Sawyer-Massey steam tractor

Courtesy of R. F. Somerville, 12498 14th Ave. N., Haney, B. C, Canada 75 hp Sawyer-Massey steam tractor and 14 bottom Reeves steam lift plow at Pion-era, Saskatoon, July, 1965.

R. F. Somerville

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611 D Ave., National City, California

Here are a few of my experiences from my younger days. I am now 78 years old. I started with my uncle on a 12 HP Frick when I was 17 years old and weighed 107 lbs. The winter of 1903 I fired a 15 HP Frick in a sawmill for 50 cents a day and my board.

In 1906 I ran a new Reeves 13 HP on the Mississippi River bottom land and it was a beauty of an engine.

In 1907 I took this same 15 HP Frick to the River Bottom to thresh. I had to cross a large drainage ditch called the Sny. There was a large covered bridge to cross on and it was built like a barn. It was an arched bridge and had 2' x 3' planking on it. The boss wanted to chain out, so we did. I wanted him to steer for me, but he said 'no use two good men getting killed.' You know I could not hold that separator on those 2' x 3' planks and the beauty of it was that when I got the separator up to the center, I had to cut loose with the chain and then back the engine up on the bridge again. Was I ever glad when I got across. If I had gone through the bridge I would have fallen about 20 ft. down into about 10 ft. of water. This bridge was built before the Civil War and I crossed it in 1907. That same year, with this engine, I started to go down a steep hill about 11 o'clock at night and decided to plank the bridge at the foot of the hill. But when I reversed to hold her I heard the gear pin fall out. I let loose of the reverse lever and grabbed the steering wheel. Away we went in the bright moonlight. Boy, how I hit that bridge, a bump or two and we were across. That old 32 x 54 Pitts separator was sure pushing me.

My brother and I went into business about 1908. We had a 12 HP Advance, 32 x 52 Advance Separator hand feed and a No. 1 Birdsell Huller. One night, pretty late, we were moving the huller and the farmer said there was a small hill in the brush on this byroad. I didn't pay any attention to the steam off and I couldn't get him back to thank him for saving my life. They had to cut me loose.

I sold out and went to work in a shop tearing down and rebuilding. I kept track of the flues I put in until the number was over 10,000. Also, I was a trouble shooter. I worked for the John M. Brant Co. in Bushnell, Illinois. One day I went to see what was wrong with a 20 HP Advance Rumely. The man said the Illinois River running into the boiler would not keep it full. Well, I pulled the valve cover and set valve, which was off some, but not bad. Started up to threshing and I never heard an Advance sound like it. Keen on one end, blow on the other. I checked the valve once more. The boiler would not steam. I looked up under the steam chest and said to shut her down. He asked what I was going to do now and I told him I was going to fix his engine. He had piped the steam chest drain into the cylinder cock pipe on the live end. As you know, on these engines that made her get live steam all the way on that end and then get live steam on the back stroke to work against which made her blow on that end. She sure sounded queer. He said it was funny the company would pipe it that way. I said I don't want to call you a liar, but I had seen lots of Advance engines and never one piped like that. He finally admitted that he had done it to drain the steam chest. You should have heard it when I started it up then. After that he said the pump would not work so I took it apart and it was full of pebbles. I told him that I wouldn't have a pump that wouldn't pump rocks either and that he should put a screen on the hose.

Another time I started a man from the shop with a 20 HP Rumely and a separator in the winter time. It was zero or below. He got about 5 miles that day with it and called up the next morning to tell me the engine would not run. I drove out there and took a helper with me. We opened the throttle, one or two rev. bounce back. It had me for a while and then I put my hand on the exhaust pipe. It was cold. I told my helper to give me that steam hose. I put it in overflow from injector and it gave me some steam. I warmed it a while and said to my helper, 'open her up.' You ought to have seen the ice and hot water go out the top of the stack. That big long heater was full of ice. She had stood all night with the side of the engine to the wind and, of course, the barrel of the boiler being jacketed made it worse. You should have seen the look on his face when she broke loose.

I went to see a new Advance Rumely. The owner said it was off but one of our boys unloaded it and he said it ran all right. However, the owner said he went to use it in a day or two and it was no good. He had an old man work on it all day and he gave up. He had changed everything that could be moved. It took me about 2 hours to get it adjusted so I could set the valve. Well, I got it all O.K. and I often wondered if somebody had tinkered with it.

I unloaded an 18 HP Colean in Missouri. I started them out all O.K. but in a day or two they called and said the engine would not run. I went back and asked what she did when they opened the throttle. He said 'nothing.' I told him that I knew what was wrong. The governor valve was off the stem and they could have fixed it in a few minutes while it took two nights and one day for me to get there and back.

