50 Years of Steam Threshing

The urge for steam threshing rolls from family to friends.

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Opposite page: Our first Steam Threshing Day, September 1956, engine no. 22592.

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It started one May morning in 1956 when my dad asked, "Do you want to go back and fill the engine with water?" He was referring to his 1909 Case that my grandfather had bought new for threshing and sawmilling. It sat back in the woods beside the sawmill and hadn't been run since the year I was born. At 14, I had never seen it fired up, although, all the while I grew up I had played on it and ran it many days in my imagination.

Needless to say, he didn't have to ask twice, and before noon we had it full of water; we couldn't fire it of course, as it needed piping. The platform was rotted off, the ash pan was gone, etc. One of our ugly bulls had smashed the side steps off and there wasn't any paint showing, but I was as excited as if it were a new one.

It was kept in the woods during World War II to keep it safe from scrap dealers. I remember a junk man coming to the house and offering to buy it, but after a brief discussion with my father leaving with the knowledge that it wasn't for sale and never would be.

The day finally came when we could fire it up - what a thrill! We ran it home and parked it in the yard where we spent the rest of the summer working on it any time we could spare.

We always threshed our own grain using our Hart-Parr tractor, but sometime that summer the belt pulley broke - that was okay as Dad decided we would use the Case for power, and that is how our first "Steam Threshing Day" started.

We stacked our oats that year, and one sunny Saturday in September we had our first day. Friends and neighbors came to help, and best of all, although he hadn't steam-threshed since 1926, some of Dad's former customers were still living and were very glad to see us doing it the old way again. Interest was so great that we decided to repeat the day again the next year and it became an annual event. We never advertised or tried to make it into a show, it continued to be just a small gathering on our farm.

The years passed, and most of the people who took part that first day are no longer with us, but there are always new friends willing to help, so we keep going. The biggest benefit from all this, has been the many great people we have met through our hobby.

We started with one engine and thresher, then in 1972 my wife and I bought a 65 Case and I had a 1895 Buffalo Pitts thresher given to me. Then our son-in-law, Scott Lester, bought a 20 HP Farquhar and we now have a third grain machine, so we have grown some.

The last few years some of our steam friends have been bringing their engines in for the day. Last year we had six traction engines and one steamroller, which made for lots of activity. They take turns threshing as well as on the sawmill. We try to do everything with steam that day. A stationary boiler and engine runs a cider press for sweet cider, and corn and potatoes are steamed for dinner. Hams are cooked in the smokebox of some engines, and if they need more cooking a few minutes on the Baker fan soon takes care of that problem. Young and old alike enjoy wagon rides behind an engine, and sometimes one engine is piped to a whistle manifold and large plant, and ship whistles are blown. It's just a fun day for people who like to see steam engines doing what they were built for.

I've been asked why the name Steam Valley Farm. My grandfather had engines before 1900 - he owned two Buffalo Pitts engines before he got the Case - so there has been steam here for over 100 years. Also, we make maple syrup commercially using a steam boiler, so from early March until late fall it isn't unusual to hear a whistle blow or an engine under load. We have pulled trees, moved rocks and steamed our gardens. If you have to do something it's much more fun if you can use a steam engine!

Even a small event such as ours requires much preparation and a lot of cleaning up, and putting away afterwards. Sometimes I wonder if we should continue, but by mid-winter people start asking to come the next year, so more oats are planted and plans are made.

This year, if all goes well, on the last Sunday in August smoke will be billowing above the trees and the sound of working engines will be heard, as once again grain harvest takes place in our valley.

Contact steam enthusiast Brad Vosburg at: 10871 Vosburg Road, Farmersville Station, NY 14060.