Buckeye Memories

Buckeye tiling machine

Content Tools

Rt 1, Box 165 Washington, Iowa 52353.

When I saw the photo and pictures of the Buckeye tiling machine (26/12/41) in the December 1991 GEM, it reminded me of my experiences with a Buckeye.

My dad often said, if we just had a tiling machine we could put some tile on the second bottom land I farmed. It had just a little more tile in it than it had when the white man first conned it off the Indians.

One day-December 14, 1960-we were corning home from a sale and we saw it: a Buckeye tiling machine, located about four miles north of Tipton, Iowa. This was about 70 miles from our homes near Washington, Iowa, but that was a minor detail. It was love at first sight and, as all great lovers, we could not rest until we had possessed the object of our affections. Two days later we located the owner, and Dad paid $400 or $500 for it and it was ours! It was frozen down so we chopped it loose and jacked it up. We hired a man from Columbus junction to haul it home on his low boy truck, got all the permits necessary, and set the big day for the move, December 21.

On the 20th we drove back the 70 miles to get the Buckeye started and ready to load the next day. The temperature was 15 degrees. The old Cat 30 engine would not start so we built a corn cob fire under it to melt the ice and drain the water from the crankcase. Part of the valves were stuck so we took off the valve covers and using Vise-Grips, oil, muscles and strong words, we finally hammered and twisted until the valves were loose. We got the Buckeye started and moving.

The big moving day dawned. The thermometer stood at minus five degrees as we made the 70 mile trip again.

My dad's 1953 jeep pickup leaked air so badly that the heater made little headway and we nearly froze. However, our trip was for nothing as the truck driver drove up without his truck. It had blown a valve through a piston and couldn't be used. The trucker didn't have the Tipton number where the Buckeye was located so he had to drive 60 miles to give us the bad news. We were quite disappointed. The trucker was downright disgusted.

However on January 9, 1961 we made the trip to Tipton for the last time. We arrived on the site at 8:30 a.m., got the machine started and had it loaded by 10:30. We left about an hour later and had our beauty home by 3:30 p.m. The trucker charged $125 for the job. In the excitement of unloading, a gear was split, but we changed the chain to another gear and got it off the truck.

Our machine was basically the same as the one in the December article, except ours had power steering without a steering wheel. The engine had a clutch lever on the back. The rest of the machine had square dog clutches that shifted in and out. The reverse gear box was back of the clutch and if not clutched correctly everything on the machine would run backwards. To use the eight different digging speeds the machine had step sprockets, and the driver had to stop and shift the chain to different sprockets.

Dad rebuilt the track with new wood. We worked on the machine and thought we could make it work, although its overall condition left a lot to be desired. However, we decided to start tiling. A neighbor man said watching us was as good as a trip to the circus. I ran the machine, running all the levers, keeping the machine on the grade, and handing tiles to my young brother. He rode in the shoe and laid the tile. My dad literally ran around the machine and tried to keep the chains and belts on and running straight. We often had engine trouble because the mag would gum up, but we did get some tiling done.

However, we decided it wasn't much faster than using a spade and was a lot more stressful, and since we had a living to earn, we soon abandoned the idea of tiling with the Buckeye. Soon it served as a back lot ornament and a conversation piece.

By 1969 I decided I had stood it long enough and one nice Sunday morning I thought I would move the machine to Dad's farm, about three miles away. I chose a Sunday morning so most of my neighbors would not be home. I had no problem starting it up and slowly moved all 30 feet out onto the road. About the time I had gone through enough gears to get into road gear, about 1-1? mph, the whole machine died in the road. Death proved to be due to a once active grasshopper in the gas line. He wasn't so lively when I found him. My family passed me on their way to church and Sunday School. I continued on my leisurely way. I had to cross a railroad track about halfway to Dad's. At that time this was a main line Rock Island road over which the Golden State Limited had run. When the Buckeye's front steel wheel hit the rail a gear in the power steering broke. I could not leave it on the tracks so I had to let the machine run forwards and ended up in the ditch on the opposite side of the road. The railroad crossing sign was snapped off at ground level. I walked on to Dad's for help. We first tried pulling the Buckeye with he Jeep four-wheel drive pickup, but the pickup wasn't strong enough to pull the Buckeye and couldn't be geared down slow enough to allow the Buckeye to move at road gear and be steered by the pickup. We turned in our pickup and used an old LA Case tractor instead. We had to run the tractor at slow idle gear so that the Buckeye could move at its usual speed. The LA's slowest speed was one mile per hour and even at that rate the tractor was moving too fast for the Buckeye to keep up. The weight of the Buckeye would cause the tractor to lug down. By now my family was home from church and Sunday School and my sons joined in the parade. Even at ages 11 and 12, they had no trouble keeping up. As we were going up the last hill, the gas ran to one end of the fuel tank and the Buckeye died again, and started to coast back down the hill. We quickly set all the brakes the tractor had but to no avail-the Buckeye slowly but surely pulled the tractor down with it. At long last we arrived at Dad's and parked the Buckeye in the orchard where it is yet. It hasn't dug a trench in 22 years although it has been started and moved a time or two.

Later that day I reset the railroad sign. As long as the Rock Island kept up the tracks, whenever I crossed the track and saw that shortened sign, I would remember our times with the Buckeye.