A Firefighter’s Steamer
(Page 8 of 10)
A recent boiler explosion at a state fair had really brought to light how an inexperienced hand could needlessly cause injury and harm to others. Since I had no experience to draw on, I was really torn. I was anxious to run my steamer, yet I wanted to do it in a safe manner. I was very fortunate to read about a steam school in Brooks, Ore., and when I called for information I found they would be holding their annual school in only two months. For that long I could be patient. In fact, it was during this time that my dad visited to see how the project looked.
As pleased as he was, he couldn’t help but notice that one of the front wheels was really crooked. This and other damage came from the engine’s first trip from Billings to Nye, Mont., in 1912. While crossing a stream the bridge collapsed, and the evidence from this accident was not yet repaired. Dad figured since he had trued up many bicycle wheels this one couldn’t be much harder. Lots of elbow grease and penetrating lubricant proved him right, and the wheel now looks much better. Dad also built me a custom 1912 Case step for the side of the steamer.
Two months passed in a flash, and the steam school was wonderful. There were about 20 of us attending and we learned about the safe operation of a steamer from front to back. Best of all it turned out they had nearly the identical twin to my engine – a 1911 Case 75 HP! By the second day we were all happily clanking around and blowing whistles, grinning from ear to ear. It was interesting to note that of all the people, none of them owned a steam engine.
Most were there to be certified so that at the Great Oregon Steam-up, Brooks, they could operate Antique Powerland’s own rolling stock. So it felt pretty good to be driving home to my own freshly rebuilt engine.
To say I was excited just doesn’t begin to cover the accomplishment of rebuilding the Case. It took several years of perseverance, a commitment of funds and the enduring support of my wife, Dianne, to make this day happen. But when the next Sunday rolled around I was finally ready. Following the procedures I had learned at Brooks and in the Case manual, I precisely filled the boiler and water tank, lubed everything, carefully made a fire in the firebox and watched as a small tendril of smoke made its way out of the smokestack for the first time in more than 50 years. Such a joyful feeling.
As winter rain fell, bit by bit the boiler warmed, the fire grew and the pressure slowly built on the steam gauge. The unmistakable smell of wet steam and ash surrounded the engine with its sweet aroma. A turn of the blower knob and the steam hissed up the stack, a cloud of vapor to mark the occasion. Like the whole rebuilding process, the firing of the Case I named after George took patience. The metal sang, the fire popped and the pressure grew. And finally, after all, I blew the whistle, opened the cylinder cocks, set the reverse lever and opened the throttle. As silently and smoothly as you can possibly imagine, the piston moved and the flywheel turned. Just like that, the Case steam engine that sat frozen in time for five decades was alive again.
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