Second Annual Meeting of the "Fiends"

Western Steam Fiends Association's annual meeting included steam threshing, officer elections and boiler advice

1893 Buffalo Pitts 12 hp return flue

Buffalo Pitts 12 hp return flue as it appeared brand new at Calton, Wash., in 1893, according to Chris Busch's records.

courtesy F. Hal Higgins

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About half the 165 members of the Western Steam Fiends Association answered President Chris Busch’s call to the second annual meeting at Colton, Wash., on the evening of Sept. 19, 1953.

Mr. Busch has been attracting crowds of neighbors, and a growing and widening audience of old and new steam threshing fans for several years as he annually harvests part of his small grain crop by binder and thresher powered by one of his steam threshing engines from his large collection.

Attendance of Fiends was noted from six different states. And one South African student from the University of Minnesota appeared at the ranch for the threshing show. At the annual meeting prizes were awarded to Milo Gibson for oldest member present. He admitted a youthful 80. Orrin G. Seaver, Ypsilanti, Mich., won a prize for distance traveled by a Fiend.

The program presented a color movie on steam railroading, and a masterly talk by C.R. Miller on what to do and what not to do with steam boilers. As Miller was a pioneer Agricultural college instructor in the field of steam engines in his post-graduate days at Washington State College, the steam Fiends got the benefit of science and experience in the steam threshing field. Miller operated steam threshing machines in the pre-combine days.

Election of officers kept the head office filled by Mr. Busch with Miller also being re-elected to the vice-presidency. The recent resignation of Ted Middleton as secretary-treasurer, however, called for the election of a new name on the Fiends’ official group.

Edgar Bergen, of Charley McCarthy fame in the radio field, was present as a member of the Fiends and entertained the audience with a brief talk on ventriloquism. While Charley was absent in person, Bergen did bring his voice into the act as a little touch of sentiment for the absent star.

Three-ring circus at Busch ranch

Out at President Busch’s ranch, three miles from Colton, the next day, visiting Fiends and between 3,500 and 4,500 neighbors and steam equipment sightseers gathered. There were three main attractions:

  • The Chris Busch collection of some 29 old steam threshing and plowing engines, water tank wagon, cook wagon, threshers, etc.
  • Working models brought in and demonstrated by their builders.
  • The actual threshing of two stacks of grain by a Case separator powered by the under-mounted Avery engine.

As a special extra feature, there was Edgar Bergen and his cameraman making a program for his coming TV show. Watch for it, for Bergen did a real job in interviewing the model builders and catching their pets in action. Also, he interviewed several of the old steam thresher engineers present to catch their colorful recollections of the old days. Bergen also climbed aboard the big Avery, tooted the whistle and then pitched bundles from the stack to the Case separator as the threshing got underway.

It was interesting to visiting editors to study the wide appeal to every layer of humanity present from toddlers who wanted to play with the steam models to grizzled old-timers in their 80s, agricultural college engineers and students, farm equipment dealers, teachers from local schools, and the pioneer farmers who had worked around such machines.

Now and then a Westerner asked where were the seven or eight combines built in the Pendleton-Spokane-Portland triangle before World War I: Northwest, Idaho, McRae, Blewett, Brown and Lewis, Savage, Harrington, Quinell, and maybe another or two. And the Pride of Washington, a separator built at Walla Walla and used effectively in the Northwest for some years over a quarter century ago.

The crowd had a good time and enjoyed the day from the first sight of the Busch collection of steam engines to the genuine cook wagon from which lunch was handed out the side-drop doors. One old-time thresher fan, whose boyhood in Iowa went back to circling horse power, dropped a nostalgic tear or two as he remarked that he thought Busch had captured everything but the swarms of flies that went with horses and the clouds of dog pecker gnats that hovered around the water jug corncob stopper.

A California visitor who could recall the world’s record for a day’s threshing on the “Doc” Glenn ranch in the Sacramento Valley, reminisced about the flock of buzzards that trailed the meat wagon coming from town to bring fresh meat for the threshing crews’ dinner and supper.

One Oregon man was noted with a big pad of paper circulating in the crowd as he gathered signatures calling on the state to set up a museum at Albany, Ore., to house the pioneer steam, horse and man powered farm equipment. This is a worthy move that our Canadian neighbors have already started with considerable success, I understand from correspondence with E.R. Potter at Saskatoon.

Several county museums have been started in California by the local historical societies, and the recent conference of California Historical Societies at Columbia State Park would indicate that interest is growing to the point where both the museum and the action show such as Busch has been putting on at Colton and the Midwest and East from Pennsylvania to Kansas will join hands to give us something in which high school teams can take part to re-create accurately the mechanization of the United States that has lifted the nation to its present so-called “American standard of living.” IMA