve our
relations although I explained I didn’t care how much he

With no previous experience burning straw, and with no help from
Mike, I started forking straw and what helped me was the big engine
was a free steamer with a lot of reserve power and it also had one
of the best cross-head pumps I ever saw. I could set it and never
have to touch it.

Talk about threshing, we really worked. The farmer hauled away
the grain and we did the rest. Besides Mike and myself, there was
the separator man and an oiler, two water haulers with four-horse
teams. At times they hauled from the Mouse River, which was a
seven-mile trip. Besides the engine they supplied water for the
fourteen bundle haulers teams. At times we used a field pitcher but
not always, the haulers pitching their own loads. Always two spike
pitchers and at times three, so I have counted the half-bushel
dumps of oats at eighteen per minute and wheat at nine. We often
ran better than 3000 bushels of wheat. The days were long as
daylight came early that far north and lingered long at night, but
at that, I have had the separator man hold a lantern up by the
feeder so I could see to line up. We sent the first . racks to camp
at 8:20, leaving twelve loads to run off after that as we emptied
all racks every night.

When the first two left the battle was on for the other twelve
knew they were done for the day so how they did pitch so that I
have used the sawyer lever for more speed and power on the big
30-90 and heard the 10-inch rubber drive belt slip, then catch
again. If I had what grain we wasted those two seasons I would
never have to work again, as no separator could save it all under
such overloading.

One thing I will always remember about those two seasons was the
good nourishing meals we had. Mac hired an old bachelor, Jim
Somers, as cook. Where he learned I never knew but he could prepare
regular food, also pie and cake like ‘mother used to

One Sunday my fireman and I called on another crew and were
telling about our eats, even pie and cake, when their little Irish
fireman spoke up saying, ‘Sure and it’s myself that
don’t care for poy and cake and the likes of that; when I’m
workin, I want plenty of bread, meat and peraties.’

Jim had a big six-hole range, coal burner, and for breakfast we
had beef steak and pancakes fried on a big griddle that covered the
whole top of that big hotel range. How he and the flunky could
sling hash. For dinner we usually had beef stew with loads of
vegetables. When Jim hired out to Mac he asked what he furnished
and Jim said anything you want and can cook, for help is no good
hungry. Mid forenoon and afternoon lunch was brought out and a
pause was called. It really pepped the men up. The noon meal was
also served in the field with a thirty-minute recess to eat and
feed and water the horses. When I was engineer I let my fireman eat
first while I oiled, filled oil cups and lubricators. There was
keen rivalry between us at the engine and the two at the separator.
Owing to the large crew and high wages, it cost a lot for even a
short stop. We planned to throw the stop on the unlucky one that
was caught where he had to stop.

When distance became so great it delayed bundle haulers, the
spike pitchers would throw the drive belt. I would chase them to
the separator where they piled it on a platform built on the
separator tongue. They would hook a chain into a ring on the engine
axle and we would pull across the field, level as a floor, without
even folding feeder or winding in blower. Unhooked I would back out
in line, the spikers now chasing with the belt. They would hook it
on the flywheel, I would back up and by now the bundle wagons were
in place and we were going again. I have seen the separator man
jump in a grain wagon and lace a doubtful belt on the way.

When on a longer move we had a little rack with sills extending
out through loops on the platform so the fireman could feed straw
from rack to firebox. We had little trouble with boiler foaming as
long as we could use river water as it was always clear and pure,
but at times we had to use water from Getchels Lake, a stagnant
prairie pothole, and to make it worse, there was a large barnlot on
one bank so it dained in the lake. After a few days this water
started the foaming so one couldn’t even blow the I to stop the
pitchers, as only water came out and no sound. As we threshed on
Sunday that was the night the boiler was washed, robbing the
fireman and me of most of a night’s sleep, as we would sleep
while she cooled down. Then we would wash and refill the boiler
after which came the slow job of firing up as straw burned slowly
without forced draft. The year I ran this engine I took my own
fireman from Lamoni with me. He was a fine young man, Roscoe
Willey, who was studying to be a minister.

