Firsthand Account: Using Antique Farm Equipment Before it was Antique

John Jenkins' life story told through the equipment he used and maintained

Mr. John Jenkins, Griswold, Iowa, moving one of his engines

Mr. John Jenkins, Griswold, Iowa, moving one of his engines.

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As I am a reader your Album, I will try to write you a little account of my experiences as a machine man. Although I am past 72 I am able to work most every day.

Beginning with a Nichols & Shepard steam engine at a sawmill

When I was 16 years old I started to off bear at a sawmill and worked at this for about 20 days when the engineer became sick. There were five of us working at the time and the boss asked if there were any of us who could run an engine. The boss himself was an expert with an engine, but he had to do the sawing. I told him, “I would like to try it,” as I had learned how to use the injector to put water into the boiler and to start the engine when on belt, and had fired it a little.

He put me on and I handled it for a couple of weeks and then the engineer came back so I thought this was the end of the job I liked so much. But he let me on the engine, which was a 10 hp Nichols & Shepard. After I had run this engine a few days I thought I knew everything there was to know about, but the truth was I did not know enough about it to realize I knew practically nothing about it.

I did not know there was such a thing as setting the valve and a hundred other things, but in time I learned to set valves, put in flues, etc. I have babbitted the time shaft and eccentric by taking the piston out and lining through the cylinder, callipering it in the center and lining it past the lathe mark in the shaft. We always had a lot of fun at the mill when we sawed a log filled with big black ants. The man who did the off bearing would start running and scratching until free of them.

Nichols & Shepard, Huber, Avery, Russell and more

After the sawmilling job, I ran with a man named T.W. Davis who had a 13 hp Nichols & Shepard and operated it for four years. I then bought a second-hand Huber 36-inch separator and a 20 hp Huber return flue engine, which I ran one year and sold it to a man by the name of Joe Shear who worked it on the road for one summer and then traded it for a new 18 hp Avery undermounted and a 42x70 separator.

I then got a new 20 hp Russell compound and a 36x60 separator which I operated for some time and then traded it in on a second-hand 30 hp Russell compound universal high pressure boiler and a new 36x60 separator. After running that machine I put a 40x64 new separator on it and bought a new 25 hp simple universal boiler and a 40x64 separator, this making me two complete outfits. I ran them for some time and then sold the 25 Russell and 40x64 separator, and bought a 20 hp Wood engine and a 32-inch separator with wing feeders. It was a second-hand machine which I operated a couple of years, then traded the engine on a 20 hp Nichols & Shepard.

The man who got the 20 hp simple Russell engine had a man running it and they blew out the water glass. They pulled on to the next job and started to thresh. The engineer heard a cracking sound and he thought the flywheel was loose so he stepped up on top of the boiler and just as he did, it blew the crown sheet out, taking the grates and doors with it. It burned the separator and grain stacks, but no one was injured.

When I got rid of my Wood rig, I bought a 30x60 gas engine, a 4-cylinder 8x10 Russell and a 40x64 separator with wing feeder on it. These wing feeders worked nice. I ran this engine several falls and would shred corn fodder during the winter with a big Maytag shredder.

Later on I sold this outfit to a bunch of farmers and bought a second-hand Huber tractor to pull a 32-inch machine for a company who had wrecked its engine (a 20 hp Reeves). Next fall I bought a 16 hp Russell engine and 32-inch Huber separator for $250, but I never took the engine threshing as I had three gas rigs, a 38-inch Case, 32-inch Case and 32-inch Huber, so I sold the engine for $100. I sold the separator two falls later for $350.

So then I got three 28-inch rigs, one a Huber, one a Minneapolis and one a McCormick-Deering, and three IHC tractors, and the last one I owned was a 36-inch Case and a Rumely clover huller. I also bought a couple rigs to junk then I went to Canada where I operated a 40 Avery undermounted pulling 14 bottom plows. Three miles around the piece was necessary to pass the test, before I could unload, but I never missed. I think I have my certificate if I can find it.

One fall I went up in Canada and hired out to run a 110 Case, south of Regina, but it rained so much that I did not stay. I did run the big Avery plowing 125 miles north of Saskatoon, also a 19 hp Port Huron on a clover huller for a man by the name of Reece. One summer he and I built a ditching machine and I handled the levers on it for the summer. The engine we used on it was an upright boiler, and they used this engine to tear down the big ferris wheel at Chicago’s World Fair.

Shelling corn with a truck-mounted sheller

I also shelled corn for 48 years and think perhaps I was the first fellow to mount a sheller on a truck. I had a Minneapolis and bought a new Ottawa. My neighbors thought I was crazy to think of mounting one on a truck.

I kept shelling and working in spare time on the one I was mounting on the truck in spare time and when I got it done it worked perfectly. Later on I had two of them mounted and have shelled 8-1/2 million bushels.

Russell, Rumely, McCormick, IHC, Maytag, Port Huron, Case and New Holland

I have several pictures of my rigs, one where I went through a bridge with my 30 hp Russell compound, I jumped so I got away clear without injury. At one time I had two horse power outfits which I used for wood sawing. I had a big Rumely clover huller which I used about 20 years. I also threshed clover with a Russell separator. I had a real McCormick shredder and a 10 hp IHC hopper-cooled tractor. It was slow on the road but good on the belt. Then I had a big Maytag shredder pulled by a big Russell tractor which I used about four years, then got a Port Huron shredder, took about half it off and sold for junk and the rest made a good job, pulling it with my 30 Russell compound.

The last two years I shredded I used a 36-inch Case separator and an IHC tractor. I had three hay balers, all stationary, later bought a New Holland pickup, string tie which I used four years. This I traded for a Minneapolis with tie. I don’t think you can get a better and faster baler than the New Holland.

Down to two: Port Huron and Farmall Regular

All the machines I now have are a 19 hp Port Huron and an old Farmall Regular, which is 22 years old and running fine, never in any shop but my own.

Since I have both electric and acetylene welding, I am building a steam engine myself. Boiler is 6 inches in diameter, which is already complete. I am sending you a picture of my 19 hp Longfellow. I am standing in front of the rear wheel.

It’s time to bank my fire and hope to see some others send in their life’s story as a machine man.  IMA