My Life as a Machine Man

George Snyder while threshing

This picture was taken at the farm of George Snyder while threshing there. The man at the tractor with the light shirt is Mr. Snyder and the other is myself. This is the 27-42 Minneapolis tractor and Frick thresher mentioned in the article.

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Route 1, Everett, Pennsylvania

IT ALL STARTED BACK in 1904, my father bought a portable steam engine made by the Russell Mfg. Co. It was a second-hand engine and thresher. It was a 6 hp. engine and the threshing machine was a Russell with 24' cylinder, hand feed and strait drag stacker and they measured the grain with half-bushel measures. I was too young to help much, but I was very interested in that out fit and having no water tank they had to carry water or haul it in barrels on an old Plank sled.

Often times I would help carry water in buckets to keep the engine running. He used that outfit for two years and later got an 8 hp. Frick traction and then my part came. My father took me along to fire the engine. I was then 10 years old but I had learned enough to do my work. As I could not move the engine on the road or put it in the belt my father did that and we would thresh right along, my father feeding the machine and about every hour for the first week, he would come out from the barn to see that I was doing my work. I knew I had better try to do right, if I wanted to feel good. We used that engine with the Russell machine several years and later bought a 24x38 Peerless Class E machine which was a good machine. It had hand-feed and seining drag stacker which was a big improvement to the old strait stacker, but that brought more trouble. The 8 hp. Frick was too small and he later got a 12 hp Frick.

By that time I was about 13 or 14 years old and had enough experience to take the engine and machine on the road and from that time on, I did all the moving and belting up and by that time we had a water tank too so it went pretty good. We did a lot of threshing and used that outfit until 1910. At that time we bought a 16 hp. 8x10 engine, Frick, and we went to Waynesboro to drive it home. My father went by train, but I rode a bicycle, the distance being 65 miles. I was nearly worn out when I got to Waynesboro and the next evening we started home with the new engine. We left Waynesboro Wednesday evening and drove night and day getting home Sunday morning at 4 o'clock. Then we used the 16 hp. the 24x38 Peerless a couple years and our territory began to get larger and we got a Peerless 30x46 machine with wind stacker and bagger but it still had hand-feed and we used it for two years and bought a Garden City feeder which was a wonderful thing at that time. But my father sold that outfit in 1919 and quit threshing as his health was failing and the following year I bought a 30x46 Peerless machine and a 20 hp. Peerless Engine a N. 1. model which was a very nice outfit and I did a lot of work with it, threshing and sawmilling. I used that outfit until 1928 when the Gas tractor began to crowd me out. I saw if I wanted to continue threshing, I would have to do something else, so I bought a 12-20 Oil Pull and 28' Case machine which did not prove very satisfactory, as I did not have power enough so I only run that two years and I got another 24-38 Peerless and a 20-40 Townsend tractor which was very good. But later I got a 28x46 Red River separator which made me a very nice outfit. During these years f have had a very hard life as sometimes if I had a breakdown, I would work at night repairing, so I could start the next morning. 1 used the Townsend and Red River until 1940 and I bought a 28x47 Frick Steel Thresher, fully equipped and a 27-42 Minneapolis tractor which I like very much. When I belt that tractor to the machine or sawmill, I know I can work, as it has lots of power and is reliable. Besides the above outfit, I also have a New Holland baler and a Model Z Minneapolis tractor which I like very much. If I have a job to do that I can do with the little Minneapolis, I use it such as hulling clove or tilling silos. So you can see I have grown up with the different kinds of machines as they came into use and I think I have gone as far as I intend to go to keep after machinery as my outfit looks and runs like new and I try to keep it that way. I think it will last me but I have been lost without the old steam traction engine which I think all old steam engine fans like myself will have to admit they are. I have been enjoying myself at Arthur Young's old time Reunion which I think is a very good thing. I wish there were more reunions like them.

I enjoy meeting old friends that know what grease and coal smoke smells like. Will say I miss the old steamer, but I am getting along with Gas tractors very well and have a nice threshing run in this section. I have a very fine bunch of farmers to thresh for. They all pay good and I can depend on them and that means a lot at this time. I do not know how long I am going to keep on threshing yet, but I guess if a person does no know anything else, he will keep on doing what he knows.


Dan S. Zehr, 71, Pontiac route 1, founder' of the annual Threshermen's Reunion, died of a heart attack at 3 a. m. today (August 18, 1959) at St. James hospital. He became ill about 6:30 p. m. yesterday as he was returning from the Illinois State Fair at Springfield, where he has been serving as superintendent of machinery.

Headed Thresher Group

Mr. Zehr was president of the Illinois Brotherhood of Threshermen and originator of the Central States Steam Engine and Thresher's Association. For 12 years he had been superintendent of machinery at the State Fair.

He was a member of the Methodist Church and served as lay leader and was founder of the Methodist Men's Club of Pontiac.

Mr. Zehr wag a 32nd degree Mason and a Blue Lodge member at Pontiac and a member of the Consistory of Bloomington.

At the time of his death he was serving his third term as trustee of the Methodist Hospital board at Peoria He played mello phone in the Pontiac Municipal Band.

Dan S. Zehr was born Sept. 15, 1887 at Princeville, a son of Daniel W. and Katherine (Streit matter) Zehr. He was educated in Fairbury and Morton Schools and came to Pontiac in 1935. He had operated Zehr's Implement Store here since 1935.

He was married to Nellie Yates on Aug. 16, 1911 in Peoria County.

He is survived by his wife; one daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Jensen, Chenoa; two sons, Dan S. Zehr, Pontiac, and Warren Y. Zehr, Peoria; two sisters Mrs. Rose Rosenthal, East Peoria, and Mrs. Emma Smith, Mackinaw, and six grandchildren.

That sums up a life as we see it on Earth. However, there is more to be said. Dan was a Churchman. He loved the Church. He knew his Lord. We must say he was an organizer. Our Pontiac Reunion owes us berth to Dan. He loved to associate with people and was a good conversationalist. The humorous streak in his makeup made him pleasant to be around.

To say we will miss him is to be mild in our expression. His life will live on and we shall cherish his memory. Elmer.