THRESHING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF


| May/June 1974



Now we have the so-called fuel shortage upon us. And some may be already wondering just what repercussions this might portend for the steam and gas engine shows. True, 'Old King Coal' seems to be coming back on his throne, having been toppled from his royal reign over the past few decades by the 'clean-air' boys.

But, suddenly warm homes seem more important to us than an ecologically pure and dust-free atmosphere overhead and around us. Or at least it feels better to be cozy with a little dirt than so darned pure and freezing. The main objective now seems to be survival throughout the winter months while maintaining transportation the whole year through.

I was amazed, upon rising very early one morning and switching on the 'T-tube' to NBC's Today Show. The fuel shortage had just come into vogue, by way of the News Media, and they were showing a little skit of an old Iron-Man out in Missouri who was discing his ground with an old 25-75 Russell Steam Engine, firing it with corn cobs. My thoughts switched immediately to Iron-Man, Percy Sherman, who was at that time lying in a hospital bed up in Michigan. Being the great champion he is of the mighty Russell engine, I naturally hoped he was seeing the same show which was flittering across my screen, while convalescing from his recent illness. The announcer jokingly said, 'This old-timer has already solved his fuel shortage problems by reverting back to the Iron Horse.' Then the old-timer yanked on the whistle cord, giving several triumphant toots to let the modern world know that, gas or no gas, he was getting his field ready for planting the winter wheat. Besides, he was having his own one-man steam show backed up with a very logical and legitimate excuse to do it. In other words, he might have looked very silly, running his old steam engine out there alone, and stoking it with cobs, except for the fact that a national crisis in combustible gas made it seem so very sensible.

And that is the very excuse every steam engineer secretly hopes for whenever he unlatches his barn door and slides it back to get his Iron Horse out. He wants to have that responsible feeling that his particular engine is doing a service performing a mission and certainly not to be considered a play-toy. And, most of all does he want to convince his neighbors, who are watching, that come hell or high water, steam is still around to get the job done when all other power fails.

So, we need a national crisis to make us revert back to the old and steady power, to convince ourselves and others of its worth. And, oftentimes, as I stand around and watch the big engines running idly hither and thither over a steam threshermens' reunion grounds, I get that sickly feeling that they are not really performing the function they were built for. Like a beautifully-restored steam passenger locomotive pulling a few cars over a mile or two of rails at some historic railroad museum. When, actually, it was made to haul fifteen cars of mail, baggage and passengers to their distant destinations at a rapid clip and arriving on time. Even I get more satisfaction and delight, doing little chores with the mighty Joe Dear, than just driving willy nilly and in circles to hear the engine run. But let a limb drop that has to be dragged in, or a trailer that needs moving and then I have all the excuse in the world for getting it out and having my fun, without the neighbors calling me 'nuts'.

Had the T-V shown the man driving his Russell through his field in normal times, the viewers would have only laughed at his antics. But, haunted by a gas shortage, they not only admired him but actually revered him as a sort of 'Gray Champion' out on the front line, fighting their battles for them.