In its day, steam was the most efficient and most readily available power source.
For many who walked through the Soulé Live Steam Festival in downtown Meridian on Saturday, the memory of steam rising into the blue sky again became fresh in their minds. And although the earliest steam-powered machines were not practical at first, the legacy of steam as a growing source of power dates back almost 2,000 years.
"Steam is a major part of our history — both as a nation and as a city," said Greg Hatcher, executive director of the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum which owes so much to the Soulé past. "Steam powered the city's first water plant. And although we don't have an example here today we have other machines, both big and small, that were as practical in their day as microwave ovens are today."
In fact steam turbines are still used today both for their practicality for being environmentally friendly.
In its sixth year as a festival showcasing the history of steam engines, Soulé has the unique honor of housing a fully operational Watts-Campbell Corliss steam engine.
Hatcher said this is one of the crowning glories of the museum. It is an example of steam engines that was initially slated to be shown in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. but instead the museum and Meridian were able to acquire the rare piece.
For 110 years Soulé produced steam engines primarily for the lumber and timber industry. Many examples of the engines displayed and in operation featured lumber applications. These uses were among the many examples of how the older generation remembered the steam engines. But what about the youngsters who never had to deal with steam engines? Hatcher said the working history of the steam machines is enough to provide excitement for all ages.
"This festival is almost a hands-on type of event," said Hatcher. "The younger people can come in and see many examples of how these machines actually worked. Most of the displays have working examples that belch steam, blow whistles and do some sort of work like cutting logs. The kids really love it."
During World War II, Soulé employed more than 60 men. There was no outsourcing of work; everything for the Soulé steam engines was made on site from scratch metal. A tour through the old factory building showcases just how demanding the jobs those men had must have been. It was hard work that was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
Soulé also owns another piece of history:
The catwalk on the side of the Key Brothers plane that set the air refueling standards was fabricated at Soulé. An exhibit of that work is also on display at the museum.
An example of human ingenuity can be seen inside the massive workshop area where this catwalk was probably drawn up, formed and then fabricated to fit the plane. Above against the wall sits an electric motor, but once there was a steam engine there that powered what Hatcher said is the longest belt driven line drive shaft known to exist today.
One massive belt drives the shaft which has dozens of different sized cogs and wheels attached to it. Each cog powers a specific piece of machinery on the ground like a metal stamper. It was state of the art in its day and just like the entire museum it is still a marvel today.
Festival brings forgotten power back to the forefront
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