Take the time and read the directions for machines

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I hope you don’t get tired of the old stories I resurrect — I find them fascinating and hope you do too, plus I enjoy passing along these long forgotten experiences to a new crop of readers.

In the November 1916 issue of Gas Power magazine, published in St. Joseph, Mich., appeared this little story sent in by a Louis R. Felio, of Wisconsin.

“I will tell you about my experience with a Northwest threshing outfit in Minnesota, about 32 miles from Stillwater, and how I broke a countershaft.

“I was working on a steam threshing outfit manufactured by the Northwest Thresher Company [Author’s note: The Northwest Thresher Company made threshing machines and steam traction engines in Stillwater, Minnesota, from 1874 until it was bought out by the M. Rumely Company of LaPorte, Indiana in 1912].

“It was one of the larger outfits that the company manufactured at that time I have forgotten how large the separator was, but the engine was a 25 horse power which would be about the same as a 75 horse power gas engine, and it was a straw burner. That was my first experience with a straw-burning engine, and the first job was a long one.

“We stayed three days on that one job from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. at night. We threshed wheat, oats, barley, and flax.”

“Flax straw makes a very hot fire and lasts longer than other straw. The joke was on me though I didn’t clean the ash pit for two days and soon my fire would scarcely burn because there wasn’t sufficient draught.

“When I finally looked in the ash pit it was just about full of ashes, cinders and large clinkers that was a surprise to me as I didn’t think straw would make clinkers.

“After that I cleaned the flues and the ash pit every morning and had no more trouble keeping up 125 pounds of steam.

“Once we had to make a long move at night and decided to take a short cut that would save three or four miles. We had to go down a long steep, sandy and stony hill.

“It was so rough that I had to keep my left foot on the head of the draw pin to keep it from jumping out and allowing the separator to come loose from the engine. In going down the hill the counter shaft must have gotten cracked.

“After getting down the hill I had to run the machine out into a field to miss a small bridge in the road as it wasn’t strong enough to hold the machine. After getting around the bridge I headed back to the road but missed the right spot and had to turn the rig around.

“While doing this, the counter shaft broke and the drivers stopped. We quickly found the break, but there we were about three miles from our next job at 11 p.m. at night. It took us until 3:30 a.m. to get the broken shaft out and the owner went to Stillwater to get a new one.

“The man at the factory gave him the wrong shaft and he had to go the 32 miles back to Stillwater to get the right size.

“However, we didn’t mind very much as it happened to be Sunday. The owner got back that night and we set to work putting the new shaft in place and at 4 a.m. Monday morning we had 100 pounds of steam and were all ready to finish our move. By 7 a.m. we were on the job.”

“So, other than the loss of a lot of sleep, everything turned out O.K., and the next client had his threshing done on time. I guess parts men were as fallible in those days as they are today but a factory man?

Still, the owner did get the parts on a Sunday, something that probably wouldn’t happen today.

From the same magazine another short story titled; “We should have read the instruction book first.”

“The first thing to be done in purchasing a new engine or any piece of machinery which is at all complicated is to study and follow the instructions that come with the machine.”

“A few years ago my brother-in-law purchased a five-horsepower Galloway engine and I was invited to lend my knowledge in getting it ready for its first run. We filled the hopper with water, oiled every part, filled the grease cups and the gas tank.
About the only thing we neglected to do was study the instructions. We got everything ready and began to roll on the flywheels and kept rolling, and once in a while there would be a faint explosion.

“It presently dawned on us that faint explosions were useless in starting the engine, so we stopped to investigate and after a while we concluded that the timing was all wrong.

“We went to work and removed the timing gears and, after a few trials, we got the gears set so that the exhaust valve seemed to open at the right time and the intake valve, being operated by the suction of the piston was left to take care of itself.

“We turned the wheels once more and on the first turn the engine started off and ran as well as any engine could. Of course we felt rather important, thinking we had put one over on the manufacturer’s experts.

“After the engine was running smoothly we decided to read the instructions and there in plain print was the fact that the engine was timed and was meant to be run backwards! That was something we never thought of. However, the engine ran so well that we didn’t go to all the work of changing it back.”

Reading the instructions should, as the man said, be the first thing we do instead of waiting until all else fails, as many of us do.

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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