Episode 7 – Steamtopia

Jaak’s Cabin – The Valleys

Jaak and Layan finished the last of the coffee as the sun began to rise determinedly above the ridges and tree tops.

Layan: Right then! Let’s take a look at that donkey engine and see what kind of shape she’s in! First things first though – I’ll need some tools – crescent spanners, screw drivers, an engineering hammer and an oil can – things like that. Do you think you can find them?

Jaak: Sure I can! There are tools down in the basement – I’ll go and see what I can find.

After some time rummaging, Jaak appeared back up from the basement, with a toolbox filled with various tools and a long spouted oil can with a push button lever.

The pair then made their way over to the donkey engine and conducted an initial appraisal of their project.

As it turned out the donkey engine despite its age, was in reasonably good shape. Layan observed that all the basic working parts and valves were all still present, saying all it should take is a bit of time to disassemble, clean and then reassemble the engine, to hopefully get it going again.

Together they set about to take apart the engine’s working parts, using the oil to soak into bolts and fittings that had not moved for years. They laid all the parts out onto a flat canvas sheet on the ground. Jaak cleaned the parts first by soaking in paraffin and then cleaning them with a stiff wire brush and some old rags. They worked steadily all morning, with Layan taking the time to carefully explain what each part, fitting and valve did. Jaak was captivated, asking lots of questions, which Layan patiently answered – sometimes asking Jaak questions in turn as to what he thought a certain part or fitting did, or what it was for. Jaak was a quick learner, and was often able to correctly figure out what each piece did.

Finally all the parts had been thoroughly cleaned and carefully laid out on the canvas. Jaak, stood back and admired their progress. Suddenly his stomach growled loudly.

One of Layan’s ears swiveled in Jaak’s direction.

Layan: Hooyaa! – that rumble will register on the valley seismographs! Why don’t we stop for lunch, and we can get to reassembling the engine this afternoon.

At that moment the sound of a pick-up truck rumbled up the drive. It was Tenzing.

Jaak: Hiya Tenzing! We’re just about to stop and have lunch – you wanna join us?

Tenzing: Well that’d be perfect timin’! I don’t mind if I do! Layan called me on the radio last night and said he was comin’ down here today – I thought’d swing past and see how you two were gettin’ along.

Jaak: We’re doing great! We’ve already got the donkey engine apart and cleaned up all the moving parts.

Jaak then went inside the cabin and returned with bread, cheese, cured meats, and pickles. Together they made enormous door stop sandwiches, all washed down with another pot of sweet milky coffee. After lunch they all returned to the disassembled donkey engine.

Tenzing: So. Anyone here got the faintest idea how this thing goes back together?

Layan raised an eyebrow at Tenzing and put on a mock high cultured accent.

Layan: Tenzing – my dear old thing – this thing as you call it is a finely honed piece of mechanical engineering! You don’t think for a moment that my esteemed colleague and I would have spent all this time this morning cleaning and preparing all these engine parts if one of us didn’t know how to put it all back together!

Layan paused and gave Jaak a hard-stare.

So Jaak old chap – just how do we put this fine piece of mechanical engineering back together again? Inquiring minds want to know – eh what, what!

Jaak was now starting to get used to Layan’s quirky ways and played along – although he had no idea how to do a silly high cultured accent.

Jaak: Well. Um. It’s all fairly simple you see. Er – well you pretty much sorta kinda take those bits down there and you stick’em together again over there…

Jaak waved grandly in the direction of the donkey engine firebox and empty engine bed.

…and when you’ve done that you light a fire in that, and yeah – that makes a head of steam and that arm thing go back and forth and that makes the wheel thing-a-ma-jigger turn around!

Both Tenzing and Layan chuff-roared with laughter.

Layan: Excellent grasp young cub! Now let’s get this grand old lady put back together!

Reassembling the donkey engine did not take nearly as long as the disassembly, now all the parts had been cleaned and they had Tenzing to help with the heavier items like the large flywheel. Soon the neat lines of parts on the canvas sheet dwindled, and the donkey engine once again took shape. The winch mechanism was left as it was, – that would not be needed.

Jaak then began to fill the boiler using a hand pump that was fed directly from a pail of water. Several pail loads later the boiler was full.

