THE BIG CHANGE-OVER FROM STEAM TO GAS ENGINES AND SMALL THRESHERS

Sawing on the John McGee farm

Sawing on the John McGee farm in Coshocton County by the McCoy Bros. in 1890 with their Scheidler Engine.

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Box 822, Watertown, South Dakota

The year was 1914, and I was running a 25-75 Case Engine, and a 40 x 62 Separator in North Dakota, and over in another field, I saw my first small Gas Tractor and small size Separator (a Belle City) I.H.C. and I don't recall the Tractor make, but it resembled a Mowing Machine with some tanks and a one cylinder Gas Engine. The Separator looked like an oversized fanning mill with a straw carrier attached to it.

This outfit put in 6 weeks on a 40 acre field, and then called our outfit in to finish 600 acres for him, and I thought that was one farmer who would not be in the threshing business the following year. I was mistaken though, for the next year he bought a brand new tractor and a Carger Separator with Feeder, Wind Stacker, and Weigher attached. Two of his neighbors also bought new small Gas Outfits. In 1924 all but three of the farmers we had threshed for in 1914 had their own Gas outfits, and the Big Steam Outfits in that section were doomed, and many of the old Farmer Threshermen could not afford to pull his outfit out for custom work.

In some cases the Thresherman sold part interest in his Steam Outfit to 4 or 5 of his neighbors to keep the little machines out until he had partly worn out his big $5,000.00 machine, but this didn't work out very well, for all the partners wanted their own job done first. The next year would see each with a new small machine and tractor.

Sawing on the John McGee farm in Coshocton County by the McCoy Bros. in 1890 with their Scheidler engine. (Just a different location than pictured above.) Mr. T. R. McCoy started firing on his father's Russell engine at age 13. Later he spent 13 years on the freighters on the Great Lakes as fireman and then got his stationary licenses which he is still working under. Mr. McCoy found these pictures (shown on this page and preceding page) after his father's death and thought we might be able to use them.

These tractors were not the Modern 2-4 and 6 Cylinder types that were developed later, and the farmers found this out and paid plenty for their experience. Many of the old Threshermen cut down from the Big Steamers and bought some of 20-40 and 30-60 Gas and Kerosene type tractors, and the Machine Companies went after these threshermen to buy the 32 x 52 and 36 x 56 size threshers. They bought thousands of them, and never wore out any of them, because the Combine came to replace them.

Steam Engines, that were good for another 10 or 15 years and easily worth $1000.00 were sold for junk for fifty to a hundred dollars. I saw 11 good steam engines loaded for junk one summer at Berlin, North Dakota. The old machines were left in fence corners for the turkeys to roost on and the cook cars were used for chicken brooders and kids' playhouses. I have wondered many times who took the loss on those (lemon tractors) that were made in the start of the change-over from steam to gas. I am sure the Machine Companies couldn't have stood up under that load and I suppose it was put into the new way of threshing and paid for by the farmers who wanted to thresh.

It would take many millions to pay the old threshermen for the machines they were forced by circumstances to throw in the scrap heap. The money invested in the small type Separators, when they changed to the combines would make quite a large stack, but we must look up and he progressive and 'hang' the cost. And now the people are all getting crazy about the Old Steamers, but I am wondering if they haven't been crazy for some time and are just coming 'down to earth' again.

One of E. G. Rosen's engines that has been used in the successful threshing bees from 1957 to 1959. The engine is of about a 1913 or 1914 vintage. A 25 hp twin cylinder or Double Nichols & Shepard and a 36' x 60' Huber separator with Garden City Wing feeder -- these were the conventional sizes in this part of Minnesota in their day. The twin cylinder attracts much attention as most of the engines used around here were of the single cylinder type. They usually ranged in sizes from 18 to 30 hp. The combine has not taken over completely. There is still a sizeable amount of what little small grain there is raised in this community separated by the old threshing machines!

Of all the old steam threshing machine companies, the J. I. Case Company seems to be the only one that survived the change from steam to gas power, and they still manufacture a complete line of Combines, Harvesters and Farm Machines. All the other old companies have been affiliated or taken into the Allis Chalmers Corporation, Oliver Machine Company, Minneapolis Machine Co. and International Harvester Co., Advance Rumely, Gaar-Scott, Aultman-Taylor, Avery, Minneapolis, Russell, Buffalo-Pitts, Nichols & Shepard, Port Huron, Reeves and Co., Huber, Peerless, Northwest, Baker, Wood Brothers. These famous names and machines are what the old timers organizations are trying to resurrect and bring back for the younger generation to see, and know how things got done in the good old days before they were born.

I think a History of Harvesting and Threshing would be a splendid addition to any Library, either private or public schools and etc. And now that the change-over has been completed, and paid for, let us look into the future for the next change-over to Electric and Atomic Power for the farm machines and I predict it will come before the start of the next century. If an Atomic Battery can move a submarine, it can run any machine, so keep your eyes and ears open, folks, for the Atomic Power Age is closer than you think --and I hope I am alive to see it come to pass.