Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

Homemade Engineering - For Fun!

by Norris Chambers

   Clifton and I walked three and a half miles over a rough hill and across a creek to meet the school bus. This was an uncomfortable walk on a cold morning, and most of it was in the dark. It began to get daylight about the time we got to the creek. When you reached the creek, there was the problem of getting to the other side. There was water in it all winter, and it was thirty or forty feet wide.

  We had to walk a half mile to a place where we could cross, and then half mile back to the bus. That meant an extra mile of walking...morning and night.

  We dreamed of building a bridge across it. Then we thought of a swinging bridge. But these required a lot of material and work. The next thing that occurred to us was a "trolley wire."

  For several years we had built trolley wires from the top of a tall tree to the base of another several hundred feet away. We used steel cable, which was available almost anywhere in the oil field area. The drilling rigs changed their cable and left the old wire lying stretched out across the pasture. We liked the more flexible "sand line" in about 1/2" diameter. Sand line was used to lower and raise the bailer, or long bucket, that bailed the slush out of the hole during the drilling operation. This wire was easy to stretch with a turn buckle (a stretching device made of threaded rods with a double nut in the middle--also available free). The next step was to take a regular rope pulley and tie an old tire to it. It would then roll on the stretched cable. You could pull it to the top of the tree with a trailing rope, get in it, and make a fast, thrilling trip to the base of the other tree. You started slowing down before you hit the tree by dragging your feet on the ground.

  For our creek crossing machine, we decided to stretch the cable across the creek from a tree on one side to another on the opposite bank. Then we expected to tie the usual tire to the pulley and use that for the carriage. We tied a rope from the top of the tire and placed it over a pulley high in the tree we had tied the cable to. On the end of the ropes (a rope and pulley in each tree) we tied a pretty heavy weight. With one of these on each side of the creek, the weights kept the trolley carriage evenly balanced.

  When we wanted to ride across, if the carriage was not on our side, we just pulled on the rope and brought it across. When we did this, the weight on the other side would rise and the one on our side would lower. We would climb in (one at a time) and pull ourselves across with the balance rope.

  This system worked nicely, and saved us a mile in the morning and a mile in the afternoon. We figured if we saved ten miles a week, and school lasted 30 weeks, that would be a savings of 300 miles. That is enough walking to start damaging the soles of your shoes.

  But that was not the end of the usefulness of our conveyance. In the summer time, the water hole was a favorite swimming pool. You could hang from the tire with your legs and turn loose over the middle, making a very fancy dive.

  We discussed making an enclosed cab with a double seat so that we could both cross at the same time and in extreme comfort. But this construction project never got past the planning stage. We had so many other things to do in those days that we never found time to make the cab. It is probably just as well.

  Our "creek crosser" must have been successful. Not only did it get us safely across the creek in all kinds of weather while we were going to school, but it was frequently used by any hunter or wanderer that happened to have a need to get on the other side.

  A few years ago I wandered back up the creek, and, after over thirty years, the trolley was still there, and there was some evidence that it was still used occasionally.

  Of course there is no need now for anyone to cross it to go to school. The schools have been consolidated, and there is only one school now in the north end of the county. When we were going to school, there were fifteen or twenty. The school buses now go to every house in the country. New roads have made this possible. A long school bus probably couldn't have made some of the sharp turns between the trees, and definitely could not have crossed the creeks when it rained.

  Another thing we made the next summer was a "power churn." In those days churning, or making butter out of cream, was done by either pushing a dasher up and down in a crock container through a hole in the lid until the butter formed on top of the cream, or putting the cream in a big jar and shaking it slowly up and down until the butter was separated. For those who have never churned, it is a slow and tiring process. When the butter finally separates, it forms small chunks on the top of the fluid, and is scooped out and worked in a bowl with a paddle until all of the milk is out of it. Then it is either molded in a rectangular box mould or smoothed out in a butter dish. The liquid that remains is called "butter milk." Butter milk is an excellent drink for which a taste can be cultivated. Hogs like it, too, and thrive on it.

  Of course we had no electricity or motors, so our thoughts turned to "horsepower" when we started to work on the project. After thinking of a few things and rejecting them, we finally found the answer. We took a two gallon glass pickle jar with a tight fitting lid and constructed a wooden base for it. The base was attached to a horse-drawn planter and hinged to go up and down on top of a wooden cam that we fastened to the axle just inside the right wheel. When the planter moved, the axle turned and the lop-sided cam caused the base to go up and down. The jug was strapped to the base, and it went up and down with the revolving of the cam. We improved our original version by making the slope on the wooden cam much sharper on the trailing side, thus causing the jug to rise slowly and fall sharply on each revolution of the axle.

  Since the planter was used almost every day during the summer, either for planting or for cultivating, this made a convenient churn that relieved us of many monotonous hours of splashing a dasher up and down by arm power. This is another case of progress. Progress such as this is what has gradually evolved into the technology we enjoy today.

  I am reminded of the boy who discovered the steam engine. Steam pressure was originally used to push a large piston in a cylinder and provide the power stroke for a pump. It was necessary for some low paid employee to turn a valve after each stroke to raise the piston and get ready for another power stroke. This boy was a little lazy, and he rigged a few levers to automatically operate the valve from the motion of the piston. He had unknowingly created the steam engine, and it was not long until his discovery was in general use, and only a matter of days until someone come up with the idea of applying the strokes to an arm on a flywheel with the trigger mechanism applying the steam to the cylinder at the right time. Before the steam engine was in general use, the only power available, other than animal power, was wind or water.

  One great industry was founded in Germany and relied on water power for its operation. It operated during the season when water was running, and shut down when there was no running water. This great factory was one of the first to use steam power when it became available. The factory became the great KRUP company that forged most of the steel rails that were used to spread the rail network across North America. They also built the first mills by which knives, forks and spoons could be rolled from sheet steel. Before that time, eating utensils were very expensive.

  The moral to the story, if it has one, is if there is a way to do it yourself, then DO IT. You will be surprised how much FUN you can uncover when you make something and see it work. Even if it does not work, it can still be FUN!


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