Custom Steam Threshing, End of an Era

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R.R. 1 Lakeside, Ontario NOM 2G0

Who made the last threshing run powered by a steam engine?

This is a question I've often thought about. We read many articles in IMA about steam shows, threshing reunions and such activities. But nowadays it's mostly for the fun and entertainment. To someone who's actually experienced it as the real thing, sweating it out to help stook (shock up in U.S.) 40 acres of wheat all in one field, then helped thresh it, these shows seem kind of like warm-ups for supper! It's good, but my, not as good as it was when fresh! I was born in 1943 in Holmes County, Ohio to Levi and Mary Stutzman. There were four boys and four girls in our family and we boys were all fond of steamers.

Dad had fired an old 60 Case for his brother Noah when he was a lad. They did custom threshing but the engine was nearly worn out and the coal was poor. Dad had quite a time to keep steam up. Uncle Noah used to say, 'We threshed this way yesterday, we can thresh again today!'

When Noah finally sold the old Case, they drove it to the junk yard. On the way, the smoke stack fell off!

After getting married, Dad owned a 19 HP Baker for a while but sold it to Mose Shetter. It fired really hard. In those days there were still lots of better engines around.

By now the tractor had taken over almost all the threshing and Dad was farming. But barn threshing was quite common yet and I still remember one job where they stacked the bundles in a mow and then pitched it into the separator in the winter. Boy! Was it dirty work!

Dad bought himself a separator in the early '40s. It was a McCormick-Deering. But once he bought a John Deere 28' machine he stayed with that make, although he wore several out doing custom work. He did try a Lobsinger for a while after coming to Canada and he also bought a brand new Pioneer that was still sitting at the factory. This would have been about the late 1960s. He didn't seem to stick with either one too long, so he sent brother Jacob to Pennsylvania to buy a good used John Deere. Would you believe it, it was made in Canada!

He got into custom threshing almost by accident! He bought his first machine to do his own threshing, but it wasn't long until a neighbor got impatient, waiting on his turn for the custom operator to do his grain. Dad didn't really want to interfere with the custom operator's jobs. But the neighbor was insistent, so finally Dad obliged to help him out. Soon another neighbor got after him and so it went until he had around 35 or 36 jobs!

Dad had no tractor, so Uncle Ben Weaver bought a John Deere 'D' tractor and they operated on a partnership for several years. Later Uncle John Weaver furnished a tractor for power, a Rumely Six. John put on a spotlight for night moving. It was so bright, the neighbors could read the newspaper by its light! They usually had a young lad along to run the straw blower and run errands. David Kaufman and John Shetler were several of the early ones. After we boys grew up, Daniel, Jacob, Levi Jr. and I all had our turn at that and later firing the steamers.

After several years Uncle John quit threshing and Henry Yoder put his tractor on the separator. (I forget the make of tractor.) By this time Dad had bought a sawmill also and in the off season did custom sawing.

Henry, his brother Al, and John Jr. all worked for Dad at one time or another, but mostly on the sawmill. There were about six or eight more men who worked with and for Dad over the years on threshing and saw-milling but space doesn't allow all the names and details in this article, maybe later.

After several years of farming, threshing and sawing my parents quit farming for about eleven years. Mom inherited a 15-acre property and we moved onto it. When I was about seven, Henry Yoder bought an old wheel trencher and to me it was almost frightening to see and hear this cumbersome monster drive in at our place to do some trenching.

In the early '50s, Ura Troyer used his Cat D-4 with a pulley attachment on the rear end to do the threshing. It worked real well. Sometimes his brother Jonas operated this rig.

About 1952 Dad got the steam fever again. So he went to a man by the name of H. M. Jones, Little Falls, Minnesota and bought a 50 and 65 Case. He had these shipped in by rail car.

The 65 was a good engine and Dad put it right to work. The 50 needed the boiler thoroughly cleaned out and a few other minor things done, then it was ready.

We used mostly the 65 on the separator. At first I went with the steam rig a bit, but after Dad bought the second John Deere 28' separator he and brother Daniel operated the steam rig. I helped Ura and Jonas Troyer on the other rig powered by the Cat. We boys weren't old enough yet to operate a steam rig by ourselves, although we had two steam engines and threshers.

I think it was 1954 when Dad decided he wanted a Baker. He ended up finding and buying a 21-75, engine #17787, the very last Baker made in 1928. It was still so new it was easy to see the machine marks on the bull gears!

Then we used the Baker nearly always to thresh. So Dad sold both Case engines and kept the Baker.

In 1956 our family moved to Oxford County, Ontario. We took the Baker, one John Deere machine, an 8-roll Rosenthal corn husker/shredder and the sawmill along, plus several truck loads of other articles and household goods. We picked up about a dozen threshing jobs around the area and did custom work until 1967. We threshed our own grain at home until 1968.

More and more people bought their own separator and worked by themselves until finally Dad' decided to call it quits and just do our own. Dad threshed for 29 seasons. But after he quit everyone agreed, it just wasn't exciting anymore without a steamer!

The Baker sat idle for about three or four years, then Dad sold it to John Snider. We hated to see the Baker sold but knew it would be well taken care of by John. He takes it to some fairs in the Stratford area and also to the plowing matches.

It would be interesting to hear whether any steam threshing rigs were operated on a custom run since 1967 or, was ours the last one in the country?

My present collection consists of two George White traction engines being restored, a Goodison boiler, a Bucyrus Erie steam crane, and several other boilers and a Frick sawmill.