This letter was sent to us by J. E. Pierce, 171 Aspen Drive, Durango West #2, Durango, Colorado 81301. It was sent by one of the members of the Durango Antique Power Association to President Willie Heyen for the club's newsletter. It should be enjoyable to readers of GEM.
You asked me at the last meeting if I had an interesting story to send so you could send it out to the club members. Well, I've just told this story twice before and swore I'd never tell it again on account of the ridicule and haws-haws I got. But since I joined the old engine club and kind a know some of the members I know they would believe me. Knowing that members of old antique engine clubs are truthful and are accustomed to how old engines operate and how old men remember back over old times, I gave a lot of thought about what happened to me and an old engine.
It was in the spring of 1946 that all this happened I had just come home from the service and thought I'd spend a while with my mom and pop before I went out to get a job. Well, I'll never forget that cold spring morning. Pop said, 'Son we ort to go down and help old man Coberly fix his harness.' Old man Coberly was up in his 80's and Pop was about the only man in that neck of the woods that had any tools for harness fixin'. So we gathered up the anvil and punches and hammers and went down to the old man's house.
Anyway I'm getting a little off of the story I wanted to tell. But while we was down there old man Coberly sent me out to the barn to get some spare leather and some extra tugs. By golly out there in the corn crib was an old gas engine I can't remember the name on it but it was an old one. So before we left that evening I asked the old man if he'd sell that engine. Well, the old man never liked me very much on account of the time me and some other boys snow-balled his old Model-T when he went by the school-house. I remember it splattered up his windshield so bad that he run off in the ditch right there in front of the school. Well, they never did pin it on me but he always knew I was one of the boys who almost caused him to wreck his car.
But back to the engine Pop heard me ask him if he'd sell it. I saw Pop give me the eye to shut up, so I did. Pop knew the old man wouldn't sell that engine to me anyway. So goin' home I asked Pop why he wanted me to shut up. He said, 'Son, I know where they an old engine older than old man Coberly's, if it's still there.'' I thought that was a funny way of put-tin' I the knew where it was if it was still there. Well anyway, Pop said that he remembered an old engine that was in the sheep shed at old Uncle John James chat's down close to the Missouri River there in Missouri.
I forgot to mention that at the beginning Mom and Pop raised us on a farm in Livingston County in north Missouri. There was three of us boys and two girls I was next to the youngest but that ain't part of the story. Pop said he would call Cousin Albert James and have him go over to Uncle John's and see if the old engine was still in the the corner of the old sheep shed. I said, 'Pop, lets call Albert right this evening if we can get through on that old country line.' Well, Pop got the call through the very first time he tried. Cousin Albert said he knew that engine was still there because he saw it there back in the fall when one of his cows was having a calf in there. Cousin Albert was Pop's first cousin, or maybe second cousin, I don't remember.
But back to the story Pop said we'd be down there soon if Albert would consider partin' with the engine. Cousin Albert said he didn't want it and Uncle John didn't either because he had been dead for about 23 years by then. Well anyway, I told Pop we sure had to go down there the very next morning after chore time. We left bright and early the next morning in Pop's old '36 Chevy car. He didn't want to go right that day because it had been raining for over a week and them roads down there in that country was all clay and sure slick. But we went and got to Cousin Albert's about noon. Figured we would have dinner with them but they wasn't home guess they didn't think we would come in all that rain. Well, I thought I'd never get Pop hurried up to go on over to old Uncle John's and get that engine. I did the driving because Pop drove too slow-he told me we'd sure have to watch that last mile of mud up to Uncle John's house. Well, I made it alright but I almost slipped off into a big gully where Pop used to kill copperheads when he was a boy. When we got up to the barn-lot gate, Pop said, 'Let's put the car right up there on the grass where we can get a good start when we leave.'
I parked the car and I guess in my excitement I forgot to turn off the key. I made a run for the barn, and boy was that lot muddy and nasty! Pop had to stop and go back and turn off the key and then he hollered at me and said, 'Not the barn dang it, out there in the old sheep shed.' We made it through all that mud out to the shed and it wasn't so bad inside, except we had to chase six old dry cows out so we could get into the back of the shed. Danged old fool cows spooked and splashed mud and manure all over me when they came out. You know, that old shed was packed up so full of old be ddin' and manure that we had to duck to get to the back.
'Pop, I don't see any old engine in here,' I said. 'I think someone else has already beat us to it.' Pop said to get that old stubby pitch fork down out of the rafters and to move some of the mess out of this corner because best as he could remember it was right here the last time he saw it. He told me that he and Cousin Albert had to go and help Uncle John one night when the ewes were lambin' and they set the lantern up on the old engine right there in the corner. Well, Pop started moving out some of the old dirty beddin' and dry manure it was the only spot in the shed where the roof hadn't leaked or old cows hadn't peed. All of a sudden Pop said, 'Son, I believe I hit something right here.'
Well, I couldn't stand it no longer so I grabbed the old fork out of Pop's hands and really started movin' out the straw and stuff. Guess I was kind a excited 'cause I had to move one pile of fresh cow manure. I gave it a big throw to one side and back of me and hit Pop right where his overalls was un bottoned on the side. Pop never did button his overalls on the side said they gripped him there 'cause they was too tight. Well, when that pile hit Pop he started cussin' and said, 'Dang it, slow down. That engine isn't go in' anywhere and besides, if you break that old pitchfork, we'll never get it dug out.'
