Birdsall engine and Case separator

This picture, taken in the 1890's, shows a 12 hp Birdsall engine and a Case separator belonging to Melge Golterman, St., of Wentzville, Mo. See article by Mr. Golterman, Jr., telling of the experience of threshing in his family.

Melge Golterman

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JR. Wentzville, Missouri

To the best of my memory, the accompanying picture dates from the 1890's. Father is standing at the left rear of the 12 hp Birdsall with the taller individual to the right, his younger brother, Malcolm. They threshed together for many years until Uncle Malcolm retired because of ill health. My father continued on in the business for many years thereafter. Sorry I cannot give you more details of the picture. Before his illness, Father could even name the horses hitched to the water tank. The separator is a Case agitator. Too bad I failed to take notes when Father was able to give the information.

Below is an account of the experiences of my Father, Melge Golterman of Wentzville, Missouri, who operated a steam thresher for fifty-five years.

Father's first experience with threshing goes back to the late 1870's when Grandfather Golterman threshed his own wheat with a separator belted to the Owens-Lane-Dyer Engine.

My father began his custom threshing career at the age of 19, when together with his younger brother, Malcolm, he started out with a used 12 hp Birdsell Engine and a Case 36 inch agitator separator. At first this had a slat stacker, but he replaced it with a blower. However, they continued with the hand feeder until they changed to a larger Case separator at the turn of the Century.

Many interesting stories center around this hand feeder. Back in those days it was the high ambition of young men to feed the thresher. They took great pride in the skill with which they spread the grain as it was fed into the cylinder. A very special time to be on the platform was when the attractive young ladies were coming out with the lunch.

These were the days when the local neighborhood looked forward with pleasant anticipation to the arrival of the thresher into the area, for it afforded an opportunity for everyone to get together. All had a good time visiting while they worked. Work itself was not looked upon as a drudgery. There was friendly rivalry as to who could do the most in the least time with most skill and strength. The ladies pitted their skill in baking the finest pies and cakes. The dust and dirt of the thresher was not objectionable for there was a joy in being able to help a neighbor in the exchange of work. Father relates how on more than one occasion, the young ladies in the community would come out and insist on riding either on the dusty separator or on the coupling tongue while the machine was moving from one crop to another, not minding the fact that their white starched skirts acquired a brown sticky dust as a result of the experience.

Often rivalry developed between threshermen each feeling that his machine could do the most work in the shortest time. Back in the days of the hand feeder a rival might go visit another machine, and upon getting permission to feed, would immediately see how fast he could choke the machine. Having accomplished his purpose, he would get down off the platform and walk away.

During the off-season months Father would operate a sawmill (Owens-Lane-Dyer, equipped with a top saw) engaging in the custom production of lumber and moving his mill and engine from place to place during the winter season.

Melge Golterman, Sr., celebrated his 88th birthday on November 26, 1959. While this account was being written, he was called to rest by the Heavenly Father and on January 13, 1960, we placed his body in the Wright City Cemetery beside his Father, Mr. Charles Golterman, who had gone to rest on January 28, 1928, at the age of 83.

Father had been familiar with the steam engine all his life. In fact, while a boy about the age of six, he can just remember his father, assisted by a neighbor, raising the tall smoke stack of a 16 hp Owens-Lane-Dyer Serial No.490 skid engine that his Father had purchased in St. Louis. Since it was a used engine back when Grandfather purchased it in the 1870's it is no doubt around 100 years old.

About 35 years ago the above mentioned engine came into Father's possession. He immediately modernized it by enclosing the large-barrelled boiler in a complete jacket, lathing some excess weight off the long connecting rod, replacing the old safety valve with the modern pop valve, installing a new governor and converting it into a portable. If any of the readers of this magazine remember seeing one of these rare engines, they will recall that the cylinder is located on the right rear of the firebox with the crank head shaft running across the end of the boiler in front. The boiler and engine are all handmade. At the present time, this engine is housed in a large shed on our farm and it is ready to operate when water and fuel are applied.

