When Steam Was King


| January/February 1986



Kitten Steam Engine

Rt. 2, Box 6 Slaton, Texas 79364

When Steam Was King was the start of our summer trip going back today, touching yesterday's memories, was the beginning of our family vacation. Our family consists of Jerry, Pat, Ann Marie, Kurt, Kristine, and Keith Kitten. To start off, on June 29th we held a Kitten Reunion, and to help celebrate this reunion, Jerry fired up his Kitten #224 steam engine. The Kitten steam engine was manufactured by Florens Kitten, Jerry's triple Great Uncle. Jerry also showed off the Kitten saw mill in action by sawing logs from East Texas. Cameras were a must to catch the Kitten steam engine belching black smoke from the smoke stack, and to take family pictures of history gone by. Both young and old had a great time seeing the Kitten steam engine and Kitten saw mill in action many talking about the time when a Kitten steam engine thresher was used to separate wheat here in Slaton in the 1920's. Many had never seen the machines of yesteryear run, back when Steam was King. There are 139 Kitten families in over 13 states, and there are 50 Kitten families in the Slaton area.

In July, we started out to see more steam engines, threshers, and saw mills run by steam. First stop off was to see Paul Stolzfoos at Leola, Pennsylvania, who is owner of the Kitten steam engine #214. Paul was very glad to have us visit him. He was so learned in all he talked about. He has had several steam engines, but has sold or traded them all except the Kitten engine. We went out to the fairgrounds where the Rough & Tumble Steam Engine Show was to be held the first of August. Paul went on to show us the many steam engines and saw mills that were already on hand for the show and the threshers that were ready to cut wheat for the show. We met Paul's lovely wife Anna and his family. Jerry and Paul stayed up late into the night talking about steam engines. Paul showed us many photos of steam engines that he had owned and of many engines at shows that he has attended.

We left there on Sunday and drove to see Eiffel Plasterer in Huntington, Indiana. Eiffel is the proud owner of Kitten steam engine #219. Eiffel uses his steam engine to make the best pure sorghum you ever tasted. It's a family tradition making good cane molasses every year since 1899. Eiffel has a knowledge from many years of owning and working with steam engines and threshers. We would like to have visited more with Eiffel, but he was on his way to perform at a Bubble Machine Show. Eiffel is an expert on making bubbles.

On to see Al New in Pendleton, Indiana, owner of Kitten Steam Engine #220. We stopped to visit with Al and he informed us that his Kitten steam engine was already at the Rushville Steam Engine Show. We left Pendleton and drove to Rushville, where the 33rd Annual Steam Engine & Threshers Show was to open August 2, 3, & 4. The highlight of the Rushville Show was that Jerry would be able to drive Al New's Kitten Steam Engine #220 in the parade every day. Every morning all the engineers were out early to start their engines up. You could smell the black smoke coming across the green fields where the campgrounds were filling up with other admirers of steam machinery. The feature steam engine shown at Rushville was the big 110 HP steam Case engine. It was the first time the Case 110 HP steam engine had come to the Rushville Show. When it took its place at the saw mill you could see it standing proud for miles around. At high noon the whistles could be heard for miles around another way of letting people know that Steam is King. The parade at Rushville was a spectacular view of steam engines, water wagons, whistles blowing. One steam engine had as many as 5 different whistles. After the parade was a tractor pull. Stone blocks were put on the back of the tractor and more were added the further the tractor would go. So the tractor that pulled for the most yards was the winner.

On Saturday morning at Rushville, a pipe organ operating on steam was giving beautiful music all over the campgrounds. After the noon whistle blew, the sheep shearing with a tractor operating on steam took place. When nightfall came, all the engineers and their families would get together around a campfire. We needed the campfire not only as it was lovely to look at, but because in August in Rushville, the temperature was in the low 40's. The campfire was the setting for gathering of friends, but only at Rushville would you meet these friends, the most friendly people from miles around Ernie & Vera Glaub (from Cincinnati, Ohio), Roscoe & Helen Shiver decker (Strawberry Plains, Tennessee), Noel & Mary Ertel (Metamora, Indiana), Ken & Dora & Mike Huber (from Connersville, Indiana) and Dwight Wilson (from Metamore, Indiana). All were so very nice to us as we gathered around the fire, ate fried chicken, sang songs (like 'Keep the Home Fires Burning'), and talked about days gone by. We reminisced about the day when steam engines did the work of sawing and threshing, and what pride we heard in their voices of owning and operating a steam engine. When meeting friends like these at steam engine shows, the topic of conversation is always 'When Steam Was King'