As the old bunk car was full of lice, we decided to sleep in the
straw at the machine. We hung our bed roll in the cab. After eating
supper at camp, we would come back, dig a hole in the straw stack,
roll up in our blankets and we were so tired we slept as if on
feathers. We usually left four or five straw piles each day and as
wheat straw was worthless the farmers burned them while straw was
loose and would burn clean. We would leave the machine at the last
stack after pulling separator away from the stack on account of
fire. We would back the engine up close so it was handy to get
straw for fuel. We tried to figure which way the wind would be next
morning as firing was faster with wind at the back. We worried that
sometime a farmer might unthinkingly fire our sleeping stack.

When we finished this thirty-some days run and after the boss
paid us that night, we had a big oyster supper with hot rolls and
all the choice things Jim could think up. After we had eaten our
fill, the boss said, ‘Now stay the night; we will have
breakfast, then you can take a fresh start,’ Most of us took
his advice and I remember one little Finlander, who was an
especially hearty eater, saying almost tearfully, ‘Der last
breakfast’, which spoke well for the cook and his cooking.

Going back to Iowa I helped Dad again that winter with only an
occasional engine job shredding todder or sawing wood.

Since the boss had told me to bring up a whole crew if I wanted
to, as he was well pleased with their willingness to work, I
rounded up live friends and at harvest time we took off. As it was
the first trip away from home for three of the boys, Harve, an
older boy and I had a lot of fun out of them on the trip as the big
cities were a sight to them.

I had decided to take a job without responsibility, so I hired
out as night-watch on a Nichols & Shepard outfit where I could
sleep days and at night keep an eye on things, oil up and perhaps
lace a belt or do some minor chore which suited me fine.

The first day I decided to stay up and help get things rolling
but about ten o’clock the flunky from Charlie Olson’s Case
outfit came over and said Charlie wanted to see me so I went over
and found the valve had slipped on the stem. She was pulling with
one end of the cylinder and when I had it set his engineer,
evidently a new beginner, tried to line up but threw the belt
several times. He finally got rattled and when she stopped on dead
center he left the trouble wide open, climbed up and turned the
flywheel. I yelled ‘look out’ but he nearly fell. He
finally’ got belted up and going when Charlie called me aside
and asked me if I would run for him. I tried to tell him the new
man would be all right when he settled down, but I could not change
him. He said if I wouldn’t run for him he would get someone
else. I finally said I would take over if he would let me talk to
the engineer. I explained to him I had a good job and didn’t
want his but he was out any way, so I tried in vain to get him to
go with me and I would put him on my job as watchman but he was too
angry and re I used to go. I saw him later and he said he was sorry
he didn’t take my advice, as he hauled bundles. Thinking the
rest of the crew might be resentful as they had to work harder. I
was pleased to hear them call out as they passed, ‘Hoy
we’re threshing now’, so they seemed to be pleased.

A word now about the eating the first week. We had a big, fat
lazy guy as cook and with no screens on the cook car windows, the
flies swarmed around like bees so we skimmed them off the stew, out
of sauce and everything else, but any way we had to eat. Come
Sunday, three of us went out to wash out the boiler and asked him
for a lunch to take along. He was a good-hearted guy and gave us an
apple pie and six donuts, so when it came time to eat we cut the
pie in six pieces and remembering the flies, I turned back the top
crust and there were four flies in the one piece. We figured at
that rate there were twenty-four in the pie. Breaking open the
donuts we found an average of two flies in each one. The funny part
was the steam from the fly rounded out a smooth little pocket for
his last resting place.

Getting by with supper and breakfast, we went to the field but
the teamsters all headed up in a circle which meant a strike. The
boss asked, the spokesman what they wanted. They said they wanted
Parent to cook. He was a little Frenchman experienced in cooking in
lumber camps in Minnesota. The boss took Fatty to the shack and
paid him off, installing Parent. So when we came in to dinner it
was hard to believe it was the same place for the windows were
screened, flies all driven out and everything neat and clean. From
then on we fared all right.

