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’

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

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.

All of which makes us wonder if this oil and gas shortage is
really genuine. Or is it just a sinister plot to raise the prices
very high, only to drop them a cent or two on the gallon to make
the public feel the oil barons are very human, despite the higher
eventual cost of their product? I recall that when the local
utility meterreader came to read gas and light meters, only two
years ago, he’d practically laugh at our old fuel-oil furnace
in the basement and call us old-fashioned for not heating with
natural gas. But he hasn’t done this any more, since the
utilities executives have been warning us that natural gas had
reached its limit of expansion. Now they are shouting, ‘We
don’t seek any more customers converting to natural

And how many of us recall those years, after the Second World
War, when the dairy industry hiked the prices skyward on butter
while we kept hearing rumors of vast quantities being stored in
underground vaults until it became rancid. The result of which made
the buying public switch over to less expensive margarine, which
now was looking and tasting like butter. And now even the major
dairy industries have switched over to packaging their own

So we can now see the vicious cycle. When shortages are
declared, bringing on a crisis that raises prices unreasonably
high, a substitute often comes along and is promoted to the point
of replacing the product we’ve become dependent upon. And, if
the shortage was a false one, only to manipulate prices, it can be
fatal to the very plotters who planned it. Like Haman, in the
Bible, who was hung on the very scaffold he built for Mordecai.

But, whether a crisis, such as the fuel shortage, is real or
manipulated for private corporate profits, the effect is the same
on you and me. We still have to pay higher prices for our oil and
gasoline, or go without. And either way is pretty hard on the
majority who have become dependent on the needs of modern living.
Therefore, the next best way of coping with the crisis in fact the
only way is for some of our steam engineers and gas engine/tractor
mechanics to put their scientific know-how to work to see what can
be done to give more power and mileage per lump of coal or gallon
of gas. And this, brother, could become one mighty effective
contribution to solving some of our most pressing problems that
have brought us to this dilemma.

For instance a fellow by the name of Hicks has worked out what
he calls the Hicks Hydro-Catalyst which he claims can increase gas
mileage from 15 to 20 percent. In the pages of the March issue of
TRUE MAGAZINE, are pictures showing a replacement gasket for a
carburetor with two conical screens built over the ports. The
principle consists of the inner screen being made of cadmium and
the outer screen of nickel. The claim is that the two screens thus
act like a battery, electrically charging the fuel particles so
they are attracted to opposite charges on the inside walls of the
intake manifold where they are vaporized and supplied evenly to all
cylinders. Manufactured in a limited number, so far, the gadget
costs around $35 and is easily installed as a replacement to the
standard gasket between the carburetor and the intake manifold. The
article claims that, multiplied by the 100 million vehicles now in
use, this gadget alone could save more than the fuel shortage the
energy czars are crying about. I have heard several radio talk
shows discussing this item and several mechanics, who sound like
they know what they’re talking about, have claimed that it
really works.

Several years ago, when I had the Joe Dear down at the Blue
Grass Steam & Gas Show at Harrodsburg, Ky., a little old-time
mechanic came up and told me that my Delco engine would run much
better if I merely installed a fine screen in the intake gasket. He
said, ‘I used to work on the older automobiles, and on many I
installed such screens and they vaporized or ‘atomized’ the
mixture for more efficient combustion in the firing chamber.’
Although his idea incorporated the use of only one metal, it
sounded reasonable to me. And I don’t doubt in the least that
the bimetallic effect of the cadmium and nickel screen cups really
has merit. At least the idea is worth a try. How about it, fellows?
Man’s worst dilemmas have often become his most fruitful
blessings. And I’m one of a million who believes that the
sooner our country becomes self-reliant on basic fuels, the better
for us and the rest of the world. Not only would we have sufficient
gas and oil for our daily transportation and heat, but we’d
never again have to live in fear that our favorite steam and gas
engine show would have to be cancelled for a lack thereof.

There are of course other ways to help solve the fuel shortage
beside discing wheat fields with steam and juggling internal
combustion carburetors. When we had our new, automatic fuel oil
furnace installed, the plumber ordered that the big, old coal
furnace would have to be removed. But the wife and I argued that
the coal furnace was going to stay. We convinced the plumber that
we wanted the new fuel-oil furnace connected right into the same
pipes and registers that were run from the old-coal furnace. And
it’s worked so well that, when we once ran out of fuel oil in
cold weather, this winter, I merely shoveled in some coal in the
older furnace and we had heating comfort to every register in the
house. In fact, after the rise in fuel price, we just decided to
retire the newer fuel-oil furnace and revert back to coal for a
spell. How’s that for one way of beating the fuel-oil,
price-rise racket? When we run out of coal, we can switch over to
the oil, now that we have that tank filled. But not until then. For
coal is hard to beat for all-around comfort on those colder days,
despite the work of heaving black lumps of Kentucky lignite and
carrying out a few ashes. I just try to imagine we’re out at
some engine reunion, filling the gaping firebox and then snuggle up
to the big ‘boiler’ and get really thawed out.

