Dad and Sons

24-75 hp. Sawmill Engine

Lucile and LeRoy Blaker at 24-75 hp. Sawmill Engine. I have owned this engine 52 years. Run every year since; new in 1917. When new, pulled road excavator 150 days. Has threshed over one million bu. of grain; filled 200 silos. Sawed four million feet of l

LeRoy W. Blaker

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Rt. 1, Box 31, Pacific, Missouri 63069.

I have been reading your magazine for several years and certainly enjoy reading other men's experiences with steam engines. I have been attracted to steam engines like flies to molasses as long as I can remember. I am the oldest of eleven children and when I was six years old, and my next brother then four, would go to see the threshing machine at a neighbor's place before it came to our farm. This was about the year 1900. My experience with steam engines really began in 1909 when my father bought a new M. Rumely 16 H. P. engine No. 5027 and a new Rumely Ideal 32 x 52 wooden separator. The outfit arrived in Eureka, Missouri about June 1, on one car on Frisco Railroad. A man from Rumely Branch House in St. Louis came out to unload the outfit. Though only fourteen years old, I was there to help unload the new outfit. My father bought this outfit in partnership with an experienced operator who proceeded to drive it six miles south to our farm. I drove the team to the water wagon. This separator was one of the first in our area to be equipped with a Peoria weigher. We charged 4c per bushel those first years threshing wheat. We had a good river bottom run and this new outfit made a hit with everyone we worked for. This engine steamed very easily and would sit and chug all day long with eight to ten wagons hauling bundles.

All grain those days was bagged in 2 bushel cotton bags and piled in the field. After threshing was finished, the farmers helped one another haul this bagged wheat to a railroad car in Eureka where the bags were loaded in a box car by hand and it was shipped to commission men in St. Louis who sold it for the farmers.

In 1911 my father let me haul water for the engine with the idea of me learning to fire and operate the engine. Needless to say, I did not need any coaxing to do this. Dad's partner was an expert operator and could repair anything made of wood or iron. In the four seasons I hauled water for him he taught me many things I needed to know to successfully operate a threshing rig. By this time Dad's partner was getting along in years and his sons began to take his place on some of the operations. The hill country we threshed in after our bottom run was finished had some pretty rough roads and these boys began to have troubles. They turned the separator over on a hillside road in 1912. Luckily some trees on lower side of road kept the separator from falling too fast and it was not damaged too much. We got a cable stump puller hooked to a tree on up hill side of separator and pulled it right side up. Several seasons went by without any distressing incidents. The year of 1915 changed this. In August of that year, which was a very rainy one, the boys got stuck in a sandy creek and by the time they got out it was late in the day and they parked the outfit on not too high a spot. A torrential rain that night and next day raised the Meramec River to the highest stage in history and backwater up this creek completely covered both engine and separator. After getting the rig cleaned up and finishing some stack threshing on the hills they stored the separator in a shed and started to move old 5027 about 20 miles over poor roads to a sawmill set in Franklin County. About half way to this set they pulled onto a weak creek bridge when floor joists on left side of bridge gave way and the engine slid down until drive wheel hit creek bottom, then it turned over upside down in creek. It broke off smokestack, governor, a lot of pipes and bent ' he crankshaft. We again got the cal puller into action; righted the engine, got a machine shop to straighten the crankshaft, made all necessary repairs and moved on to the sawmill site. There the boys sawed a lot of oak. maple, and sycamore logs. In February, 1916 the Meramec River went on another rampage and again the engine was completely under water. I was not working with them at this time but they cleaned up the engine, apparently none the worse for the flooding.

About this time Dad was getting a bit disgusted with his partnership and after some bargaining, he bought out his partner. I had hauled water four seasons, had learned to fire the boiler on sawmill jobs and had done some operating on the road and now Dad expected me to take over. As the threshing season approached we decided I would run the engine, my brother Edw, the separator and my brother Tony the water wagon. We operated this way several years and got along very well. We bought a new Red River separator in spring of 1918. I went to the Army in July of that year and my brothers, with some hired help, finished the season. I returned from service the spring of 1919 in time to finish a sawmill job on some timber dad had bought. I, with my brothers, made the 1919 threshing season and when it was over I rented a 200 acre bottom farm. That fall I put in a wheat crop and batched on this farm until the spring of 1920 when I got married. I missed the next two threshing seasons as my younger brothers took over Dad's rig.

In January 1922 I bought Dad's old Ideal separator which had been in a shed for four years and with the help of my brother-in-law did a lot of repairing on it during the winter and by spring we had it in good running condition. In May, 1922 I bought a 20 H. P. Advance Rumely Universal Engine, No. 15042, with a high pressure boiler and open bottom firebox. I employed a retired German operator to run our old separator and with this new engine we could thresh all the wheat ten wagons could haul to us. We finished our good bottom run in fine shape, then threshed two nice stack runs and pulled for home and shed. Ten days later on a clear moonlight night about 10 P. M. my shed and separator were on fire. This was a severe blow for me as I had no insurance, on the separator and very little on my farm equipment most of which also burned. We suspected arson but could prove nothing. My new engine was outside so was not damaged in the fire.

In the spring of 1923, with Dad's help, I bought a new Rumely Ideal 36 x 60 separator and with my big engine we were again in business. With my old separator man and my brother-in-law we operated this for eight seasons. During these years, not much had been done on bridge renewal or repair. After breaking through a few small ones, with minor damage, I decided to trade my heavy outfit for a tractor outfit. I decided on a 25-40 Oil-Pull and a 28 x 48 steel Rumely Little Giant separator, I operated this outfit for seven seasons. In 1933 I bought a good Reeves double cylinder engine and Dad's old Red River separator. I hired a crew and used this outfit four seasons. This little Reeves engine and the Red River separator was as quiet running outfit as anyone could wish to see. Fact is one of my neighbors I threshed for named this engine 'The Little Hero.'

In 1937 I sold the Oil-Pull rig and traded the Reeves steamer and separator in on a Keck Gonnerman Indiana Special separator 32 x 54 and an Oliver Special Tractor, both on rubber tires and Tim-ken bearings in the separator wheels. Now I had a fast moving rig, as combines were getting more numerous and thresher moves longer. I used this tractor a lot in the field on farm work and threshed until 1951. I still have this outfit in top operating condition. I pull a large hammer mill with this tractor to grind feed for my hogs and cattle. I also saw some lumber for use here on the farm.

When I traded my Advance Rumely engine it was sold to a Mr. Bruns in St. Charles County, Missouri and he threshed in Missouri and Mississippi river bottoms until 1946 when combines took over. A Mr. Williams bought it at this time and a few years ago I bought it from Mr. Williams. So after so many years old No. 15042 is home again. I use it in local parades which our V.F.W. Post 6900 and Our American Legion Post 177 have at their annual homecomings.

We also have a wheat threshing day on our farm the last week end in July of each year when we belt this engine to my Keck separator and thresh about five acres of wheat.

In addition to operating, threshing and sawing machinery over the years I have operated a large grain and livestock farm. At this time, with three sons, we operate 1,950 acres of which we own 1,300.

My wife and I had a family of 7 boys and 4 girls. We had 4 sons in the U. S. Marine Corps and one in U. S. Air Force during W. W. II and Korea. One son was missing in action on the Marshall Islands invasion in 1944. He has never been found. The ten remaining children are all married and living within a few miles of the home place. We have 30 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. We are both in good health and very active. I work on the farm and the wife does her housework and in summer her hobby is raising flowers which takes up quite a lot of her time.