On the Eastern Shore of Maryland where I was born and raised, the wheat fields averaged from about 40 to 60 acres, as most of the farms here were of 160 acres more or less.
As I recall, my first association with a steam threshing rig was around the age of 8 or 9. My first job at threshing time was hauling wood to the engine long before daylight. Around sunup several of the boys my age and I would start to haul water in old wooden barrels, by horse cart from the nearest stream for the engine. Threshing usually began about sunup or shortly thereafter. Invariably, we boys would stop loading water from the stream and take a swim; before long we would hear three shrill blasts from the engine whistle which meant the engineer needed water right away.
In this area the threshing rigs usually belonged to one or two owners. Six or seven farmers in the same neighborhood joined together and formed a threshing run. Each farmer furnished a team and wagon and two men. One man pitched the bundles of wheat from the shocks to the man on the wagon who loaded the bundles and took them to the thresher. As each farmer's crop was finished the rig moved to the next adjoining farm until all of the farmers wheat on the run had been threshed. It would be a very grave injustice indeed, not to give credit to the farmer's wives who toiled so hard to prepare the wonderful threshermen's meals these tireless ladies put before us. Believe me these meals were something you could never forget.
As each threshing run was completed the rig would move on to another run, etc. until all the wheat had been threshed, usually by late July or August.
Around the middle thirties the gas tractors began to replace the faithful old steamers never again the same. In the late thirties I was married and left the farm. Shortly thereafter the combine began to replace the gas threshing rigs and the nostalgia of wheat threshing was lost.
During the late sixties I had the privilege of attending several of the old time steam reunions which brought back some long forgotten boyhood memories.
During June 1971 my wife and I took a trip through the midwest where these steam shows have been very popular for many years. It was on this trip that we stopped at the LaPorte County Steam Historical Society showgrounds. While there, we met the president of this association, Mr. John Edris who made our stop a very pleasant one. While we were at the LaPorte showgrounds we also saw the big Nichols - Shepard engine and decided right then and there that some day we must have that engine. We were introduced to Mr. & Mrs. Don Schwenk, the owners of the big Nichols engine, and asked them if they would consider selling us this engine in a couple of years. I think you can imagine our joy when they said possibly so.
We went back to LaPorte Ind. during their 1971 show on labor day weekend and I had the pleasure of operating 'BIG NICK' as this engine was fondly known.
It was during this visit to the LaPorte show that I made a deposit on the engine with plans to purchase the engine the following year. During October 1972 the deal was closed with Mr. Schwenk and provisions were made to move the engine to Easton, Maryland during the spring of 1973.
In the early part of 1973 after numerous phone calls, letters, etc., to the four states, whose borders it was necessary to cross, to get the engine to Maryland vs. overwidth permits (engine is 11 feet wide and 12 feet-3 inches high) I found the cost of these permits for trucking the engine through to be prohibitive. It was at this time that I began checking into moving the engine by rail.
Lo and behold, about this time a freighter proceeding through the C&D canal during an extremely foggy morning knocked out the Penn Central RR bridge across the canal; our only rail link from the eastern shore. After considerable correspondence with Penn Central personnel in Baltimore, Md., Phila., Pa. and Chicago, 111. I was notified that the damaged RR bridge over the canal would be open to essential rail traffic only at about the middle of April. As there was no unloading ramp either in Balto. or Elkton, Md., I became rather concerned as to how I was going to unload the engine at either of these locations as they were the closest to Easton, but on the wrong side of the canal.
Finally on April 23, Mr. Wm. Brown from the Penn Central Trans. Co. in Chicago, 111. notified me that a chain flat car was being spotted on the siding at LaPorte (directly across the tracks from the old M. Rumely Co. plant, now Allis-Chalmers), on April 24, also that he had clearance on the flatcar directly to Easton, Maryland. To state here that I was overjoyed with this bit of news is just not possible as those of you who have had the occasion to load a piece of equipment of this size can appreciate my position.
On April 26 Mr. Don Schwenk loaded the engine on his lowboy trailer and hauled it the seven miles to the siding at LaPorte and loaded 'BIG NICK' on the flatcar under steam. I might add that it sure was a pleasure to have the opportunity to watch a real steam engineer put this big engine on the car as it was done many years ago. Don and a couple of his steam buddies had built a ramp of cross ties up to the end of the flat car the day before like the shippers did years ago.
The engine arrived in Easton on May 9 in perfect condition and was unloaded May 10 under its own power and trucked the three blocks from the platform and ramp here at Easton to my home on No. Aurora St. Since its arrival in Easton it has been completely cleaned and repainted to the original Nichols Shepard colors as nearly as possible and a new canopy has been added by my son and I.
We thank Howard Crise of The Talbot Banner newspaper, Easton, Maryland 21601, for permission to reprint the following picture. From 1. to r. are Alvin Sanger, Cordova; D. Edgar Hurlock, Churchill; Ross Rhodes, 1st Vice President, Churchill; Wilber Engle, Director, Preston; George Neal, President, Easton; Hans Wendt, Director, Easton; Timmy Engle, Youth Member, Preston; Howard Engle, Director, Preston; Sherman Hopkins, Treasurer, Easton; Cecil Gannon, Landowner, Easton and Alan 'Pete' Lovelace, 2nd Vice President, Wye Mills. All the above mentioned towns are in Maryland. This picture is in connection with the purchasing of the land for the future location of the Tuckahoe Steam and Gas Engine Ass'n, Inc.
The engine was on display at the Delaware State Fair at Harrington, Del. where we threshed wheat with it during their fair and it created quite a bit of interest. This engine is to the best of my knowledge, the largest steam traction engine (size & horsepower 35/120) to have ever been on the Eastern Shore. Since our engine arrived in Easton an enthusiastic group of steam fans and I have organized a new steam show to be known as 'THE TUGKAHOE STEAM AND GAS ASSOCIATION INC.' Our group has about a dozen old steamers and many old gas engines and tractors. On Saturday December 15th 1973 a delegation from the 'TUCKAHOE STEAM & GAS ENGINE ASSOCIATION INC.', met with and contracted to purchase a parcel of land from Mr. Cecil Gannon of approximately 20 acres on the west side of Rt. US 50 near Easton Maryland for our new showgrounds.
Most of this acreage is lightly wooded and we plan to retain as many of the trees as possible, as we feel that this adds a more park-like atmosphere to a steam and gas show.
I might add that the ink was hardly dry on the contract when several of our members began to remove unwanted underbrush, etc.
As the weather permits we plan to begin construction on our modern restroom facility and a larger building to use for our kitchen facility and eating area.
Our future plans will include a Farm Museum to house and display our old equipment that we now have, and are receiving, from other interested individuals.
We also plan to put some of our old steamers and gas tractors to work on the grounds pulling stumps, etc., as I have been told by several old timers that this was the way land was cleared many years ago. We wish to extend an invitation to the public to come to the showgrounds and watch this activity or better yet take an active part in same. Our plans are now complete for our first annual show to be held on our new showgrounds on July 12th, 13th, and 14th, 1974.
Our formal dedication of the showgrounds is scheduled for 2 p.m., July 13th.
We wish to extend a cordial invitation to our many friends from both far and near and all those interested in watching a bit of the past relived once again to join us at our showgrounds for this our first annual show. Hoping to see all of you at show time, George E. Neal, President.