One thing that the valleys did not lack was a supply of readily available firewood. Jaak soon had a stack of firewood ready to load into the firebox. He carefully stacked in the wood, starting with lighter twigs and tinder in the centre, then progressively heavier logs criss-crossed on top, allowing sufficient gaps for the air to flow once the fire was lit.

Jaak: It’s just like setting the fire in the cabin wood stove really.

Layan: Now let’s get her fired up!

Jaak struck a match and lit the fire. The fire quickly caught and began to burn vigorously. However the fire box soon filled with smoke and billowed back out the firebox doorway.

Tenzing: Uh oh. Looks like the chimney might be block…

Before Tenzing could even finish his sentence, there was a sudden woosh, and a huge black cloud of smoke and sparks came erupting from the smoke stack. Bits of charred twigs, ash and feathers came raining back down in a sooty shower.

Tenzing: I think the she jus’ sneezed an’ cleared ‘er nose! I’d bet there was an ol’ birds nest stuck in the smoke stack!

Once the chimney had cleared, the fire took off properly and they spent the next half hour or so feeding the fire more wood to get the water boiling and produce steam. Layan had explained that they would need around 60 PSI of steam pressure in the boiler to run the piston that drove the fly wheel. The pressure on the gauge slowly rose.

Jaak: It’s coming up to 60 PSI!

Steam began to escape from the pop off valve as the pressure increased in the boiler.

Layan: OK! Now let’s give ‘er some steam!

Layan then carefully opened the steam valve that fed the engine’s main piston. Steam then flowed into the piston with a loud hiss, however the piston arm and flywheel didn’t move.

Layan: Tenzing! Give the flywheel a little turn!

Tenzing gave the flywheel a gentle turn and soon the piston arm started to move back and forth, and the flywheel began to turn. The familiar sound of the steam engine chuff-chuffity-chuff then filled their ears.

Jaak: Whoohooo! It’s working!

The two older cats and one cub all grinned at each other with boyish glee. For a while they happily watched the engine chuff away, and the flywheel spinning.

Layan: Splendiferous!

Tenzing: We need to give ‘er a name! How ’bout…

Before Tenzing could finish, Jaak quietly but firmly interrupted him.

Jaak: Lizzie.

Something about the way Jaak spoke made both the older cats stop and look at Jaak.

Layan raised half an eyebrow. Jaak spoke quietly.

Jaak: Eliza was my mom’s name.

Tenzing walked over to Jaak and put his big lumberjack paw-hand on Jaak’s head and gave it a gentle tousle.

Tenzing: Lizzie is’a fine name.

Their moment of shared reverie was broken by the sound of a pick-up truck coming up the road and stopping outside the cabin. The door clunked – and the sound of paw-foot steps approached.

Altai: Well, well well. It seem’s that you have been busy today PJ – and what may all this be in aid of then?

Jaak’s full name was Pukajaak – an Inuit name meaning ‘sugar-like snow’ – but his Dad had always called him PJ.

Jaak: We got the steam engine going again Dad! It’s my science project for school. We’re going to hook it up to an alternator and batteries so we can have some electric lighting in the cabin.

Jaak almost said – ‘and to charge up my phone’, but caught himself just in time. At the mention of ‘we’ Layan’s whiskers twitched ever so slightly and he suddenly became very interested in putting another log in the firebox.

Altai: I see you have had some help here today.

Hello Tenzing …

Altai nodded at Tenzing

… … Layan.

At this Layan could not avoid Altai any longer without being rude.

Layan: Good afternoon Altai. You have the makings of a fine young engineer here.

Layan motioned a paw-hand towards Jaak.

Altai did not immediately reply, but moved closer to the puffing steam engine and examined each part of it carefully taking particular note of its careful assembly and inspecting its freshly cleaned fittings and valves. He adjusted the speed of the engine faster and slower with the steam valve.

Altai gave a slight chuff and nod of his head.

Altai: Looks good PJ. Be sure to put the tools away when you are done.

With that Altai turned and walked back towards the cabin – but he stopped and turned suddenly.

Altai: One rule! Don’t blow yourself up! …and don’t let Layan blow himself or anyone else up either!

With that he again turned and disappeared into the cabin.

Tenzing turned to Layan.

Tenzing: Phew – well tha’ wasa’bit awkward… What’sit between you two anyway?

Layan: That my friend is a long story – however now is not the time – we shall leave that for another day.


Episode 8 – Kangastralia

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