The Legendary Steam Engine Joe Rynda's Collection is Slated for the Auction Block: Paging Through the Past for a Glimpse of His Passion for Steam


Gust Horrmann's photo of Rynda was probably taken in 1968.

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This panoramic shot was stitched together form three separate images by Leo Foley and published in Iron-Men Album in the May-June 1989 issue. The caption referred to the site as simply a 'large steam graveyard', suggesting neither Foley nor the editors at IMA realized they were looking at 'Steam Engine Joe'. Rynda at one time owned over 50 steam engines.

In the January/February 1970 issue of the Iron-Men Album magazine, John Hays of St. Paul, Minn., reported that 'Steam Engine Joe' Rynda had attended a show in western Minnesota where no one had heard of him. Now, you would have to search carefully through the ranks of the agricultural steam community to find a person who doesn't recognize Rynda's name. After all, he sponsored one of the earliest threshing bees in North America, and at great personal expense amassed one of the most amazing collections of agricultural steam engines anywhere.


The pending auction of items from legendary 'Steam Engine Joe's' collection is the next chapter in a history stretching back to the fifth issue of the Farm Album (FA), the predecessor to the Iron-Men Album magazine (IMA) and Steam Traction. In the winter 1947 issue of the FA, founding editor Elmer Ritzman introduced the New Ulm, Minn., resident and superintendent of the municipal light plant as Mr. Joseph T. Rynda, 'a progressive man.' Ritzman then quoted the New Ulm Daily Journal from Aug. 18, 1947: 'A large part of the 2,000 people who saw Joe Rynda's old-time threshing bee in the Johnson field Saturday afternoon got straw in their hair, as the wind was blowing at a good rate.'

The thresher, a Case agitator with a webstacker, serial no. 8920, was built in 1886. Alex Reinhart, who was tending to feed duties, was quoted as saying he was 'born in the shade of a threshing machine.' Eight women in period Czech costume cut the bands of oat bundles and fed them into the thresher. The May 25, 1947, St. Paul Pioneer Press said that although Rynda received offers to buy his steam engines, he vehemently declined to sell any of them. In the September/October 1994 issue of IMA, Stanley O. Byerly wrote, 'If he has a sale, it should be some sale, as he has about everything you can imagine.' In May 2004, that auction will take place.

'Steam Engine Joe' was a key player in the formative years of steam reunions, and articles by or about Rynda appeared in 48 issues of FA and IMA. The following list represents a loosely based biography of Rynda, listing his presence in print through four decades:


Summer 1948: A photograph of 'Steam Engine Joe' standing beside a Gopher threshing machine manufactured in New Prague, Minn. Approximately 300 were built between 1920 and 1925. In 1922, Rynda was president of the company.

Fall 1948: Vic Wintermantel of Bellevue, Pa., mentioned he knew of only three examples of a 1910 Port Huron watch fob, and one of them belonged to 'Steam Engine Joe.' The issue included a snapshot of Rynda standing beside his 1896 16 HP Huber, serial no. 3867.

Winter 1948: Columnist Gilmar Johnson reminded readers to attend Rynda's 'Thresh Bee' in October.

Spring 1949: Frank Stebritz submitted a photo of Rynda running his 1896 Huber at his threshing bee on Oct. 10, 1948. The issue announced that a reunion was slated for May 14, 1949, at the Arthur S. Young Co. of Kinzers, Pa.; that the 'Great Blaker Reunion' was scheduled for June 25 in Alvordton, Ohio; and that Rynda was planning his meet for Oct 9.

Fall 1949: Editor Ritzman described Rynda's bee as 'a gala event.'

Spring 1950: Stebritz submitted a photo of Rynda's 14 HP Minnesota return-flue engine that ran during Rynda's 'Field Day' in October 1949.

Fall 1950: Another of Stebritz's photos appeared, this one showing 'Steam Engine Joe' on the platform of his Minnesota engine. On the same page was Stebritz's snapshot of Rynda's 16 HP C. Aultman 'Phoenix' with Rynda on board.

