Space Age Farmers LIKE STEAM ENGINES

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The following story is excerpted from an article from the August 29,1987 Wausau Daily Herald. It was written by Herald staffer Aly Xiong in anticipation of the 15th Annual Northcentral Wisconsin Steam and Gas Engine Club's Show at Kurt Umnus' farm near Edgar, WI. Eddy Balz, a subscriber to IMA sent the piece, which is reprinted with permission.

Long ago, just as the stationary steam engine powered the Industrial Revolution just as the locomotive and steamboat powered the Transport Revolution so the steam traction engine spawned the Agricultural Revolution.

Today, the lusty steamer man of 1920 is gray. But there is a new breed of engineers coming along in these space-age times of ours. Engineers like Eddy Balz, 3316 Seymour Lane, Wausau, WI 54401, are re-creating the old-time steam engines.

Although farm steam has now traversed its obsolescence and is well into its antiquity, steam hobbyists like Balz are today rescuing mountains of rust from swamps and junkyards and putting them into mint condition.

Collecting, restoring and running these gentle giants 'some topping 30 tons and 65 years is the fastest growing farmer's hobby from Pennsylvania to the Pacific,' he said.

So if you are not one of the many spectators at hundreds of steam engine shows across the country each year and your nerves have not tingled to the sound of steam and the smell of hot cylinder oil, if your blood has not raced with the rhythmic chuff-chuff of a steam traction engine under load, you have not fully lived.

Like most steam engine hobbyists, Balz got interested in engines at a very young age.

'Years ago I grew up with steam threshing rigs, steam logging trains and worked in steam powered sawmills,' he said.

'My steam engine is the kind that farmers used 65 years ago in the Dakotas to plow their big wheat fields. It relieved the horses and oxen they used before,' said Balz.

Balz is now in his 80's, but 'I still crave to operate the steam engine,' he said.

'It is a great hobby ... an expensive one.'

So if you want to feel your heart leap to power and neighborliness, sniffing the steam-smoke-oil perfume, itching to the chaff down your sweaty neck, hearing the old sounds and tasting the dust of days long gone, go to next year's show.