1288 Lexington Avenue Winfield, Iowa 52659
I am 23 years old and a spring '93 graduate in agricultural engineering from Iowa State. Having Swiss ancestry, I was led to study the German language at the university, and eventually decided to spend a few months in Switzerland after graduation. With help from distant relatives in Switzerland, I was able to find a job near them as a farmhand. I left on May 25 and returned on October 5.
Now ever since I first saw a steam traction engine, when I was eight years old, I have been totally fascinated with them and want dearly to own a full-size engine someday. God has truly blessed me to be able to grow up near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (Midwest Old Threshers Reunion), and also to make the acquaintance and friendship of a nearby farmer who owns a traction engine and taught me everything I know about them-in part by just giving me the chance to run it and a 1/3 scale model of his.
So what do my interests in steam engines and Switzerland have in common? Well, I told the farmer I worked for about my old iron addiction, and he mentioned that there were Swiss organizations that put on shows and have museums for 'Old Timers,' as they call them. (Somewhere along the line they adopted this English term into their own Swiss-German language.)
The farmer's son mentioned that he thought he saw an 'Old Timer' advertisement in one of their farm magazines. So, after eagerly looking through the magazine pile, I found the one with the ad. The show was held on August 21 & 22 in Moriken, Switzerland. I believe the name of the organization was 'Freunde alter Landmaschinen,' or 'Friends of Old Agricultural Machines.'
The farmer's son, his girlfriend, and I went on the 22nd. We had no trouble finding the show, as they had advertised it by suspending an old Lanz 'Bulldog' tractor from a crane about 100 feet in the air. (Lanz, a German company, was eventually bought by John Deere in 1956.) I was surprised to see as many gas tractors and engines as I did. Most were German makes, although many were Swiss, and there were also a couple of French and Italian tractors. To them a real 'Old Timer' would have been built around 1940. The transition from horses to steam and later gas took place at a later time than it did here in the States. In fact, I was told that in the 1950s, some Swiss agricultural schools were still preaching that horses were the best way to go. Some Swiss farmers still use horses to this day. I saw one farmer pulling a dump rake with a horse and talked with another who uses horses for seeding grain. The small size of their farms, and steep slopes, make justifying a tractor difficult.
In all actuality, a transition from horses to steam didn't take place quite like it did here. What farm steam power there was consisted mostly of portable engines hauled by horses and used for threshing. (The farmer's father-in-law, going on 80 years old, recalled several horses being almost unable to pull a portable engine up the hill leading to their farm.) I didn't look into whether steam was used for sawmills, but I strongly suspect that it was, as Switzerland produces a large amount of lumber and it seems that in every town there is at least one sawmill.
Anyway, at the show I counted about 200 gas tractors. Included among the pack: John Deeres 1948 'A' and 1937 'B' and Farmalls 'H' and 'B.' Also among the lineup were various European makes of stationary gas engines and garden tractors, and a Willys Jeep or two left from WWII. Upon speaking with the owner of the John Deeres, I found that these two tractors were found in France. He told me the U.S. gave some 10,000 tractors to France after WWII since so many horses, one of their main farm power sources, were dead. He also was able to locate a couple of Allis-Chalmers models and a Massey-Harris in France.
Now, this is a steam magazine so I'll get off this gas subject and get to the interesting part! My eyes caught right away the only steam engine at the show. It was a single-simple English portable, built in 1921, and belted to a small wooden separator. They had been threshing oats; chaff was gently blowing around everywhere. The grain was put in burlap sacks. As shown in the photo, the engine has a very tall stack and narrow-face-large diameter flywheel. I talked briefly with the operator of the engine but didn't get into the history of it. I did, however, show him photos of a 16 HP Gaar-Scott and a Case return flue I was able to run a couple of times, much to his delight. I also brought along a couple antique tractor calendars, which I showed to him and others at the show. All were utterly amazed at how modern American tractors were, even in the 1930s, with rubber tires, electric lights and starters. I also showed a picture or two of traction engine models from the Mt. Pleasant show and one fellow wanted to know pretty badly how he could import one into Switzerland!
Well, I didn't get to stay but more than a couple of hours. Seems that the farmer's son and his girlfriend just couldn't understand what it is to have the old iron disease, so I had to leave when they wanted to go!