Idler Pulley

Content Tools

Route 3, Box 3722 Grayling, Michigan 49738

Went to see Charlie Vilas the other day, back in the town of Hadley, Michigan. He had some old pictures there from the home of his parents and one of them really caught my eye. It was an old sepiatoned print and not too clear, but with a magnifying glass I could make out some most interesting details. Would take half a book to get down the whole story related to this I'll just touch on the high spots.

By the way Charlie Vilas used to go with his dad, Frank Vilas, on a steam threshing rig. They threshed near our neighborhood. I remember they were the first to have a one lunger gas engine and a pump jack on their water wagon to load it. That was real progress! I've pumped a few loads of water by hand. I still have one of those old horizontal, hand powered pumps up at our mill so I can walk by once in a while and give it a kick.

I took the old picture home and went to work on it to try and get a good copy. Tried out several light sources and film and paper combinations. Just hope it will reproduce in the GEM.

Back somewhere, around 1905 to 1910, two young Hadley farmers got together in a buzz-saw business. Of course, most everyone around there burned wood for home heating and cooking. A lot of folks, my folks included, got together a good pile of poles and logs each winter. Then they called someone with a machine for a date, alerted a half-dozen neighbors, and a wood-buzzing bee was in order.

Finn Stimson and Fred Truax were the wood buzzers North of Hadley for a number of years. Really, they were farmers but farmers do branch out according to their special aptitudes. I do know that Fred owned a Huber steamer because he sold it to Dan Max field, though I'm not sure if he threshed or not. And Dan has always lived across the road from our family farm, South of Hadley. He took care of our grain for years until combines. His steamer still sits in his yard and the separator is in the barnI'd believe, ready to go. Fred spent his later years working in a garage in Lapeer. I didn't talk to either Fred or Finn about this, too long ago. And can't find all the real details I'd like just some but the picture tells much. Most buzz machines back then went from farm to farm with the aid of a team of horses. Same with Fred and Finn's for awhile ... until self-power.

A magnifying glass tells me that they got an old farm manure spreader for wheels and axles and added a heavy wood frame. Threw away the tongue, box, beater mechanism, etc. Then they mounted a brand new Olds gas engine over the back axle. I believe it was an 8 horsepower. Fact is, I think that my brother, Gene, and I have found that particular engine. It is carefully stored away in an old barn, quite a ways from here. It was bought at an auction sale sometime around 1920 by the present owner's dad carefully stored away and never again touched. It looks real good yetfar better than many I have worked on. Butit's not for sale. I tried. Anyway, they mounted an idler shaft in front of the engine to belt a small pulley on the engine to a large, maybe 30-inch, pulley on the shaft. Used a loose belt with a lever controlled idler pulley as a tightener which served as a clutch. From the idler shaft to the back axle, power was carried by a chain. There were, of course, sprockets on the two shafts. The seat for the driver of the vehicle was about over the idler shaft. So much for going forward.

There was no going backwards!

For steering, they mounted a 12-inch square block of wood just ahead of the seat for the driver. Then bored a 2-inch diameter hole to hold an iron pipe vertically for the steering wheel shaft, and a wheel on top for steering. On the underneath side they wrapped a chain around the pipe a few times and sent a chain end to each side of the front axle. And so steered. Can't see it in the picture, but I have reason to believe that there was a wagon-type brake on the far side of rig.

Of course, on the front was a buzz saw sliding table style. And on the back of the machine was a seat for the other fellow to ride on. On the back of the seat was bolted an extra saw blade. Probably kept sharp just in case. And, so I'm told, the machine worked for a number of years.

Until around 1920 or so when the idea outlived itself. The engine was sold at auction. Finn then bought a 9 HP United one cylinder gas engine, and he and his son kept on buzzing wood. I ran on to that engine a few years ago. Was outdoors, a bit rusted, wagon and saw busted down, etc. Tried my darndest to buy it but couldn't. I did, however, buy an old Mogul from the farm and restored it. Presently, the United has been moved inside and somewhat cared for. And some time someday someone will discover it or buy it fix it up right. Maybe take it to a show or whatever.

That's the good about our hobby today. The stuff hasn't all been foundor all restored. Barn after barn, all thru the country, is covering some old engine, or old piece of machinery, or some old car or truck. In most of our lifetimes, there will be plenty left. But not too much. Not like the thirties when I first collected. Many farmers in my early life were not too good with engines ... like my own dad. He could doctor a sick cow or horse real good but not a sick gas engine. And so we find lots of 60- or 70-year-old engines that are still in real fine shape. Perhaps, in their youth, the mag quit or the sparkplug got dirty. The engine got rolled onto a stone boat with a horse attached to the front end and received a free trip to the fencerow, or the orchard, or behind the barn, or wherever old iron went.

And as soon as I could save up fifty cents, I borrowed the horse and stone boat from my dad and went and got an engine. And so did a lot of other fellers who read this magazine. Those contraptions still intrigue me.