One windy day we were threshing any way and although I had the
spark screen on, a spark landed of all places in the cuff of a
pitchers overalls and when it burned his leg, he threw fork and all
the feeder. By working the throttle and reverse, only the tines
went in but it broke a concave at that. This reminds me of the time
on the Avery, a hook on the feeder arm, the one that caused the
company to put the warning, ‘Look out or I will get your
fork’ on the feeder, came off and went into the cylinder, but
owing to the rugged teeth it didn’t do much damage. Someone
thew it on the engine footboard and when we were ready to move the
fireman asked me what to do with it and not thinking, I told him to
throw it on the straw pile. One of the racks brought us straw to
move on and forked the hook onto his wagon where it sank to the
bottom and that night when he cleaned out the rack he scooped it in
again. This time being bent, it did more damage but needless to
say’ it didn’t happen again. After a twenty-eight day run
we finished with just a fifteen-cent repair on the engine. The rod
that drove the oil pump broke but sending it to town with a grain
hauler, it was welded and I worked the pump by hand.

Courtesy of Mr. Hollis Cortelyou, Higgins, Texas, This trade
mark is familiar to all old time threshermen. It was the Avery
‘Yellow Fellow’ separator that Avery Company rode to fame
on. They threshed a lot of wheat in Kansas. Their razor steel
cylinder teeth had no equal. I attended Kansas State Fair at
Hutchinson in 1908. An Avery (wooden) ‘Yellow Fellow’
separator with feeder pans removed was chewing up 2 x 1*/i oak
planks. It was only such demonstration any of us ever saw. A full
truck load of chankings was under the feeder. The Mack Truck
Company acquired this ‘Bulldog’ trade mark from Avery
Company when they closed down.

The next spring my sister and her husband, who had taken a claim
near Dallas, South Dakota, wrote to me saying there would be a lot
of prairie broken up by steam plows and they urged me to come run
one of them. So in March I arrived and started hunting a job. Not
having much money I walked miles looking. Once I heard of a job
near Carter but found it taken, so spending the night in a haystack
I started walking to Dallas, but soon a four-horse team passed me
at a trot but soon halted and asked me if I would like a ride. I
gratefully accepted and when we got to town I helped him load his
front wagon with groceries and the trailer with farm machinery,
then helped put the teams in the barn whereupon he said, ‘By
golly, you so good to help I buy supper and we go to movie.’
Then he said, Where you sleep?’ and when I told him of the
haystack bed he took me to the ‘flop house’ and bought me a
twenty-five cent bed. The next day hearing that Abe Carlson near
Gregory was buying a plow outfit, I went to see him but found he
had bought a 22-45 Hart Parr tractor and as I had only run the old
I.H.C., I told him he could perhaps find a more experienced man as
I was a steam engineer. But if I didn’t find a steam job I
would still tackle the gas if he wanted me to. Going back to Colome
I heard the Gammel Bros, were buying a steam plow which would soon
arrive and that they had gone with a four-mule team for a load of
coal so I started walking East and met them between towns. They
told me they had hired an engineer that day but might run a night
shift and I could have that, but any way they wanted me to help
unload and get started. So when it arrived I pitched in helping the
man from the company. The fittings had all been removed from the
engine and packed in boxes of sawdust so it was quite a chore
replacing them. While we were doing this, the rest were unloading
the big twelve bottom plow, which was a lot of iron, and when
sliding it off the flatcar it caught Dick Gammels foot, mashing it
quite badly, but he watched us any way. In the meantime the
engineer they had hired was hanging around between trips to the
saloon, getting steadily drunker and not offering to help. Finally,
he staggered up to Don Gammel and said, ‘Shay brother, have I
got a job or not?’ So Don told him neither he nor his brother
used or believed in drinks so he was out, saying ‘Shanks ole
man’ and he headed for the saloon.

