GILDING THE LILY

But The Steam Still Runs Hot

Content Tools

411 N.E. First St., Galva, Ill. 61434

THE GALVA NEWS

Thursday, September 22, 1966

By Roy holding

It is too bad that some of the more prominent names in the nation's news papers today could not have enjoyed the same type of partnership as Bert Johnson has during the past 60 years.

Had these gentlemen been able to run out, fire up a boiler and blow off a batch of steam in recent months, we might not be labored every morning at the breakfast table with the accounts of the chaotic can cans held on streets about the nation.

Since 1904, has been-or was until last week a member of the devout who'd rather fire up a boiler than a crowd, and stir the blood with the shrill of a steam engine whistle instead of exhortations.

Since 1904, when Bert took up the task of community steam thresherman, he has owned and operated 35 different steam engines and threshers, corn shellers, clover hullers, fodder shredders, wood saws, road graders and everything that went with the age of steam.

For those young'ns in the crowd it should be pointed out that back in those days millions of acres of grain were harvested and threshed by the magnificent iron steeds that billowed smoke and shrieked impatiently when it was time for their masters to settle around a bountiful noon dinner table.

You see kids, steam engines weren't concocted just so Bert and his aides over the yearsBert Hall and Ronald Holtcould haul youngsters around the Galva square on Sidewalk Day.

Back in 1923, Bert joined the Rotary Club of Galva and created quite a bit of consternation in Rotary International. Seems that although steam engines had been around longer than Rotary, the Rotarians had no occupational classification for threshman and custom operator. They immediately created one and Bert became the first to wear such a designation on his big, round badge. In fact, Bert could well have been the only one.

When the tractor came along and heralded a new age of mechanization in agriculture, the steam engine like many other grand characters of history just passed out of the farm picture.

But when you're got steam bubbling in your veins and the tang of coal dust in your nostrils, you don't succumb so easily to progress.

Bert bought an old Case steam engine built in 1916 from Walter Raum at Hamilton, Ohio. For 12 years he put his 'old Case' through its paces at the Central States Thresher's Reunion at Pontiac.

No Sidewalk Day was complete until the wail of the Case indicated she was all fired up and ready to haul kids on a hay wagon around the square. And despite the accent on speed by the younger generation, they lined up to creep around four blocks at five-miles-an-hour.

Bert even won a rare prize in this souped up age. Last August he took the 'slow race' award at the Buda Early Gas and Steam Engine Show by creeping past the reviewing stand at the slowest rate of speed.

But, as Bert points out, 'steam engines as well as humans become due for retirement.' Not being eligible for social security, what could be more appropriate for the Case than to spend the remaining years in a museum. There all the kids born after the age of steam can gawk at and admire.

Soafter a final performance at Old Settlers' Day in Bishop HillBert shipped his 1916 Case off to the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan, last week, officially terminating an era in Galva history.

But the age of steam won't be completely forgotten.

A small 1913 vintage Case Bert acquired along the smoky path is being donated to the Bishop Hill Heritage Association.

And then, of course, there's always that steam coursing through Bert's arteries.

Could it erupt again may be about Sidewalk Day?