Iron-Men Album

January/February 1951: Rynda was listed as president of the Pioneer Historical Association of Montgomery, Minn. The article said the Association's 10th annual bee was held Oct. 8, 1950, at the Rynda farm. The weather had been cloudy and cold with rain threatening. Rynda's Huber ran the agitator. A short motion picture was made. Approximately 4,500 people attended the event, which exhibited stack threshing. The road was blocked for a mile.

September/October 1951: Two photos of the Rynda bee were published: one of women cutting the bands to feed the Agitator, the other of a crowd gathered around the Rynda Huber set between two conical stacks of grain.

November/December 1951: A snapshot of Rynda beside his Luscombe Silvaire airplane, serial no. 5071, appeared. The caption stated that Rynda flew in search of steam engines. Rynda's hobbies included aviation, stamp collecting, photography and also autograph collecting.

March/April 1953: A classic photograph taken at the Rynda reunion was published. Standing in front of an 18 HP Wood Bros, steam engine, serial no. 675, were Dan S. Zehr of the Pontiac, Ill., reunion; Rynda; company founder F.J. Wood; and Helen, F.J.'s wife. Another picture captured a portion of the immense crowd at the 1952 Rynda reunion.

January/February 1954: Rynda told of working hard to repair his second Eureka. In his history of the Aultman & Taylor Co. (serialized in Iron-Men Album and SteamTraction), Dr. Lorin Bixler wrote that during 1931 and 1932, Rynda fell ill, 'forcing him to live on milk and crackers.' Uncertain about his future, Rynda asked the Ford Museum to archive his rare wooden-wheeled, 10 HP sunflower-gear Aultman & Taylor 'Eureka' steamer. The agreement included the provision that should the Ford Museum close or move its collections to another country, the Eureka would be returned to Rynda's descendants. Before the engine was hauled to Dearborn, Leonard, Rynda's son, cut his name on the crosshead slides with a center punch. In early summer 1951, Rynda found another Eureka, which he had to chop out of a tree that had grown up around it. The engine turned out to be identical to the one he had donated to the Ford Museum.

Rynda wrote: 'Tonight had put on the differential gear all alone and it weighs about 500 pounds. But I built a tram out of boards and rolled it into the rear axle.' Rynda said the differential was new with the bevel pinion never used. It had not been installed on the engine when the rig was purchased. The gear had lain beneath a woodpile for over 30 years.

On July 4, Rynda attached the inclined shaft and the bevel gear drive. The next day, he and Leonard flew to Watertown, S.D. They had to divert to the south 'to dodge the lightning and rain' of a storm to the north. Another storm to the south was even more threatening. 'We were certainly sick coming back,' Rynda wrote. They felt ill because the owner of an old Case engine, serial no. 1782, had stripped it for cast iron. Rynda described the engine: 'It is a firebox direct-flue boiler with crown sheet supported by 'T' irons. Steam dome on side of boiler so that cylinder, which was in the rear, could be mounted on a feed water heater. Boiler likely wrought iron as it looked like new. Gearing in drivers not worn or even rusty. So we had a sad trip back ...'

July/August 1954: T.H. Smith, founding editor of Engineers & Engines, supplied the cover photo of Rynda and his Eureka.

January/February 1955: A photo was published of four perfectly shaped grain stacks on the farm where the 13th annual Rynda bee was to be held. The same issue presented a snapshot of Rynda's Eureka pulling the agitator thresher between two stacks of oats. Ritzman commented, 'We like this picture.'

November/December 1955: A photograph taken on Jan. 12, 1955, revealed Rynda's new 'baby,' a 16 HP return-flue Avery, serial no. 309, built in the 1890s.

May/June 1956: Rynda corrected two errors in the writing of a fellow contributor. He mentioned that he had in his backyard the engines to prove his points.

March/April 1960: A photo showcased Rynda with a 20 HP compound Russell he had recently purchased. The caption stated he had always wanted one.

November/December 1960: A photo showed Rynda's chain-drive 1896 Minnesota Giant, serial no. 4133, in the belt.