For the readers not familiar with the Reeves 32 H.P. plow
engine, a cross compound, I will briefly describe it. Having a high
pressure cylinder that first used the steam, then it was passed to
the 14 by 14 low pressure cylinder and a ‘simplifying
valve’ controlled from the operators platform allowed live
steam to be turned into both cylinders, greatly increasing the
power for an emergency and with 175 pounds boiler pressure, you
could move mountains. The gears were seven-and-one-half inches wide
or near that and were supposed to run in oil from a large pan
suspended underneath but the first day plowing after a few hours, I
examined the pans and found them full of sand and dirt like mush, a
perfect abrasive, so we discarded them and used drip oilers. I
often wondered how the company figured those pans, ten or twelve
inches wide and four feet long, open at the top would stay clean in
a dusty field. There were two large water tanks, one on either side
in front of the drive wheels. The engine alone weighed more than
twenty tons. The plow frame of heavy I beams, triangular shape, was
supported by a wide wheel in the center. The frame also supported a
water tank and coal bunker somewhat like a locomotive tender. The
twelve plows trailed this frame, the six pairs raised and lowered
by chains running over a short gin pole with a pulley at the upper
end. The chains were powered by two steam cylinders and controlled
by a three-way valve so all could be raised or lowered at once. I
must say the Reeves had the best independent boiler feed pump I
ever used. A Moore, open yoke, exhausting outside, feed water going
through a heater, so when standing we used injector. It was a
Penberthy and I must tell you what happened to me in regard to

The night after we unloaded, I filled the boiler and the
injector was working perfectly, but next day when I turned it on
the water all came out the overflow like the valve in the water
line was shut, so removing the tail pipe I looked through it, or
thought I did, but it still acted the same way. I removed it again
and came near goofing again. For upon closer inspection I found a
small white gravel lodged half-way in the pipe and being white made
it look like light shining through. Now, as all inlet pipes had
fine mesh screens and it worked until shut off before, I have often
wondered if that drunken engineer or some of his friends set a
booby trap for me.

Starting for Colome where we were to begin plowing, we had not
gone far when steam started leaking around the low pressure piston
rod and thinking it needed tightening, I was surprised to find a
groove cut full travel in the smooth surface. I had packed it with
Garlock packing sent with the engine and on removing the first
ring, I found a piece of steel about the size of half a BB shot
imbeded in the packing. The sharp edge had cut the rod. As the
groove ran lengthwise the new packing fitted itself in the groove
and didn’t bother. The fire door had a cast ring in the boiler
and it started leaking bad enough so it shot out a fine stream. As
I would caulk one place, it would creep a little farther across
until I had it all fixed and it never did bother again. But one day
as I was up oiling, I heard it start hissing and I asked Dick what
he did and he said he hit it with the coal hammer. We managed to
hold steam until night when I caulked it shut, explaining to him
the danger of doing anything like that to a boiler under

We had some flue trouble as firing under heavy load caused a lot
of cold air to strike the flues, convincing me all plow engines
should have a firebrick arch as locomotives do. We also had
excessive wear on our bull pinions and master gears that spelled
trouble. As rear axle bearings wore and shoulders developed on gear
teeth when not pulling a load, it set up such a vibration it caused
bracket studs to snap off on cross shaft brackets finally requiring
replacement. As one side of the master gear teeth was not worn, I
noticed one day both had the same serial number. I decided to
switch the right over to the left and the left to the right; thus
bringing the unworn side of the teeth into use. So placing jacks
under the firebox we cleared the wheels from the ground and
securing three 6 x 6 timbers, we hung a block and tackle at the top
and slid the wheels out far enough to clear the gears. The water
hauler and I tried to upend a gear so we could roll it over to the
other side but found we couldn’t lift it, so we had to use the
tank pump as a lever. This change helped for some time

One day we were plowing round and round a small field when the
left front wheel hub started cutting out and when we noticed it,
that cast hub was much too big for the spindle. As a new wheel cost
$55 I talked the boys into letting me babbit it, so we jacked it
up, centered it and poured in twelve pounds of babbit metal and
luckily got a perfect job.