I came very near to getting killed with a new 22 HP Minneapolis. We had steamed it up for a customer and the foreman started it up and then it stuck on center and he told one of the boys to stick a pipe through the flywheel and pry it off center. I was going to get out of the way but did not have time. The pipe hit the drive wheel and me a glancing lick across the jaw. It knocked me about 15 ft. dead to the world.

I rebuilt a 16 HP D.C. Nichols-Sheppard engine the company traded for it. The owner said it never did run good. When I took it down all the bolts holding the engines to the bed plates had been hollow ground and when I went to line it up it was about inch out of line. The man that built it must have been a good mechanic. I don't know how it got by.

About 1906 in Springfield, Illinois I saw a glass engine in a glass blowers booth that actually was running. It was a walking beam type of engine, flywheels about 12' in diameter. You could see the piston going up and down in the cylinder.

I worked for the John M. Brant Company from 1914 to 1926 and then I drifted to California. There were no steam engines so I went to work on a lemon ranch, 20 acres, about 1800 trees. That was in 1940. I grew 10,700 boxes of lemons and was there for 25 years, from 1930 until 1955. It was sold and now is built up in houses.


Courtesy of Charles W. Anthes, 6204 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, Calif.

I am a member of the Western Steam Fiends Association, and was among the first to sign up. I have attended most of the meetings at Colton, Washington; also had the pleasure of being the oldest member on two different occasions. I have been to most of the Chris Busch's thresher shows, missed one in the '50's. Always a good time had by all.

You can meet many nice and interesting people at a gathering of this kind. Lots of them are from faraway states.

Have been to the Tri State at Bird City, Kansas. My two brothers and I attended from '61 to '63. My kid brother Floyd, became acquainted with Mr. Newberry, who had a Nichols 'V' shaped 40 horse double cylinder rear mount. Floyd took a liking to the engine and the owner who allowed him to play with the engine.

This association has a three day show each year in September or October. Each day they thresh some wheat and do some steam plowing. When I was there they had nineteen engines on the ground all in working order. At noon they were all in a parade. Some were scale Case models which were a nice piece of work. Some ladies served hot dinners in the building on the grounds. You could sit at tables in the building or go to the tent tables.

In '63 and '64 my brother Sid and I attended Mr. Bill Mayberry's thresher show at Niabrara, Nebraska. He had a two day show in '64. There were five Aultman and Taylor engines on the grounds plus some gas tractors. Mr. Mayberry threshed oats by steam and by horse power. There were twelve head of chestnut sorrel horses in from Dakota and Nebraska. They weighed around 1400 or 1500 pounds.

The '64 show was a big one. The gate man said more than 8000 people had come in by afternoon on Sunday. At that time, I met two men from Idaho who were members of Western Steam Fiends Association. I do not recall their names.

I am enclosing a picture of my brother Floyd on a Nichols and Shepherd engine. Floyd was ill for more than a year. He was laid to rest on the 12th of November at the age of 65.


Marion, Ohio December 15, 1964

Mr. Fred Harter, Box 241 Galion, Ohio Dear Fred:

This is in answer to your inquiry regarding the Reverse as shown on Page 45 of the January-February 1965 issue of The Iron Men Album Magazine.

Our records indicate that this Reverse was first used on an Engine sold and shipped from our factory on May 23, 1890.

Trusting we have given you the desired information, we are Very Truly yours


P. O. Box 241 Galion, Ohio 44833 January 8, 1965 Editor Iron Men Album Enola, Pa. Dear Elmer:

Kindly refer to the attached letter wherein answer is given your question pertaining to the Huber Sliding Sleeve Reverse illustrated on page 45 of the 'Album' for January and February. This letter represents a favor from a friend who in point of service is among the oldest active veterans of the Huber Corporation and well qualified by experience to dig out information of the sort desired. Please note then that he has fixed the development of that type of Reverse for the year 1890.

At the time I first called on Mr. Lantz to request his aid he said that it might take some doing unless he were given a clue to start with. Fortunately in this case there happened to be a clue. It can be readily seen by anyone who will turn the page upside down and observe the parts number on the Sliding Sleeve Casting. This number, A 270, suggested the old Parts Manual as the proper area of reference and the rest, as Mr. Lantz advised me, was a routine matter.

Following the Holiday Season, I again called on Mr. Lantz when he related his finding a notation describing the first Huber engine having been equipped with the Sliding Sleeve Reverse. It was a 12 h.p., No. 1785, and sold May 23, 1890 to James Alley of Oxford, Kansas. Also, as far as can be determined, this Reverse was used on all Huber engines built during 1890 and until the adoption of the Wolfe gear in 1892 and, perhaps, on order at odd times thereafter.

It is to be hoped that there may be folks around Oxford, Kansas who still remember James Alley.

