ZZ Geiser steam engine may be the only complete one left, according to owner.
Engine in Blue Boddie's shed.
Governor's Grant Farm, RFD #2 Clarksville, Tennessee 37040
The ZZ Geiser steam engine featured on this issue's cover is owned by Frank G. Children, Governor's Grant Farm, RFD #2, Clarksville, Tennessee 37040. See story this issue about the Childers' engine.
All my life I had heard tales about Blue and Lanier Boddie of Lafayette, Kentucky. Most especially I had heard of their three thousand plus acres of fertile farmland and Malcolm (Blue) Boddie's huge steam engine. Naturally, I was quite excited when one beautiful fall day in the early sixties my good friend, Wallace Freeman, of Cadiz, Kentucky, suggested we go by and look at the engine.
As we drove out Highway 107, Mr. Freeman told me the Boddie Brothers had divided their big farm in half and that neither had ever married. He said the story was that the two brothers only got together once a year at Christmas time when they would spend a few nights together in the old house built by their great grandfather in the early 1800's. This log and frame home was located on Lanier's side of the farm, but Lanier lived in a two-room cabin in the front yard. We turned off Highway 107 onto a narrow gravel road and soon approached a frame tenant house on the left, a long pole shed on the right, and Blue's house just beyond the shed. Blue lived in what was said to have been an old corn crib. It appeared to be one room covered with very weathered rough oak siding and a tin roof. There were a few concrete blocks on the roof to hold down the tin where the wind had blown it loose. The small porch was piled high with all manner of scrap iron and junk.
Wallace Freeman and I were sitting in the truck in the middle of the road taking it all in when a man in overalls and an old hat came out of the tenant house holding a very long butcher's knife. 'Ain't no loafers allowed 'round here,' the man said as he approached our truck feeling the edge of the knife with his thumb. Thank goodness, Wallace knew Mr. Dawson, and we were told we could look at the engine. Unfortunately Mr. Boddie wasn't at home.
The engine was in the pole shed. The shed must have been built after the engine was in place as the canopy was right against the sloping rafters. The shed was crammed full of old equipment including what was left of the big Frick sawmill the engine used to pull. The smoke box door told us the engine was a Geiser, made in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. It was later determined to be a model ZZ, serial #12478,120 HP, manufactured in 1907. At that time it was the biggest engine I had ever seen. It mean sured 23 feet long. I ran a tape in a flue and found it to be 127' long. There were, however, only 64 tubes, which isn't a lot for so large a boiler. The right front wheel was removed and leaning against a post. The axle was supported by a concrete pillar.
The wheel had been removed to keep the belt from rubbing when the engine was belted to the sawmill. The other three wheels were mounted in concrete. The concrete had been poured under the wheels and around the bottom of the rims. On the left side, there was a solid concrete pier from front wheel to back wheel about a foot thick! This was later to prove quite a problem.
On the way back, Wallace and I drove down the lane toward Lanier's house past numerous large 'Keep Out' signs. We came to a locked gate, but we could see the main house, Lanier's cabin, and another sawmill shed full of iron wheeled tractors. Not wishing to press our luck, we headed home.
Blue Boddie passed away in the late 60's or early 70's. Lanier died in 1978. About the 1st of October, 1978, the phone rang, and it was my good friend Eugene Fears of Pembroke, Kentucky. He said that Mr. Lanier had died without a will, that the First City Bank of Hopkinsville was administrator, and that Mr. Clarence Walker, then a Vice President of the Bank, wanted us to inventory all the equipment on the Boddie Farm. I was then and still am President of the Tennessee-Kentucky Threshermens Association of Adams, Tennessee. Gene was a Director of the Association and a long-time collector of antique equipment and tools. I was so excited I could hardly sleep that night.
We met Mr. Walker and Mr. White, the bank's attorney, at the farm and proceeded to list and identify the major items. This took about a week. Mr. White then said he would like for us to get all the equipment out and line it up for an auction sale in early December.
The Boddies never threw anything away. They were both hermits especially Lanier. He rarely left the farm and kept several buildings full of spare parts. Gene and I made around 150 wooden boxes that we piled full of nuts, bolts, cogs, belts gears, and parts of every description. We found 18 antique tractors including 2 Fordsons, 5 IHC WK 40's, 2 IHC 22-36's, 2 Farmall Regulars, and 2 old Olivers. In addition to the Geiser, we found a Huber return flue engine, a Gaar Scott portable engine, and a J. I. Case- portable boiler (serial #435). There were two automobilesa 1930 Chevrolet 4-door and a 1931 Model A Roadster that had been converted into a truck.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing we found was the set of extension rims for the big engine. We found them about two miles from the engine in an old fence row. A big tree had grown up around one of them, but they were still in fine condition.
One of the first things Gene and I did was to take the brass whistle off the Geiser. It is not the original but a larger one Blue had bought years ago. Mr. Dawson came out and protested our removing it. Remembering his knife, I promised him it would be there sale day and go to the purchaser of the engine. We sold the engine where it was because part of the shed had collapsed on it, and we were afraid the whole building would fall down before we could get it out. Also, it was still mounted in concrete. The only reason we could see for this was to keep the engine from rocking under load. This was a bad idea as will be pointed out later.
