Some Notes From Michigan

Frank York sawmill

Frank York sawmill near Fabius, Michigan in 1921. Courtesy of Lee W. Dodd, 1666 Dodd Road, Niles, Michigan 49120.

Lee W. Dodd

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666 Dodd Road Niles, Michigan 49120.

It seems like most stories and pictures about the 'good old days' of steam engines originate in the western states, which is understandable, but here in southwestern Michigan wheat was also 'king' for many years (especially in the prairie areas).

I thought I would send you some pictures of steam engines in Michigan. My father, Arthur Dodd, with his brother Henry, threshed and shredded corn in Cass County, Michigan, from about 1906 until 1922 when the production of wheat slumped and never recovered its earlier prominence. Area production reached its peak in 1915. The first job that year threshed 4,000 bushels at one setting, probably not large by western standards but certainly a good size job for a county of small farms. The first four jobs that year totaled 12,000 bushels. Now, there are not 12,000 bushels raised in the whole township.

In 1918 or '19 I (age 4 or 5) was on the tank wagon with my Uncle Henry, getting water from a creek about 1-1/2 miles from where they were threshing for my Uncle Warren. My Dad was low on water for the engine, so he whistled 2 blasts (the water signal). The tank team were old-timers, and when they heard the water call they took off, leaving Uncle in the Creek where he had been dipping water into the tank. I was on the seat alone. Uncle had to run at least 15 rods up hill to finally grab the rear of the tank and swing aboard. If he had not made it I probably would have been the youngest water tanker in history (if I could have survived the ride).

In these Dodd Bros, pictures, one man, Fred Frost, survives. Dad passed away in 1971, age 82. As the old-timers know, before the days of governors on self-feeders, an 'eager beaver' or two feeding a separator could really work an engine or even plug the separator. In 1911, Dad designed, built and installed a governor on the self-feeder on their Case separator. In 1912 he received a patent of this idea, which enabled a separator to be run more evenly and efficiently. All manufacturers soon had governors on their products and since Dad lacked funds to protect his patent in court, it never brought him anything.

I am also including some steam engine pictures of a cousin of Dad's. Frank York. He has threshed and sawmilled in Cass and St. Joseph Counties all of his life. He is now more than 80 years old, and retired. He sold his last engine and sawmill a few years ago. His Advance-Rumely threshing engine and sawmill engine are still in top-notch shape in the hands of collectors.

One of Dad's favorite stories of threshing days concerned the farmer who engaged them to thresh his 60 acres of wheat. By the time the machine was in the neighborhood the acreage estimate was reduced to 40. When threshing day arrived it was down to 20 and when it came time to pay he claimed only 10 acres.

August 3, 1915 at Frank Lamberton's Farm in Cass County, Michigan. Left to right: On the tank is Henry Dodd; by the engine, Arthur Dodd and Dwight Shingle decker; unloading in center, Warren Dodd; by the car, Frank Lamberton; on the center bundle wagon, Fred Frost and the one with the white team is Carl Sengreen. Courtesy of Lee W. Dodd, 1666 Dodd Road, Niles, Michigan 49120