March/April 1962: Rynda submitted a photo and a letter. The photo showed him standing beside his 12 HP 1890 return-flue straw-burner Case, serial no. 4348. Rynda said he could have purchased the Case in 1952, but he misunderstood a letter its owner wrote to him. Rynda thought the owner was referring to a 16 HP Case at Pontiac, Ill. Fortunately, Rynda had a second opportunity to buy the engine. Rynda also mentioned his 10 HP direct-flue Case, serial no. 5103, built April 5, 1892.

March/April 1963: Rynda provided a photo of stack threshing in October 1945 on his brother William's farm. The engine was a 22 HP Minneapolis with a 36-by-62-inch Minneapolis thresher.

May/June 1963: Rynda submitted an account and two photos documenting a 20-mile trip made with a Baker steam engine in 1962. The Baker was a 21-75 HP Uniflow, serial no. 17676, built in 1926. Rynda pulled the same agitator he had employed from his beginning in the hobby. It rained, and the train became stuck in the mud. Once, the engine sank so deeply the mud touched the firebox.

March/April 1964: A photo of Rynda's 16 HP Phoenix was published. The caption stated that the serial number plate was missing.

January/February 1965: Fred W. Schmidt of St. Paul, Minn., supplied a photo of Rynda's agitator taken in 1956 at Rynda's bee.

March/April 1965: Stebritz provided two more pictures: Rynda's Phoenix and the agitator with a 14 HP Minneapolis, serial no. 721, at Rynda's bee in 1957.

September/October 1965: Rynda's own photograph of the Phoenix was shown. His caption said the engine had a link motion and two speeds. The boiler was a water-front, return-flue straw-burner. The engine was built around 1892. 'My daddy let me pull the throttle on one just like it when I was eight years old,' Rynda said. He mentioned he had recently purchased a 19 HP Keck-Gonnerman, serial no. 1750. By the autumn of 1965, Rynda had collected 44 traction engines and seven stationary engines.

March/April 1966: A heart-warming photograph of a snow-covered Eureka engine with 'Steam Engine Joe' holding a birthday cake having 73 candles.

November/December 1967: A sequel to the birthday photo appeared, this time with less snow but with 75 candles. Rynda's accompanying letter described his Phoenix: 'My folks had one just like it and bought it new in 1894 or 1895.' Rynda said he owned a watch inscribed to a Mr. Hageber 'for selling the most threshing rigs in 1890.' Rynda credited Hageber's knowledge of the German language with helping to convince immigrants to purchase his machines.

May/June 1967: Ritzman's column reported that Rynda owned a 25 HP Northwest 'high wheel' heavy-gear plow engine, serial no. 5904, built around 1908. Rynda wanted to hear from readers who might have a similar machine.

July/August 1968: A photo featured Grand Marshall Rynda on his Eureka engine leading a festival parade.

January/February 1969: Gust Horrmann of Hutchinson, Minn., provided a photo of his friend of 30 years, 'Steam Engine Joe,' on the platform of one of his engines.

Rynda on the deck of his 12 HP Nichols & Shepard at the last of his bees in 1969. A pioneer of the modern threshing reunions, Rynda amassed a formidable steam engine collection in his lifetime. He died in 1971.

July/August 1970: A snapshot of Rynda on the deck of his 12 HP Nichols & Shepard (with Leonard standing nearby) was shown. The last of Rynda's bees occurred that year. 'Steam Engine Joe,' age 79, died on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 1971. His obituary appeared in the May/June 1971 issue.

January/February 1972: A photo of the Eureka engine that Rynda had donated to the Ford Museum was shown. Readers mentioned touring 'Steam Engine Joe's' collection, now under Leonard's supervision.

November/December 1989: A remarkable two-page panoramic photo of Rynda's even-more remarkable collection was published.

July/August 2000: Blake Malkamaki provided a 1981 photo of Leonard helping Mark Hissa of Middlefield, Ohio, cover the smokestack on Rynda's 20 HP top-mounted Avery, serial no. 8269. Malkamaki's picture recalled an era dominated by collectors like the legendary 'Steam Engine Joe.'

Steam historian and author Robert T. Rhode may be reached at 990 W. Lower Springboro Road, Springboro, OH 45066;

The auction bill for Rynda's collection appears on page 24.