Owing to the brothers inexperience and half-fearful attitude
towards the engine, we had many minor happenings, some humorous,
some more serious. Dick, because of his mashed foot, was guider and
one day he asked what would happen if that gauge glass broke. I
explained that steam and water would blow out, but all one had to
do was shut off water end first so the steam would keep the hot
water from blowing out so bad, then close steam or top valve. We
had not gone a quarter mile until, as I closed the furnace door,
the loose end of the door chain struck the glass, breaking it. Dick
didn’t stop to consider but just bailed out, landing on his
sore foot out in the plowed ground and as he rolled around with
pain, he kept saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t
going to blow up?’

We were often short of water and one day we had to shut down so
I told Dick to watch the water and not let it get out of sight in
the glass and I would tighten the guide chains as they had become
slack. When I was about finished, he saw the water hauler coming so
he threw in a couple of scoops of coal and turned on the blower
when out went the soft plug. I rolled out and shoveled dirt on the
fire and dumped it and found he had been watching a dirt stain on
the glass instead of the water level, so I told him that water in a
live boiler was never still but was always moving up and down so
one could tell if the glass was clogged.

This Reeves was equipped with a power guide, a leather faced
disc mounted on a pivot bracket near the of the flywheel. One edge
of the disc turned the steering shaft one way, the other reversed
it. A chain sprocket on the back of the disc, another on the
steering shaft, the two connected by a drive chain. Not knowing how
we would like the new steering device, we left the conventional
know on the wheel but one day while making a sharp turn, the wheel
was really spinning when the know hit Dick on the knee. Not waiting
to unbolt it, he knocked it off with the coal hammer.

When plowing, the big drivers turned so slow that an occasional
rattlesnake or ground squirrel would run along out of sight on the
back side of the wheel. However, they didn’t know any better
than to go on the front side when they at once came out mashed
flat. We plowed under hundreds of plover nests and occasionally a
prairie hen’s nest.

One day while plowing down a rather steep slope, the governor
pen came loose, shutting off steam, and as the water went to the
front leaving the crown sheet dry, I was sure the soft plug would
blow, so running around to the side I held the governor open with

One day the pump quit working. The injector also acted as if the
tank was dry, but taking the hand hole plate off near the screen,
everything seemed all right but after a few minutes the pump quit
again Removing the plate a second time, I caught something in the
rush of water that looked like fine transparent hair. I ashed the
water monkey where he got the last load and he said from an old
well that had a dead jack rabbit in it. I had quite a time getting
that fine hair cleaned out as it would spin a fine web over the

We ate and slept in a shack built on a wagon and the sudden
prairie storms would blow it over so we had to replace our dishes
with tin ones and there was flour, sugar and syrup all over the
ceiling. We would put a rolling hitch around the shack with a
cable, tie the cable to the engine and roll it back on its

That summer Haleys Comet was in sight and we were plowing near
an old bachelor’s claim and he was quite nervous about the
night it would be closest to the earth. When it got good and dark
we slipped up to his shack and gave a resounding slap with a board.
Well, he came out like the place was on fire but had to laugh with

Our first water hauler, Milo Bryan, was a very religious boy
about my age but he would not work on Sunday so that spring when
the rush came and we to work all the time, he quit and left for
Canada where he had dreamed of starting a ranch. We were such close
friends, we made a hand-shake agreement that no matter where we
were we would always write, so after a rather sad ‘So long
Pal’ he left. I heard from him once at Niobrara, Nebraska and
once from Edmonton, Canada. His folks nor any of us ever heard from
him again.

In April, 1910 I bought a relinquishment on 160 acres in Tripp
County and in October I had to establish residence so I had to plan
to change jobs for that fall and winter but we didn’t use the
Reeves for threshing. I could homestead and still hold the job for
the next spring. My brother-in-law and I went nineteen miles to
Dallas for lumber to build my house and while we were gone, a
prairie fire came fifty-five miles from the North and burned my
claim off clean. A few hours later and I would have lost my lumber,
but John and I built the shack and luckily I got a job at once as a
neighbor, Bill Coester, had two engines, a 25 H.P. return flue
Avery and a simple double Reeves; also a 42 x 70 Avery separator.
The Avery rig was at Naper, Nebraska, about fifty miles south, so
he sent me there to put some cap screws in the counter shaft
bracket and ready the outfit so we could drive it to Tripp County
for the threshing. Finding I had to drill out and change all bolts
on that side after having new ones made oversize and replacing
connections on the water column which had rusted out, we took