As the years rolled on and the need for a larger rig became apparent, an 18 horse Birdsall No.2580 and a Case Iron sides thresher were purchased, the engine first in 1901 and the separator in 1902. Later they installed a Wood Brothers self feeder. Father always considered this the best feeder obtainable. The band knives were detachable and I remember that he would sharpen a dozen sets and then install a new set periodically during the threshing season in order to insure cutting all bands. Through the years he made several improvements on this Case separator. First of all, he braced up the wood frame with iron so it wouldn't fall apart in moving and he put oscillating forks in the rear of the machine to prevent choking. He also installed an Avery straw spreader back of the beater. With this separator. Father continued until age forced him to retire in 1945.

He did change engines in 1935, purchasing a Rumely 22 horse power for the price of scrap. I did not think Father was serious when he began looking at this old rusty steamer that had been abandoned in a weedy field some years before in Lincoln County forty miles north of where we lived. It was a common practice of his to stop and take a look at every engine we could spy as we drove through the country.

Since I was away at college at the time he made this purchase, a grade school classmate of mine assisted Father in moving the old dilapidated engine to our home south of Forestell.

Father spent all of that winter getting this one up in shape with a shiny new cab and a complete jacket on the boiler. The high esteem Father had for his Birdsell, however, was not diminished by his ownership of the Rumely. The Birdsell remained the most unusual engine with its spring mounting on front and rear, its auto type steering, and its peculiar boiler design. In later years, I helped Father by hauling water and I distinctly remember that we had to put blocks in the frame when we began to thresh to keep the Birdsell from jumping up and down on its springs. Due to the short exhaust pipe, this 18 horse Birdsell had the keenest puff of any steamer in the country for it could be heard for miles around while threshing. I learned later that he was driven to the Rumely for its greater power, having been choked down a number of times the previous season. To Father, this was a disgrace, so he took immediate steps to correct this with more power.

At one time Father had four large runs, going to the Missouri River bottom to thresh until 1915, when he broke the gearing on his Birdsell in a large creek, the road running down the creek because the local farmers did not want to spare any of their valuable land for a road. One experience while threshing in the 'Bottom' was racing out of the area with another rig, the other engine being a Jumbo. When Father's little Birdsell began gaining on them, they tried shifting into a higher gear. This resulted in its stalling. Then they slipped off the governor belt for unlimited speed, all to no avail, for Father proudly described how the little Birdsell just ran away from the Jumbo. The Jumbo was a popular engine with many, having a reputation (as I heard one old thresherman express it) 'Just the best of them all'. In those yesterdays the machine men would get together to exchange experiences. Father remembers hearing one man address another who had made a recent purchase in this heavy accent 'Can't you afford anything better than a 'Umbow?'

In addition to threshing and sawing Father engaged in hulling clover with a hand feed Rumely and also shredding fodder with a 10 roll New Piano. This shredder was built for custom work requiring two men feeding from both sides, a wagon of corn fodder on each side of the machine just like the thresher. The fodder blower, fully as big as any straw stacker, was located in front so that when it was coupled to the engine it gave the appearance of being pulled backwards.

Father also lived through the days of custom wood sawing where a farmer would get up a large rick of poles and then invite all surrounding neighbors to help in an all day wood sawing into stove-lengths with a steam threshing engine belted to a buzz saw.

Father's talents for using many different kinds of machines and tools were known and appreciated by the community in which he lived. One of Father's early mill settings was for a Captain Mosley, a Confederate war veteran. One rainy day they could not saw lumber so the Captain asked Father if he would help work on the barn he was building. Father's skill with tools so pleased the old Captain that he remarked at the supper table, 'These boys can do anything? Father was always pleased to tell this story in his later years, for he took great pride in his work.

My Father has lived through an age that rose to its height during his active years and then reluctantly into the decline and eclipse by the privately owned combine. Father has survived all the farmers in one run except two. Most of those who worked with him or for whom he threshed have gone to their eternal reward.

Father enjoyed this work more than anyone I know. He evidenced this joy by spending his spare time in getting the machine in first-class condition for the season. Rare indeed was a breakdown of any kind, going for years without loss of a single hour for repairs. He was so proud of this!

A year before Father's passing from this earth, my cousin, Mr. Leslie Frazier, questioned him concerning his fifty-five years working with steam power for tape recording. Father revealed that he had threshed 1,765,000 bushels of wheat, made 67 sets with his sawmill .sawing 5,000,000 board feet of lumber and 33,600 railroad ties. These activities covered three counties in eastern Missouri.