The sale was set for Tuesday, December 5th, and Wednesday, December 6th. The Lord was with us as both days were warm and sunny.
Finally, the big day arrived. A good friend, Mr. Tandy Richardson of Clarksville, Tennessee, promised he would move the Geiser home for me if I got it. Mr. Tandy is in the heavy equipment and construction business. I got there early. The whistle was in a tow sack in the floorboards of my truck. Mr. Dawson didn't believe I had it and demanded to see it. The sale started at 10:00 a.m., and the auctioneer's truck started down the rows Gene and I had laid out. Most of the items had been lined up at Lanier's and the plan was to sell the Geiser around noon and then move from Blue's to the other side of the farm. Shortly after the sale started, a man I'd never seen before came up and said, 'That big engine is going to require a lot of boiler work. The crown sheet is warped real bad!' Little did he know that I had been in the firebox with a flashlight while Gene held on to my feet. Just to get even, I pointed out a tall, well-dressed man over by the shed and said, 'There's the man to watch. He's from some big museum.' In fact, the man I pointed out was Ben Sory Weakley, my neighbor. I had asked him to bid on the engine for me as I was an official in the sale.
Around 11:30, the auctioneer and the crowd moved to the shed. There were about five bidders bidding on the Geiser. At around $13,000, there were only two left Ben Sory and another man. Every time the other man would bid, Ben Sory would calmly raise him without pausing a second. At $18,000, it was all over. The other man walked away, and the engine was mine. Several people in the crowd could be heard saying some museum had bought it, and no individual had a chance as money was no object! I had told Ben Sory to stop at $20,000.
About a week after the sale, Gene Fears and I started getting the engine ready to be moved. Gene had a jack hammer, and we rented an air compressor and another hammer. According to Gene, concrete is its hardest after 50 years. I believe it as this was poured around 1924. The concrete had been mixed using flint rock, some about the size of my fist. We had to hold the jack hammers sideways to get in under the wheels. Everyone should try this just once! The next job was to remove the old canopy; but, first, the shed had to be propped up. The top of the canopy was covered with dust from the road and raccoon droppings. Next, we tore away part of the shed that had fallen in at the front of the Geiser. Mr. Tandy was notified. His nephew and partner, Jim Paul Richardson, got there early one morning just before Christmas. It was misting rain; and fortunately, he brought a bulldozer with him to pull the engine out. The engine hadn't moved in at least fifty years, so we hitched a cable on the back wheel to be certain it would roll without pulling the front bolster off the boiler. The tracks on the bulldozer began to slip, and then the big wheel began to roll. What a relief! We then hooked to the front and eased out of the shed. The ground was getting wet, and it was about all the bulldozer could do to move the engine. Jim Paul had a winch on his lowboy, but the front wheels, especially the left one, were flopping from side-to-side. The wheels couldn't move in the concrete, and the hubs had been hammered egg shaped. Twice we had to scoot the front end over on the lowboy to keep the engine from falling off.
In April, I cut all the old tubes out of the boiler and had the engine sandblasted. This was a mistake as I then had to remove the crankshaft and gearing and clean out all the sand. Both pistons were stuck, and we tried everything we could think of to get them loose. Finally, in desperation, I cut a big fence post at an angle to fit the head of the pistons squarely (the post was offset because of the steam dome) and drove them back with a sledgehammer. The next step was to get Mr. Clark of the Boiler Inspection Division of the Department of Labor in Nashville down to inspect the boiler with the tubes removed. He passed it with flying colors. His only requirement was that I replace the old 160 pound pop valve with a new 150 pound valve. He also said the boiler would have to be cold water tested after I got the new tubes installed.
Before the engine was sandblasted, some hints of the old paint could be made out as well as some of the old pinstriping. I noted this, as best I could and painted everything but the boiler with Rustoleum primer. The boiler was covered with high-heat black; then the colors put on over the primer. An artist friend named Mike Carter did the lettering and pinstriping. By now, my four-year-old son, Glenn, had taken a liking to the Geiser, and I painted his name on the back as owner and gave him the engine. Needless to say, he is very proud of it. All the black pipe on the exterior of the boiler had to be replaced. There is one, one inch injector and a steam pump that mounts on the top of the left water tank.
The Geiser was fired up for the first time in the spring of 1981. Most of the steam buffs from the Adams Show were on hand. It was a day we will all remember, especially Gene Fears and myself. Mr. Tandy and Jim Paul hauled the engine to Adams for the Show in 1981. It was a real crowd pleaser. The Geiser is so big and heavy that I don't know whether I'll try to take it to the Show again or not. Our Association doesn't own large enough equipment to handle it, and it is quite an imposition on the Richard sons after all they have done. Also, I have a horror of it having an accident.
As far as I know, this is the only complete ZZ Geiser left. The engine featured in the September-October 1983 issue of IMA is, of course, a ZZ Geiser. The Z3 has a round front axle and a heavier front bolster than the ZZ. I am told it also has an additional gear in the rear drive giving it an additional 5 HP on the drawbar. The engine pictured on page 7 of the January-February 1984 issue is a ZZ Geiser. It is almost exactly like mine except for the square tank mounted on the front.
In closing I would like to invite each and everyone of you to attend the Tennessee-Kentucky Threshermens Association Annual Show the third weekend of July at Adams, Tennessee. We will try to make you feel at home.