With kindest wishes I remain Yours sincerely, Fred Harter

Letter from L. C. Mazilly, Starks, La.

In the fall of 1929 I had a rather dangerous experience caused by my own oversight or carelessness that I well remember in detail. A man bought a 20 hp M. Rumely engine and got me to run it a distance of some 20 odd miles. It was in good shape except the clutch was out of order so I used the gear pin to drive.

I was within 3 or 4 miles of my destination when I saw a nice pile of pine knots alongside the road and stopped to pick them up. This is a fuel that will howl any boiler on earth and I wanted all of it I could get. Nothing else is so good to mix with green slabs in saw milling.

This engine had a rather high platform from outside to outside of drive wheels and as I remember an oil drum on each end of this platform for water tanks. I piled the pine knots as high as my head leaving just room enough to stand at the steering wheel and open the fire door. With some difficulty I climbed aboard. I had 125 lbs. steam and plenty of water, but when I attempted to start, I let the engine stop on center. I could not reach the fly wheel, so got down on the ground to turn it off; but did not notice that I had left the throttle wide open and the reverse in backward road motion. Now in cranking an engine off center I always knew, as we all do, to turn it the direction it is to run. The Rumely, being a 4 shaft engine, the flywheel of course turns backward for forward on the road. Perhaps the gear pin being in caused me to rock it forward. Anyway, that Rumely started backing faster, it seemed to me, than I ever saw a traction engine roll. It was slightly down hill and a wide hard road. I ran behind and looked for a place to grab on. I knew the wood would slip and roll and in that desperate moment I knew, as I know now, that my chances of boarding the engine or going under the drivers were no more than 50-50 at best, but board it I did and I believe for quick action in shutting off and reversing an engine that I set a record that stands to this day. This was a good engine and a free steamer. I ran it a distance of 10 miles to another mill set later. It cut a great deal of lumber in this vicinity. I ran it some in sawing at both mills and did some repair work on it but for the most part in those years I ran a Peerless Ul at another mill.

I note in the engine magazines that some think if there should ever be a boiler accident at any reunion it would be the end of all engine shows. By just what authority is this to be brought about? Since there are more people killed on the highways ever thirty days than were killed by thresher engines in more than 50 years, can we expect the operation of automobiles to be prohibited? Perhaps the attitude is that no one minds going out in the blaze of glory of all this modern up to date killing but no one could tolerate an outmoded obsolete death caused by a boiler failure. The rigid and constant inspection of any boiler to be fired should never be relaxed but the facts are that many things are more dangerous than a boiler under steam at the pressure it was built to carry. An old or defective boiler is much more apt to blow out a weak place than it is to tear loose at the seams and explode. We fellows who run boilers should be the first to see that they are safe.

I expect to thresh my rice this fall with 20 hp Minneapolis and 32 inch Case separator.

I threshed some corn last year with good results. It shelled and cleaned the grain fine and shredded the fodder in fine shape.

I would like for some one to write their experience in binding and threshing soy beans with common grain thresher.


Courtesy of Mr. O. W. Bowen, Woodman, Wisconsin

I read Mr. Robinson B. Brown's letter in the July-August issue and note carefully what he says about the Advance Engine being light in front. I have had 3, 2-16's and one 21 Compound. The 16's were simple.

At one time I lived in quite a hilly county and I pulled a 36 x 58 Separator with feeder, weigher and a Satley stacker. We all know that was a big load for a 16 HP.

I am an old engineer, started in 1901 on a Peerless on a sawmill and have been at it more or less ever since. I am 82 years old and have run engines in 5 different states, burnt wood, coal and straw and run a good many different engines. I have run engines they said you couldn't keep the front wheels on the ground but I can't remember ever pulling the front wheels off the ground and I have been in some very tight places.

The Advance Engines are my choice. I go to the engine shows and run engines. I help to start a show at West Concord, Minnesota on the Budenski Brothers farm. The show there has turned out to be a grand success. I like to read the letters from the different threshermen. I never broke through a bridge or a culvert and if I do say so myself, I don't take a back seat in firing or handling an engine and I will do it on a third less of fuel or water than the average man.


Courtesy of Toivo Anderson, P. O. Box 335 Trochu Alberta, Can. Dear Sirs,

I receive your excellent magazine and enjoy it very much. The experiences written by Old Thresher men are interesting. This is my first letter to your magazine and I hope you will find room to publish it as I would like some information. Perhaps some thresher man will have it for me.

A friend and neighbor has an old threshing machine. It is a wooden machine, about a 22 inch and is so weather beaten the name is washed off. It has a self feeder and a wind stacker with a cast-iron body. The part number cast in it is 3647G. Also, it is driven from opposite side by a through shaft. The shoe fan has cast iron ends. The wind can be controlled by turning the door left or right, something like the check on a space heater fire door. It seems the straw deck has one inch hardwood lumber on edge with spikes in it to work the straw back.