As we were to burn straw on the fifty mile trip, I had taken by
neighbor, Sam Mattison, a man about my age, to fire for me. It was
no small job as we could not carry very much fuel, so we had to
stop now and then to thresh out a few oats for some friendly farmer
to get the straw. The first night out we slept in a hay loft and
with a flock of hogs below stirring up clouds of dust which
produced a large crop of fleas, we didn’t oversleep! Without
serious trouble or breaks we reached the Koester ranch and started
real threshing. As I could tend separator, they put Jim Johnson,
from Carlock, on the engine and as Sam didn’t get along too
well with him he quit and went to work for Bill on the Reeves and
Ulrich Stoltenburg fired. We called him ‘Ole’ and his Dad,
Hans, hauled water.

We got along good with only a cross head break on the engine and
a smoldering fire in the separator which I put out with no damage,
but a rack was filling with straw for firing and it burst into
flame. The teamster lost his head and tipped the load over the
wrong way so the flame blew towards the wagon gear but we finally
got the engine around and saved the front wheels.

Late that fall while threshing stacks one frosty morning, we had
run about ten minutes when all at once there was a bump under my
feet that jarred the whole machine. Then the beater caught it,
nearly sending it through the floor. I ran to the door over the
back of the straw rack and caught the narrow band from one end of
the cylinder which had broken, just before it fell into the blower
fan. We debated awhile as to the safety of running without the band
but as it was such a job to pull the cylinder and there was no gas
or electric welders then, we decided to go ahead since there was
still one bank in the middle and at the other end.

 When we had the machine put up for the winter I went over
to visit my sister. They were threshing that day so I went out to
the machine and while talking with the separator man, he asked me
if I would take his place for two or three days while he went over
in Perkins County to see about his horses. I told him after
sixty-six days threshing I had retired, but he kept coaxing until I
agreed. After four or five days I asked the boss if he paid that
man all his wages and when he said he did, I knew he wasn’t
coming back so I finished the run-twelve more days-seventy-eight in
all. As it was late fall and dusk came early, we often ran as long
as we could see. So one evening we were on flax and standing near
the shoe sieve, I could hear a sharp snap at intervals like a wire
off a spark plug. Looking in at the sieve I saw a green spark jump
from the metal sieve, about an inch and a half to the steel
separator frame then to the ground. The flax seed sliding over the
metal floor of the sieve generated static electricity, and when
enough of a charge accumulated it would gain enough voltage to jump
the gap. The sieve being hung on hardwood arms insulated it and if
I had run a wire from sieve to frame, it would have perhaps
prevented an explosion under extremely dusty conditions.

I put in part of the winter on the claim then we were granted a
leave of absence by the land office for a month or two and, as I
wanted to go to Iowa, I walked the nineteen miles to Dallas. Having
only partly enough money for a ticket, I turned bum and rode a
‘side door pullman’ part way to Omaha where I had money for
a ‘plush ride’ the rest of the way. Arriving at Osceola
about midnight, I was so anxious to see the family I started
walking the twelve miles home. The folks woke up wanted to talk but
I was too tired to talk.

When spring came I went back to Dakota and the claim. Upon
arriving in Colome, a Mr. Brown wanted me to go to Dallas and try
out an old Minneapolis steam engine the town had been using to pump
water for the town. I cleaned the flues and raised steam but found
it too small. It was about 16 H.P. I think and was geared too high
for plowing, so I went back to Koester and ran the Reeves pulling
eight breaking plows, a press grain drill and a drag, sowing flax.
Joe and I ran from midnight to noon, Sam and Rill noon to midnight.
The land was near the Keyapaha River and hilly so at times it was
impossible to carry high enough water to cover the crown sheet, so
I would go as far as I thought I dared, then close the throttle
letting speed go down. Then by opening it with a jerk, water would
surge over the hot sheet often bringing two inches of foam in the
glass. One day I found out Bill had put a bolt in place of a
fusible plug, so I told him she would blow with us some day but he
only said, ‘You run half the time and me half so one of us will
be safe.’ Fortunately, we had no boiler trouble, perhaps on
account of the firebrick arch which protected flues and sheet. The
worst accident we had was when the cross shaft broke with Bill
tearing of water glass connections. He was not scalded seriously
but it tied us up for awhile.

