The Big Waukesha Engineby
N. Ray Maxie
How it came close to killing my Dad
were some big, powerful engines used in the Rodessa
Oil Field during the 1930's, ‘40's and ‘50's. There were some smaller engines
too. All were powered either by gasoline or natural gas. My Dad serviced and maintained
those engines in his daily work routine about the oil field. |
I have always
been interested and somewhat intrigued by things mechanical, particularly engines.
Engines have the power to move things; to get things done. Engines provided power
24/7 for big pumping units to continually extract “black gold” from deep oil wells.
That is, until some wells were converted to electric motor power during 1970's
and ‘80's, thereby requiring less maintenance, operating more economically and
one of Dad’s well locations, I believe it was the W. D. Chew lease, #2 well, the
oil company had placed a large Waukesha engine for Dad to use. It had only one
huge upright, vertical piston cylinder; thus a one cylinder engine. Also, there
was a large fly-wheel on each side of the crankcase, along with all other necessary
stuff. The engine was painted Waukesha green and stands out very vividly in my
mind. Dad nick-named it “Big Bertha” and it was the engine that one day came very
close to nearly killing him.
The engine had heavy belts with pulleys connecting
it to the counter-balance gearbox. The counter-balance operated the walking beam,
a tall beam that rocks back and forth, back and forth and closely resembles a
rocky-horse. The walking bean is connected to the well-head. There it pumps a
long string of sucker rods up and down in the ground to the very bottom of the
oil well. The speed is about 18 to 22 strokes per minute, bringing oil out with
every pumping stroke. Speed can be increased at the engine to give more strokes
per minute, if so desired.
This particular engine was set up to run off
natural gas, though it initially had to be started with a bit of gasoline. So,
after turning the fly wheel to get the stroke in time, Dad would pour a small
amount of gasoline into the cylinder-head, then spin the fly wheel to get it to
fire at least one time. With that, “Big Bertha” would spin for a few seconds,
giving him time to reach high atop the big, tall cylinder to turn on the natural
gas pet-cock. The engine would then take up running on natural gas and kept running
and running until days later when it might have to be shut down for maintenance.
As that engine runs, it makes a very loud popping sound, much louder than the
old “Popping Johnny” John Deere farm tractor.
Frequently, instead of turning
the fly wheel, Dad would use the exposed, unguarded end of the crank shaft sticking
out of the engine. By placing a large 36 inch Stillson wrench on the shaft, he
turned it into time using the wrench. Over time, weeks and months of misuse, the
shaft had become jagged and knurled by teeth of the Stillson wrench. It became
an unguarded hazard.
this particular occasion, Dad had the engine spinning and ready to run. As he
reached high atop the tall cylinder to turn on the natural gas, his old, faded
blue overalls got caught by the jagged shaft. It caught his clothes just below
the waistline near the right front pocket. Quickly twisting up his overalls, it
completely ripped them off of him from leg to shoulder; as well as severely scraping
and bruising his right front hip, pelvis and groin area. He was able to push away
far enough, letting his clothes tear away so his injury wasn’t extremely sever.
Thank goodness too, since he most always worked alone.
Fragments of Dad’s
clothing and parts of his blue overalls continued to flop around on the jagged
crank shaft. The engine kept right on running, fired by the natural gas he had
just turned on.
It wasn’t long before Dad returned home ragged and half
necked from this alarming experience.
I truly believe, if Dad had been
wearing his best new pair of overalls that day, they would not have ripped away
so conveniently. Thus, had he not been able to tear away, he could have been seriously
drawn into the action, flopping around uncontrollably on that dangerous shaft
and perhaps killed.
This is just one of several highly dangerous oil field
accidents where we nearly lost Dad.
© N. Ray Maxie
1, 2010 Column
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