I tried to slow down and about that time I told Pop that there was some kind of rubber sheet or something over the engine and Pop looked at it and told me he remembered that was the same old rubber slicker Uncle John had in there the night the ewes were lambin'. It was all stiff with age figured that night they was helpin' Uncle John was back in 1916 or 1917. You can see why that old raincoat was stiff. Well, I finally started pulling it back over the water tank on that old engine and was just beginning to peek under it, and danged if a whole pack of mice started running out right in my face. I squalled out and jumped back 'cause I first thought of all those copperheads Pop used to kill right close. My feet slipped out from under me in the excitement and I sure did mess up my good GI woolen britches, not to mention the mess I'd already made of my new GI shoes they had issued me when I was discharged. I took some dry straw and wiped off my britches best I could and went back to the engine. By that time Pop had pulled the old slicker plum off and was just standin' there. And I couldn't believe my eyes that old engine looked as new as if it had just been covered up the day before.
'Pop, did you ever see anything like that?' He said he'd see if the flywheels would turn over. He took hold of one and felt it turn real easy. He said, 'By golly, it still has good compression.' I still just stood there with my mouth open. Pop told me to hand him a crank and he'd see if it would turn over all the way. He had a time gettin' that old rusty crank on the shaft the crank had been laying out from under the rain coat and was in bad shape. He finally got the crank in place and told me to hold my hand on the intake valve so it would turn over easy. I did and he gave her a spin and I accidentally put my hand on the spark plug. With those wet knees of mine from all that fresh cow manure I got the goldurndest shock I ever had. But that wasn't half the story. That old engine fired just as soon as I jumped back from that valve. Pop fell over backwards and squalled out that he had broke his arm for sure. That old rusty crank wouldn't let loose and when it came around it hit Pop's arm.
The next thing, Pop was hollerin' to shut her off. She'll set the shed on fire. Well, danged if I didn't get my hand on the spark plug the second time. But I did get her shut down real quick. Course I had to go over and help Pop up. He had sure messed up his overalls and jacket when he fell backwards in that old wet manure! I started hollerin' about how that old engine started after all those years and Pop said 'Dang that engine get me in the car and to the doctor.' There was a town about 10 miles west so I helped Pop out to the car.
Well, I finally got him to the doctor's office. When we went in there was a couple of men and one woman in the waiting room but I told the nurse there behind the desk that we sure had to see the doctor right now. I guess I was talking pretty loud 'cause the old doctor came out in the waiting room and asked what the matter was. I started to tell all about Pop crankin' up that old engine out at Uncle John James' sheep shed and how it started after all those years and the crank busted Pop's arm. Well he said 'Come on in the back room' to Pop but for me to stay out there on account of the shape of my shoes and britches guess he hadn't seen Pop's overalls yet. Anyway he brought me out one of those old iron back chairs like they had in the soda fountains but this one didn't have no bottom in it guess he'd been usin' it to hold a flower pot or something. Well I noticed about that time as I was scraping my shoes with my pocket knife that that woman and them two men got up and left. I just supposed the smell there in the waiting room was botherin' them. Anyway in about a half-hour Pop came out of the back room and the doctor had put his arm in a sling. Said it weren't broke just hurt some. Pop looked like he was dying but I wasn't worryin' too much about him as I was about gettin' back out there to that old engine. So I told Pop to hurry and we'd get back out to Uncle John's and load that engine and get back home. I knew it would be in the dark getting home and I sure hated doing the chores by lantern.
Well it didn't take me long to make that 10 miles back out there to Uncle John's house well not house just barn and sheds the old house had burned up about 20 years before that. Cousin Albert said some tramp likely burned it down or it could have been 'coon hunters sometimes they get all liquored up and get pretty careless. Anyway back to the story I drove up that muddy road real careful past that copper-head gulley and right up to the barn lot gate. I told Pop I'd try to back up as close to the shed as I could and I was sure I could load that old engine by myself. I knowed Pop wouldn't be any help with that one arm in a sling.
Well now, here comes the saddest part of the story and I guess the saddest thing ever to happen to me when I went inside that shed, you know, that old engine was gone! There wasn't nothing left there but that old yeller slicker and that old busted fork. I had sense enough then to see those tracks. Two fellers with feet as big as # 14 4-buckle over-shoes on had carried that old engine out of there and right out to the lot gate where they had loaded it in a car and gone. Well I never felt like bawlin' so much in my life as I did right then. It was sure a long old trip back home that evening.
Well I went back down in that country a number of times asking around if they's anyone who knew anything about an old engine and I never heard nothing ever a time.
Now like I said at the beginning, Willie, I wouldn't have told this story except I knew there was someone, sometime who would believe me in the old engine club. In case there's anyone who don't believe me I can take them back there and show them the old shed where the engine was dug out. And I bet that old slicker is still there as more proof.
Willie, I sure hope you'll print this true story cause it has been cooped up in me so long it was hurtin'. So long and I'll see you at the next meetin'.
Old Warren Grace
P.S. Right after this true story happened, I told a feller about it and he said he believed it 'cause if old Warren Grace was that full of gas he sposed that old engine would have been also.