To satisfy my curiosity I would appreciate anyone knowing the make of this machine to write me.

I attend Pion-Era in Saskatoon every summer to run and fire a Steam Traction Engine and enjoy it thoroughly. Wishing your magazine every success.

Courtesy of Irving C. Keyes, Glamis, Ontario, Canada

Enclosed picture of barn raising and gang. We still get some of these barn raisings. I have helped with many. This raising with this gang would be a three or four hour task. I always considered it much safer working up high than near the bottom on account of falling pins, mauls and pike poles. There were always some casualties and also sometimes, fatal.

The largest timber frame barn I know of in this vicinity was 90 feet wide, 108 feet long with 18 feet side posts and built on an 8 foot stone wall. It was destroyed by fire about 25 years ago and was owned by the late Senator J. J. Donnelly of Pinkerton, Ont. I threshed red clover in this bam in January of 1933 for eight days steady threshing. This barn was replaced by two smaller barns and about July 1955 these two bams along with about thirty others in this area were either totally destroyed or badly damaged by a tornado twister. They were nearly all replaced with plank truss steel covered barns of equal size or larger and were built on the same masonry stone walls for housing cattle under the bam for the winter.

On July 9, 1965, another tornado twister hit this area again and either totally destroyed or badly damaged a-bout ten barns and destroyed many trees. Living elm trees as large as two feet in diameter at the stump were twisted clear of the stumps without loosening the stumps out of the ground. A large model car was lifted from the ground and set down about three hundred feet away and it was a total wreck. In all this destruction, no one was injured. This is the end of my bam story.


Courtesy of Mr. Albert Hansens, R. 4, Champaign, Illinois

In September, 1924 I bought a 2A Western Corn Sheller that was made by the Union Iron Works of Decatur, Illinois. This sheller was sold new in 1923 and it had shelled about 20,000 bushels of corn when I bought it in 1924. I was 19 years old at that time, now I am going on 60 years old.

I used a 16-30 All work Tractor on this sheller which was a little short on power in tough corn. In the summer of 1927 I talked to a man by the name of Wesley J. Curtiss, who lived just west of Champaign, Illinois. He told me he had a 22-40 Allwork tractor that he bought new in 1925 from the Electric Wheel Company of Quincy, Illinois. He used this tractor for 2 years threshing about 1,000 acres each year. Then he lost his run and he did not have any further use for this tractor so I bought it from him in the summer of 1927 and I used it that fall on the sheller.

In the spring of 1928 my brother, Louis Hansens, boilgnt a new 28-50 Keck-Gonnerman all steel Indiana special separator. I used my 22-40 Allwork tractor on this separator and we threshed about 600 acres of grain a year. In 1939 the combines started to push the threshing machines out of the picture so my brother traded his separator for a combine, but I kept on shelling corn with my 22-40 All work tractor up to about 1945. Then I got a rubber tire tractor and I put the All-

work in sort of retirement. Last winter I put it in my shop and gave it a good cleaning and a new paint job. Then this summer I put it back on the same sheller that I used it on in the years gone by, just for old time sake, and I must say it brought back a lot of old time memories.


Courtesy of Glen McNamar, Route 1, Granger, Missouri

I read the letter in ALBUM that Lyle Hoff master wrote and it sure was interesting. He and I have been buddies at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for several years; in fact, we both slept in the caboose over at the roundhouse this last fall at the reunion.

What interested me was about the Northwest Co. I have operated a New Giant engine for Milo Mathews, Mt. Union, Iowa for many years at Mt. Pleasant. I have heard this question many times, that it was made in the Minnesota State Prison. Well, I can correct this statement. It was definitely not made in the prison. It was made by Northwest Thresher Co., Stillwater, Minnesota, an independent company of its own. Now, I was told by a man that said he used to work in the factory that there where three parts of the engine made in the prison casting department for the Northwest Co. but don't know which parts they are. Lyle also mentioned the Robinson engine. There were two of them in this locality at one time owned by Ed and Jim Smith of Granger, Mo. They were good engines. The Robinson had a feature I never saw on any other engine. It was invented by F. W. Robinson himself. It was a wooden band inside the flywheel, so the clutch shoes operated on wood instead of the iron rim of the flywheel. It never slipped.

He also mentioned the McNamar engine. I wonder if it is still in existence. I would sure like to get it. I am a distant relative of the man that made it.

The reunion at Mt. Pleasant is going to run 5 days this year. I understand it runs through Sunday and I think Sunday morning we should have special prayer services and thank God for the wonderful success he has given us for our show at Mt. Pleasant.