New communication methods for old iron


Due to infirmities, I have missed several steam shows this season and will most likely miss some more as the season is quite young yet.


My daughter, in her 20s, is serving with the Army in the near east, close to where some hostilities have occurred. One of the things I have been impressed with is the ease of communicating with her some thousands of miles and seven hours away.

We do have to take care of the time differential, but otherwise she might be next door when she rings my telephone.

Earlier times

I have thought a lot about the situation and how different things were in earlier war times, and peace times, too, for that matter.

I had some distant cousins and a great-grandfather in the Civil War and a few handwritten letters survive. I am quite sure that was about it for news coming back from the front lines.

The electric telegraph was developed in the 1840s and was in operation for the military, but not likely for the common foot soldier.

Samuel F.B Morse sent the first long-distance message between Washington and Baltimore in May of 1844 and set up the Morse code which bears his name yet today.

Several others who worked with electricity contributed to these developments, including Thomas Edison.

Modern times

The wars of the 20th century had much-improved systems of communications, but nothing to compare with today’s airwaves.

Modern electronics have eliminated the need for wires and most signals are carried by radio waves. This has the disadvantage that the signals can be intercepted with the right tuners and so secrecy or security gets a bit more difficult.

Steam shows

You may be wondering what all this has to do with steam shows. Here’s the point: I spend several hours most days watching steam shows on my computer, both foreign and domestic. I am quite impressed with so many 2017 shows appearing on the internet so quickly, some before the show is finished.

I’m sure some who post material have some pretty sophisticated equipment and know how to set up to post quite promptly. No time needed to develop film and print pictures and all that rot.

Electronic recording and replay have become instant with a lot of miniature equipment. Cell phones now take pictures and videos and they are open for instant replay.

Behind the scenes

One of the scenes that appear in British show sites, as well as American, is the row of portable toilets for the use of patrons.

In the early years, a lot of our shows had outhouses or privies of wood construction. I’ve used some that were OK and others that were pretty bad.


The National Threshers Association, which shows on the Fulton County Fairgrounds in Wauseon, Ohio, just west of Toledo, is a sizeable show I have always enjoyed.

I met a young fellow there named Mark Courson who has taken a lot of pictures and now does a lot of videos. He is one who gets things on the internet quite promptly. I find them on You-Tube.

The parades are almost always filmed at some length, which gives a good idea of what mobile equipment is attending the show.

Threshing normally is included, as it was a major reason for steam power to be used originally.

Sawmilling is another favorite action at most shows and is very interesting.


Different shows have specialities and at Wauseon, nighttime spark shows are a big one. They are done by shoveling an amount of sawdust into a hot coal fire and working the engine hard on a fan or similar load, which pours out a bright stream of sparks from the smokestacks. I have seen three or four in a group and it is a fireworks scene like no other.

In England

The biggest show in England is likely the Great Dorset Steam Fair at Tarrant Hinton. In one posting, the organizer Michael Oliver says they use some 500 acres. That includes the car park, as they call it, and the campsites.

Wood sawing is a feature but the equipment is quite different. Rack saw benches commonly move the log with a hand crank in place of the powered carriage we use in the USA, and some I have seen push the log through by hand.

Logs from a pile are loaded on to the mill with a steam crane on the front of a traction engine. There is quite a lot of activity of various engines, tractors, cars and such moving around including a hill on the path.

One of the means of working the engines is to have a heavy lump of some sort on a trailer pulled by two or three steamers in front and one at the back pushing. The largest is a steam locomotive. The trailer under the loco has 10 axles.

One obvious machine running around is a Stanley Steam car with a mother-in-law seat behind the front two. Sometimes there are two cars, a red one and a green one.

The threshing drum or machine is a bit different too, with more of a vertical flow. That is the sheaves are fed on top and the grain comes out the bottom much like ours.

Another variation is a machine that takes out the grain without breaking up the straw — just how I have not figured out.

The straw is kept for thatching and is bundled at the back by a setup very much like a grain binder and tied and set aside.

Another specialty of the British videos is showing engines on the road going to a show. Some of these are memorial road runs for a past member.

One is titled “Twelve engines going to the GDSF.” I feel confident that normal car traffic does not appreciate the slow lumbering traction engines but it has always been that way over there, so they tolerate it.


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