Bill, had a 1909 Ford touring car Joe and I drove back and forth
to my place where we stayed nights and as I had no screen door,
when the alarm clock said time to arise, I would swing a pillow
alongside the bed to see if a rattler would rattle so I could arise
and light a lamp. For lights on the Ford we had a carbide affair on
the running board, carbide in the bottom and water in the top with
a valve to adjust the right amount of water to make the right
amount of gas for the headlamps, requiring a precise adjustment. At
times we would jump up a jack rabbit when going to work. We would
chase him with the car until the rough coing put too much water in
the carbide so flame would start coming out the top of the lamps,
ending the chase, but it was fun any way.

When July 4th came we were still putting in flax, not so much in
hopes of a crop as to rot the tough sod for the next year’s

Of course Sam, Joe and I wanted to celebrate but it took a lot
of talk to get Bill to take us the twenty miles to Colome but by
promising to work harder, he finally took us. Bill told us,
‘Now don’t eat a lot of ice cream and drink that pop or you
will be sick. Just smoke cigars and drink whiskey.’ Sam and I
didn’t do either, neither were we sick. Near evening we thought
to go look at the car which we had thoughtless parked on the south
side of a machine shed in the hot sun so the patches on the inner
tubes all melted off. All four tires were flat and as there were no
filling stations with free air, we patched and pumped a long time.
The patches were not like later ones, no cement, just a sheet of
rubber you wet it with gasoline, let it get tacky, then put it on
the tube, holding it until it was partly stuck, then if carefully
placed in the tire and inflated it would stick. Luck was with us as
we arrived home without further trouble although plenty tired.

We learned a lot about cars in keeping that one going. For
instance, one day while plowing, a thunder shower came up and we
saw lightning strike a barn about a mile from us. We tried to start
the car but the rain, which was pouring, had shorted the coils so
we wore ourselves out cranking while the barn burned without any
help from us.

I recall a pet cock on the intake manifold, for priming I
suppose, and we found with the motor idling, if we opened it the
motor speeded up. So we decided that improved the fuel mixture but
after all kinds of carburetor adjustments, we found we were
releasing the vacuum so the motor turned more freely. Once the
drive gear become noisy so we dismantled it and found a rough drive
shaft sleeve and a new one would have had to come from Detroit. We
filed it smooth and got by. The motor had a knock and Bill
suggested I pull it out and adjust the bearings which was not so
bad, but now I know if we had understood electricity, we could have
cured another trouble as the magneto was dead and I remember those
small windings on the field and the then half-inch magnets and had
I looked the field coils over, perhaps I would have found one
grounded by carbon or metal scraps.

Harvest soon arrived. Sam was cook and we always had corn bread
for dinner, baked in a big square pan and cut in chunks. It
resembled a piece cut off the end of a scantling so someone would
say, ‘Give me another piece of two by-four.’ Another dish
was fried potatoes and Bill argued they should be sliced three
thirty-seconds thick. One day Sam said, ‘Here’s one exactly
right’, so Bill got a caliper rule and after measuring it
decided it was off three thousandths. That fall while working near
Willow Creek, we had to drink from the deep holes and the water was
rather stagnant and when we would go for a drink, a snake often
swan out and lay there flicking out his tongue. By looking closely
one could see minute red particles in the water. Bill worried about
typhoid fever, so to guard against infection he took occasional
nips of whiskey of not too good quality, shipped to Millboro, our
nearest town. We never knew how effective the preventative was for
while the rest drank, I would not touch a drop, but Joe had the
fever while the rest of us didn’t.

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