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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Steam Up!

I spent a very enjoyable Saturday on Labor Day weekend at the 2013 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, a celebration of farm power from the early days of mechanization. The main attractions for me were the steamers – traction engines, locomotives, and stationary engines – but there was much else of interest...

...including this carousel powered by a stationary steam engine and accompanied by music from a Wurlitzer mechanical military band. You might want to let the following video play while you scroll through the rest of the photos.

I arrived shortly after the gates opened, early enough to wander around while the steam traction engine (precursors to today's tractors) and locomotive crews were firing up their equipment for the day. The fireboxes are fueled with wood or oil to raise stream in the boilers that power the pistons.

Most of the farm engines were rated in the 25-40 horsepower range, but this giant Case was 110 horsepower, with drive wheels four-feet wide and eight-feet diameter.

This is a Kelly Springfield roller for road construction, beautifully restored.

The reunion grounds are a permanent museum surrounded by narrow gauge railroad tracks, and there is an excellent collection of locomotives and rolling stock. This locomotive is wood fired.

This locomotive is oil fired.

This is the famous Westinghouse air brake unit that revolutionized railroad safety by "failing on".

At the height of the steam railroad era, all sorts of curious vehicles were made to travel the rails, including this hack of a Ford Model A.

Most of the uses to which farm traction engines were put involved driving accessory equipment, such as this lumber mill, with belts from power take-offs.

This Advance-Rumely was powering the mill.

These are images from the big parade by many of the more than 900 tractors on display, including about 80 steamers.

I attended the tractor pull competition, which involves pulling a special sled that continuously adds effective weight to the tractor's drawbar, to see how far it can go. This recording captures a remarkable bit of work by a traction engine operator as he changes gears on the fly to win the event.

Here's a larger image of competitors lining up for the tractor pull.

During the steam era, stationary engines had many uses, from generating electricity to pumping water to air blowing to driving line shafts that could run an entire machine shop. The steam for all the engines in this building is provided by a central boiler.

This next set of images is from the threshing exhibition, separating feed grains from the surrounding chaff and attached straw.

This is a traction engine-driven veneer mill that shaves long layers just a few millimeters thick from rolling butts of timber.

Steam power never completely replaced horse power on the farm; that didn't occur until gasoline, diesel, and electricity became ubiquitous in the 1940s and '50s. This is a well drilling rig from about 1910. It can bore a 36-inch diameter well to a depth of 120 feet. The horse in this exhibition amazed me for being so attuned to his human partner operating the rig. The man was giving a running commentary to the audience as he and his assistant lowered and raised the bucket, attached and detached drill shafts, emptied and cleaned the bucket. Amidst his patter he would issue one-word commands to the horse who responded instantly and without error; he knew exactly what speech was for him and what was for others. Working animal partners have almost vanished today; we live in a thoroughly human-focused world.

1 comment:

  1. The photos, commentary and sounds took me back to the times we were able to spend that Labor Day weekend at the Steam Up. The sharpness of the images almost made the smell come through!!


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