Oscar Oliver Cooke

Content Tools

3100 Harrow Drive, Billings, Montana 59102.

OSCAR OLIVER COOKE, age 94, of Billings, Montana, passed away Saturday, July 29, 1995 at Glendeen Nursing Home of natural causes.

Oscar was born to Riley and Fannie Palmer Cooke on March 8, 1901, in Gueda Springs, Kansas.

As a young lad, Oscar followed his dad's threshing machine, accompanying his parents who operated the rig. His mother was cook for the threshing crews and traveled with her family throughout the area. By the age of nine, Oscar was firing his dad's steam engine during the grain threshing. When he was 16 he was farming his own small piece of land, had learned to fly, and had his own threshing crew. Oscar studied math, commerce law, and banking at the Emporia Business College in Emporia, Kansas.

During the 1920s and '30s, Oscar barnstormed around Kansas with his plane. His love for aeronautics continued and he built many air strips in the Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana areas and he attributed a great measure of his success to his flying background.

Oscar began in the machinery business as a salesman for Allis Chalmers in Emporia, Kansas. He continued with Allis Chalmers and was promoted to branch manager in Omaha, Nebraska. Oscar sold a trainload of Allis Chalmers combines in one day. He made 33 landings in four states to complete these sales, and, all the combines were shipped on one special train. Oscar was instrumental in the development of the Round Baler. He helped Mr. Lubben obtain copy rights to the baler and formed the mass production agreement between Mr. Lubben and Allis Chalmers. Oscar has the #1 tound baler in his collection today. While in Omaha, Nebraska, he continued in his aeronautics by putting on an air show and doing stunt flying himself.

Although he was too old to be drafted into World War II, he became a volunteer member of the Civil Air Patrol, where he held the rank of Captain. This patrol was made up of volunteer pilots who flew their own planes along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico checking for enemy submarines.

About 1944, Oscar moved to Chillicothe, Missouri, and started his own business there named Cooke Sales and Service Company. He also set up branches in St. Joseph and Sedalia, Missouri. During these years he was also mayor of Chillicothe, Missouri. While he was mayor he worked to get a new airport built. Oscar even dabbled in the banking business by buying three banks in Kansas and Missouri. He built them up and sold them back to the local people. Oscar also had a Cadil-lac/Oldsmobile franchise and a Piper Aircraft dealership.

Oscar married his wife, Marcella Reilly, in 1952. By 1958 they had purchased the CX Ranch at Decker, Montana, and moved to 'Big Sky Country.' He began collecting old engines about this time. He saw a steam engine at Big Horn, Wyoming, that he decided he wanted, so he bought and restored it. He picked up antiques from all over the United States and Canada. Oscar received the Blue Ribbon Award for his display of antique farm implements at the 1968 Yellowstone County Fair. Oscar was honored by the Northern International Stock Show and Rodeo Association as Agri Businessman of the Year in 1977.

Oscar put his collection together in what is known as Oscar's Dreamland, Yesteryear Museum in Billings, Montana. It had been Oscar's dream to preserve a slice of America's agricultural past for many future generations to enjoy and learn from. Oscar was recently selected as the first inductee into the 'National Gas and Steam Hall of Fame,' an award he was chosen to receive because of his many years of hard work and dedication to preserving our early American heritage. Four others were inducted along with Oscar this year: Donald D. Knowles, editor of Engineers and Engines Magazine; C. H. Wendel, editor of the Reflections column of the Gas Engine Magazine; Tom Graves, past president of the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association; and Bill May, now living in SanDiego, California.

Oscar was an avid story teller and could lighten up the most boring dinner party or the dullest business meeting with any one of his hundreds of stories. Oscar always loved people and was an active joiner. He belonged to Quiet Birdman and 0X5 (two flying clubs). He was a Mason, Scottish Rite, Shriner, Rotarian, Elk, and an active member of the J. I. Case Heritage Foundation, the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association, and many other groups.

Oscar was preceded in death by one daughter, Irene Cooper. He is survived by his wife, Marcella Cooke; five children: Marie Windle of Independence, Missouri, Oscar M. Cooke of Chillicothe, Missouri, Bette Cooke of Monett, Missouri, Riley Cooke of Laurel, Montana, and Marcie Limpp of Roberts, Montana; one brother, Earnest Cooke of Boulder City, Nevada; two sisters, Elma Findley of Soquel, California, and Aileen Haislup of Houston, Texas; one grandson and 6 granddaughters; three great-grandsons, and seven great granddaughters.

Oscar was a dreamer whose dreams will never die! Oscar's Dreamland will open again May 1, 1996, for what Oscar's family hopes to be one of the best seasons yet.