WATER BOY


| November/December 1973



Corliss engine

Ralph Donaldson

D.D.S. 401 South Adams Street Boswell, Indiana 47921

Of all the unsung heroes of the big threshing rings of other days, no mention or due credit is ever given the water boy, and we are of the opinion (and we know others will agree) that his job was just as important as that of the engineer, separator man, bundle-hauler, pitcher or grain hauler. The water boy had to be able to do almost a man's work, yet he usually was a local farm boy, perhaps the son of one of the members of the ring, perhaps ten to fifteen years of age. Any boy over that age would certainly be doing a man's work during the threshing season with a team and wagon. Actually, a good water boy was one not inclined to play, but realized what fresh drinking water meant to the men who performed their various jobs during the day.

An enterprising farm boy who wanted to earn approximately 50c a day always made the rounds of the farmers in the ring as early as possible in the summer and lined up as many jobs as he cared to handle. There was always competition, for most neighboring farmers also had sons or relatives who also wanted to earn a little pocket money. Of course, the job on Dad's or the home farm was always 'for free', but in my case there was one uncle who had two daughters (girls never hauled water), two other uncles had no children, and another uncle had a son (my cousin) but he was old enough to run a bundle wagon. Also there was the possibility of getting a few jobs from other farmers in the ring.

Dad was very generous and he gave me the free use of his best driving horse and our second best buggy. But I also received some very strict orders from him and I knew I had better follow them to the letter or receive the consequences. There was to be no 'fooling around' at any time, up at 4:00 AM, off to the threshing job at 6:00. All jugs and kegs were to be emptied completely and filled with fresh, cool water each time after I had made the rounds of the pitchers in the fields, scoopers, bundle haulers, and always a fresh jug of water at the engine and another at the separator. And that went on continually all day long. If not, then we 'heard' from Dad and there were mutterings and louder complaints from others that 'that so and so water boy isn't worth a d-----' But the average farm boy knew and did what was a good job. After all, his pay, reputation, and future jobs were at stake. Usually it was the 'town boys' who never quite seemed to want to work too hard or who never understood just what fresh water meant to tired, sweating threshermen on a hot August day.

This is a picture of the Hamilton Corliss engine which supplied 110 volts direct current for the village of Brooklyn from 1903 to 1925. The man is George Green the owner and manager. . Electricity was then used principally for lighting, so the plant was started each day at dusk and operated until midnight, when the towns people had better be in bed or have the kerosene lamps lighted. Mr. Paul Totten of Brooklyn, who gave me this picture, told me that when they were having a dance in the hall that was adjacent to the power house, they would sometimes take up a collection and give the operating engineer a few dollars to keep the lights on for one more hour.

I remember watching in fascination this engine run, and how they kept the power house spick-and-span and the engine polished. It was broken up for scrap about 1934. Courtesy of Ralph Donaldson, 10275 Case Rd., Brooklyn, Michigan 49230.