blivet 4/18/2000 It was a dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night

[Archived Memories of America’s Past] One of The Library of Congress’s searchable archives is called American Memories. I have a strong childhood memory of a man and woman who saw a world and a way of life that is now long gone, but that I was fortunate enough to have them share a bit of with me. I did a search for threshing machines and came up with some great images of steam engines plowing and running separators during wheat harvest.

Those images remind me of my maternal grandparents, Lovell and Naomi (Aldrene) Boyle. They farmed in eastern Kansas in the Twenties and part of the Thirties. Grandpa was very nostalgic about those days after his first heart attack and retired. He taught me about machinery and how to work on machines. He was one of those guys that could fix anything. In the early 1950s Grandpa became the Head Reciprocating (probably misspelled) Flightline Mechanic at Forbes Air Force Base (now closed) in Topeka, about 40 miles away. I remember he used to drive a ’54 Packard Pantheon to work.

He and Grandma took me to Threshing Bees on the weekends in the summer from about the time I was 4 or 5. That was about 1960. We went to Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa, as well as all over Kansas. A lot of his stuff ended up in the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas. The farm is now under Pomona Lake, a Corps of Engineers reservoir. He never let me forget that my first archaeology job was on a Corps of Engineers project. “You’re helping those bastards steal somebody else’s farm!” Then he would smile, so I knew it was ‘ha, ha, only serious’.

For a while I was qualified to be a licensed industrial steam boiler operator in the state of Kansas. I wasn’t licensed even though I passed the exam because at 15, I was too young, but satisfied some nervous folks when the old men thought I was capable and experienced enough to run an engine on my own.

I was an Engineer at the McLouth show for four years, Ft. Scott for two, Platte City for three, and at the Hamilton show for three years. Grandpa and I were the Grand Marshalls of the McLouth parade in 1972, we were running Wesley Sylvester’s [of Ottawa, KS] 60 horse Avery Undermount. That’s 180 horses at the belt [later: I think more like 150 horses, I don’t think it was a straight 3x], 60 at the drawbar.

It was a HUGE engine, even for the time, the size of a railroad locomotive. Remember, this is external combustion so you had maximum torque at all times (the torque curve was -compared to a gas engine- almost flat), so it didn’t rely on crankshaft revolutions for power. The torque was always there, just crack the throttle (easy!) under load and away you went. The drive wheels were 12 feet tall and it could pull 36 two-bottom (a pair of) 28 inch breaking plows. It literally took an area the size of a baseball diamond to maneuver the thing [OK, not quite] and if you fell out of the cab, the fall alone could hurt you. how do you know that? heh.

There was a couple of other shows in Missouri, but I can’t remember the cities they were in [Warsaw?]. Those archive pictures have me sitting here feeling real nostalgic for my Grandparents and the things we did together … You wouldn’t believe how good hot tallow, gear grease and coal smoke can smell. Tallow is fat that was added to steam cylinder oil.

I remember a lot of old guys that are all gone now – Earl Ritzman, Haston StClair, Del Seuser, Robert Kirkpatrick and I remember a lot more faces whose names won’t come. The machinery of that era was a self-propelled environmental disaster, but my god it was a rush to run machinery like that!

That was a steampunks wet dream. I suppose I might be one of a very few people who knows some of that stuff now.

[Passings] Edward Gorey, the writer and illustrator, died on Saturday at age 75. In addition, Actor Larry Linville, who portrayed Maj. Frank Burns on M*A*S*H for five years and since in syndication, died last Tuesday at age 60. <sigh>

[CNN] CNN has a story about recent photographs of Area 51 (Dreamland, “The Box”, whatever) that were shot by a satellite launched by Aerial Images Inc. (a private company) and the Russian Space Agency. They are high quality and show everything from buses and hangars to an aircraft covered with a tarp. If you’re suspicious of the planet of origin of this aircraft, the BBC has a story too, link via slashdot.

The desert was very windy last night. It was also trash night on our street, so there was a lot of noise as trash cans got blown around and strewn through the neighborhood. Plus, the dust bothers me and my sinuses are at about 125 PSI this morning, ugh.

[edits for a large number of spelling errors]

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Hal

I am the non-admin personality of blivet tool & die I have been academically trained as a professional archaeologist (MA, RPA) and now live in Arvada, CO. Father, husband, scientist, geek of several trades, and high-functioning Autistic adult. Future planetary expatriate?