As the wife says, ‘My mother always said, ‘Don’t put
all your eggs in one basket. And don’t limit your house to one,
single fuel!.’ That’s why we run part of the household on
electricity, do our cooking with propane and heat the place with
either coal or fuel oil whichever happens to be available and in
abundance at the moment.

In His wisdom, God has supplied man with a variety of fuels in
abundance throughout the earth. Whenever any one nation decides to
monopolize some form of that fuel, other fuels have been supplied
to draw from, provided man has worked out a means and a way. But
good will is also needed in order to accomplish this, especially
when one nation must draw from another nation its energy supply.
Without God’s good will, man’s will becomes bad. But God
has always tried to reason with man in order to help him, and bless
him with supply. He has never tried to force man to change his
will. For God knows that ‘A man convinced against his will is
of the same opinion still.’

Man’s will is often his greatest stumbling block to that
fuller life which is God’s will. Maybe yet, if the gas shortage
lasts long enough, man will learn better to get along with his
neighbor and reap God’s blessing therein. And, if worse comes
to worse, a feller could just up ‘n buy a horse.

In the latest issue of ORGANIC GARDENING, we read this reprint
from THE DRAFT HORSE JOURNAL, 1973 Autumn issue; entitled, THE
ECONOMICS OF HORSES VS. TRACTORS. ‘An Illinois farmer who owns
a $9,000 diesel tractor recently compared his costs of operation
with that of his Belgian horses.

‘His tractor burns 40 gallons of diesel fuel a day $6.40
plus the cost of maintenance and the cost of depreciation which
will reduce the value of the tractor to very little within 10 to 15

‘But a working horse does fine on 17 cents’ worth of
oats and 18 cents’ worth of hay a day, plus night foraging in
the pasture. He supplies 10 tons of fertilizer a year for the land.
Before he grows too old to work, he’ll produce his own
replacement, plus others for resale. He can do a full day’s
work for up to 16 years.’

The ORGANIC GARDENING goes on to state that, with today’s
stress on saving energy, it becomes possible to see the draft horse
re-entering the field of agriculture. ‘Horses have certain
advantages over tractors. They can be used safely on steep ground
where a tractor would be either dangerous or useless. A horse
farmer can get into his fields more quickly after rain than can a
tractor farmer. And horses do not pack the ground as much as
tractors. It is generally acknowledged among the tobacco growers of
my area of Kentucky that the work of horse-drawn cultivating plows
has never been equalled by any tractor,’ writes Wendell Barry.
‘Beyond these practicalities, there is the satisfaction that
one gets from working a good team. A tractor may be handy, always
ready to use, untiring, enormously powerful; but it is not alive
and that is a great difference. Working with horses is a sort of
social event.’

‘And when the day’s work is finished, to stable the team
and water and feed them well, or to turn them out onto good
pasture, is a comfort and a fulfillment. Between a farmer and a
team there exists a sort of fellow feeling that is impossible
between a farmer and a tractor, and for me that rates as a
considerable advantage.’

He goes on to explain that, with a tractor, the roar of the
motor all day in your ears makes you lose an awareness of other
life going on around you. With horses you can hear the wind blowing
and the birds singing and all the rest of the stirrings and the
goings on of the countryside.’

I know a tractor farmer who bought himself a beautiful young
draft horse, which he allows the free run of the barnyard just to
make a pet of. He calls its name, it runs up to him to get its nose
rubbed and a handful of oats. It doesn’t have to do a bit of
work except graze on green grass the whole day through and come
running for its nose-rub whenever he calls. The horse loves it, and
so does the man. And it’s a sort of extra-marital social event
which even his wife approves his indulgence in, and therefore
devoid of any legal entanglements. The man never steps out on his
wife, or spends the evenings at a bar with his nose in the froth.
Yet he has more fun and socializing than any of the fellows who

‘I just like to have this horse around it’s so beautiful
and friendly,’ says Tarlton Thornburg. (Which is more than most
fellows who chase around after other things can brag about.)

If Uncle Elmer Ritzman was still among us, he’d probably be
getting out a DRAFT HORSE ALBUM and begin preaching up a storm on
the virtues of God’s four-legged hay-burning ‘tractors’
that breathe fire like steam engines on cold wintry morns. And now,
before some horse decides to kick me, I’ll finalize this
diatribe, if I can locate the period-button, rip it out of my
typewriter and skidoo.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment