Mclouth Steam engine enthusiasts at the 42nd annual threshing bee in McLouth are happy to explain how the engines work.
When Ross Moody builds his hayloft on his barn at Linwood, he can look at the rough, unfinished wood floor with a sense of accomplishment.
The wood, cut from red, black and white oak trees killed by lightning and other maladies, came from his farm instead of a lumberyard. A member of the Heart of America Antique Steam Engine & Model Assn. since he was 13, Moody watched as other association members guided the logs into a 50-inch saw blade Saturday morning.
Moody, 36, was at the 42nd annual Steam Engine Show and Threshing Bee, a three-day event in McLouth that ends today.
As the blade chewed through the wood, the 1919 Advance Rumely steam engine powering the sawmill with 40 horsepower chugged louder, belching smoke and steam. Moody paid 20 cents for each board foot cut by the steam power. He'll still pay only 25 percent of what a lumberyard would have charged.
"This timber came off my land, and this show is important to me," said Moody, whose uncle B.J. Robinson owns the Advance Rumely engine.
Wood from lumberyards is milled and smoothed, making a one-inch by six-inch board three-quarters by five-and-a-half inches, said Moody, who has missed only two of the last 31 steam engine shows.
B.J. Robinson Jr., Wichita, stood on the platform at the back of the engine, inches away from the fiery hot box that turns the water into steam. The steam pressure powers a wheel, and a belt around the wheel rotates another wheel at the sawmill, turning the blade.
Robinson periodically shoved open the hot box door to add some coal to the fire. He also ran the valves releasing fresh, cold water into the boiler.
"You have to do it by feel and noise," he said, his hand resting on a valve. "I can feel it vibrating. It tells you it needs water."
State laws limit the engines to 100 pounds of pressure per square inch, but back in the steam engine heyday of the early 20th century, they usually ran at 150 pounds per square inch, giving farmers one-third more power.
A Saturday morning rainfall almost silenced a wood-paneled Aultman Taylor grain separator, now approaching its 85th year of operation. Gary Royer, McLouth, who owns the separator with his father, Harold Royer, Valley Falls, said moisture causes the bundles of wheat to stick together, gumming up the machine.
During a break in the threshing, Dennis Knudsen, Oskaloosa, and other association members peered into the machine where a fan was brushing up against other parts.
"We just wanted to see what the noise was," Knudsen said. "Anything that hammers or squeaks is bad. Just a roar is common."
The threshing bee gates open today at 7 a.m., and a church service will start at 9:30 a.m. on the grounds, just south of Kansas Highway 16 in McLouth. A country dancing exhibition will be at 2 p.m., followed by a mini hot-rod pull at 4 p.m. and a draft-horse pull at 7 p.m.
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is email@example.com.