Steam-driven Reeves tractor

Al Ballou

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Site of Ancient Machinery is Interesting County Showplace

We thank The Breckinridge County Herald News, Hardinsburg, Kentucky for the use of their story and pictures of the following story. We thank G. E. Shelman, Union Star, Kentucky 40171 for submitting the article.

About two acres of George Shelman's 1100-acre farm, located approximately two miles east of Union Star on Route 144, is liberally strewn with antique farm machinery of all kinds. Surprisingly, some of the ancient tractors are still in working order. But farm machinery is not all that is old at the Shelman farm.

Other things that are quite old include a maple sugar tree in the front yard at the farms house that has grown from a seed to a gigantic shade tree it is 94 years old. Another item is a 1950 Dodge automobile with a flat-head 6-cylinder engine that is still in excellent operating order.

Hardinsburg auto buff and antique dealer, Lloyd Russell, said that although the old Dodge is not quite yet in the antique class (this year, all cars older than '41 models will be classified as antiques) it is definitely a collector's item. He indicated that flat-heat engines have not been manufactured since the mid-40s.

In contrast to the antiquities atmosphere surrounding the Shelman home, there are two young, tame, female deer enclosed in a nearby lot containing high weeds. One deer is a little over four years old; the other is a little over a year old.

Shelman said his son, George Jr., was passing by an old house near the Shelman place one day and spotted the older deer, then a fawn, lying at the root of a blown-down tree. Thinking that its mother would return, the fawn was left there most of the day. In late evening, when the fawn was discovered to still be lying at the root of the tree, in a weakened condition and with no other deer around, it was brought to the Shelman home, where it recovered after being doctored and fed.

Shelman said the younger deer was found in a ditch along the road near Lodiburg. It too, was a fawn when found, and had been badly chewed up by three dogs. Both fawns were bottle-fed until they were able to forage for themselves.

Shelman can only guess as to why the deer were abandoned and what may have happened to their mothers. It could be, he thinks, that the mothers were either killed by hunters or chased away by dogs. Another guess is that each of them is one of a set of twins that somehow got separated from its mother and twin. In any case, both have survived and thrived very well because of the tender, loving care given to them by Shelman. He added that the deer will eat almost anything offered to them. Both deer are so tame that they  have very little fear of humans, and will approach when called to eat out of one's hand. When not greeting visitors, these young deer spend much time lying in the tall weeds to escape flies and other pests. The older deer is named Mae Belle, and the younger one is called May, named after the month during which she was found.

To give some notion of the size of a giant, steam-driven Reeves tractor, owner George Shelman stands some seven or eight feet in front of it for the taking of this photo. This Reeves, a 1660 HP machine, used in the past  principally for plowing and grading as the large power driven wheels at rear enabled it to climb high objects and go through extremely soft soil, needs only replacement of the flues in its boiler to be operational again. Built in 1916, this tractor is now a 60-year-old antique, and has been owned by George Shelman since 1919. Photo by Al Ballou

Speaking of the age of things about the place, Shelman mentioned as an aside that he, himself, reached the age of 85 on July 20. Instead of indulging himself with a birthday party, however, he spent the day cutting oats, he said.

Shelman and his son, George Jr., are farming only what the two of them can handle on the large farm with some of the land being rented out to soybean growers. The rest of the land is in disuse. Shelman's grandson, Eddie, estimates that the two are working somewhere between 200-250 acres, including hay ground. Shelman expressed gratification with the way things are, and seems contented just to leave it all, including the antique machinery, to his one heir, George Jr.

Referring to one of the antique tractors on the place, a steam-operated 1,660 HP Reeves tractor built in 1916 and purchased by him in 1919, Shelman said that there are only two others like it in existence-one in Ft. Scott, Kansas, and one in eastern Iowa that sold at auction this past spring for $7,250. Shelman said he has been offered large amounts of money for his Reeves, but has no desire to sell it at any price.

The Shelman name is an old one in Breckinridge County. Shelman's great-grandfather, Martin Shelman, who came to Breckinridge County in the early 1800s, is thought to be originally from Greenbrier County, Virginia. The present Shelman farm was purchased by George Shelman's grandfather in 1854 from Mrs. Fannie Buck.

Shelman's father, Edward H., died in 1947 at the age of 93. He had been born and raised in the Sugar Tree Run area. His mother, the former Mahulda Jane Frymire, who died in 1934 at the age of 77, had been born and raised in the Bruner Ridge area. Shelman's wife, the former Martha Johnson, who died at age 65, was a life-long resident of the Union Star area.