The Nettesheim Frick: A FAMILY AFFAIR


Frick as it looked in Reiners' yard. Alan on left, Reiner on right. February 1985.

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P. O. Box 6, Germantown, Wisconsin 53022

Welcome to the 29th annual Threshing Bee. As you enter the park, please allow our members and their machines to take you on an adventure into yesteryear. Back to the turn of the century when these devices supplied the power for the farm. The sight of four mammoth steam engines will excite you as they go about the duties of threshing oats or sawing lumber just as they did when they were new and their owners were younger. This story is about one of these steam engines, a 1921 Frick and owned by Alan Nettesheim of Waukesha, Wisconsin.

In the late 1950's the Frick was used on the Conrad Nettesheim farm located on Springdale Road and North Avenue in Brookfield. After the sale of the farm the Frick was moved to the Harold Ney's residence where it sat for twelve years. In the early spring of 1972 Reiner Nettesheim moved the steamer to Hartland, where he lives, and disassembled it. Reiner had hopes of rebuilding the Frick, but that day never came. Alan had discussed purchasing the Frick from his uncle Reiner and did so in February, 1985, for the price of a dollar.

The snow was deep and the yard had to be plowed in order to get the boiler and wheels loaded on Alan's truck. The engine was retrieved from another snow bank that was covered in canvas. For several months Reiner collected parts from his basement and garage and took them to Wisconsin Industrial Machine Service, where Alan works and where the Frick would be rebuilt. If Alan would have had any idea what was in store for him, he would have asked for change from his dollar.

First the engine was worked on, all parts were removed from the carriage and examined. Every piece had to be re-machined, welded, or remade. Everyone at the shop helped in the restoration, just imagine the amount of time needed to turn a rusted tight hulk into a precisioned tuned machine. Alan would finish work at 3 P.M. and then start working on the Frick which took him until 10 P.M. every night. His wife, Sandy, often brought his dinner to him and the two children played in the sand pile next to the shop just so they could see their daddy.

There were several rough spots that required more time and patience from everyone, but the worst was when Alan closely inspected the crankshaft. A crack was found, his heart fell, knowing he could never afford to buy a new piece of steel and turn it down. The restoration project was halted. Alan came home from work early that night, quiet and troubled, Sandy knew something was wrong. After supper he placed a call to his father in Colorado, telling him about the crack. Gene Nettesheim once owned his own machine shop and was an excellent welder, he explained thoroughly what had to be done.

The next day Alan proceeded to follow his dads' instructions, a couple more phone calls to Colorado and the crankshaft was fixed.

Some steam engines are rated by the size of their cylinder, this Frick was a 7 x 10, but because of corrosion done to the inside of the two cylinders by mouse excretions, they had to be bored out of an inch. This gave the engine a rating of 7 x 10, gaining 56 cubic inches, thus increasing the horsepower to 60plus.

When summer arrived, Alan started sand blasting the boiler and wheels at his father-in-laws place. Slowly, these pieces left Sam Italiano's farm and were brought to the shop for assembly. The boiler was hydro-tested at 225 pounds of pressure, all fingers were crossed, a little prayer was said; the boiler held and the stay bolts did not leak, everyone cheered. A total of fifty new flues and six new rocking grates were installed. The smoke stack had to have a brass liner braised in because the back side was gone, babbit was applied but later removed as it could not withstand the heat. The smoke-box ring was rewelded and straightened. Chrome plated piston rods and valve rods were made to cut down on wear. As each piece was finished, Uncle Reiner applied the primer coat. A final coat of red paint was put on selected engine parts, wheels, steering shaft, and flywheel. High temp black paint was applied to the boiler, and all trim and pin striping was done in yellow by Sandy.

Time was running out, the Frick had to move out of the shop as an increase of work was coming in. Memorial weekend arrived, all last minute adjustments were done. Old rubber truck tires were cut, sized, and holes were punched in so they could be placed between the iron wheel lugs, thus preventing damage to road pavement. On Sunday, May 25, 1986, the Frick was lifted from its' spot by the overhead crane and lowered into the truck bay, slowly it was towed out of the shop. Sun beams bounced off the stainless steel cylinder jackets as the steamer made its' way out to an awaiting crowd of people. Cameras clicked, emotions were high, everyone was excited. Water filled the boiler, a match lit the kindling in the firebox, and soon the pressure guage was reading 125 pounds. Alan and his uncle Reiner drove the Frick around the parking lot, whistles blowing, the steamer performed as Alan directed. The total restoration took approximately fifteen months or 2000 man hours.

On Monday, May 26th, the Frick was about to embark on its first test, a two and one-half hour trip to Sam's place. With water tank wagon in tow, extra wood for fuel and a caravan of pickup trucks, the Frick made its' way down highway JJ to Silvernail and into Sam's yard. All who helped in the restoration had a chance to operate the steamer, and spirits were high. Stops were made along the way for minor adjustments, but everything went well. Upon arrival to Sam's yard, Sandy handed Gary Gebert a bottle of champagne and while Alan, Reiner, and Sam looked on, Gary christened the Frick. Alan called his dad in Colorado and blew the whistle for him. Gene was very proud of his son.

In mid August Merlin Smart invited Alan and the Frick to do the honors at his yearly threshing bee. Frick demonstrated its' power and threshed all day until there was no grain left. But threshing is not a true test for the governor because the speed remains constant, Alan needed to test his engine on a sawmill. Gene arrived from Colorado and gave Alan a chime whistle with four tones that he made for the steamer. Listen closely to the sound of this whistle, as one might think a train is coming through the show grounds.

Plans were finalized and Frick was loaded onto a trailer and taken to Lake Mills to saw lumber for Jim Tesch. As each log met the saw blade the governor was slow to respond to the engine's call for more power. The trouble was traced to the springs, after replacement, no further difficulty was seen.

The Frick does not sit idle during the winter months, Alan fires it up and with the family gathered around, takes pictures for the next years Christmas cards. Alan will continue to improve on the Frick in the future making it the best steamer it can be, making that dollar well spent.

Alan comes by his mechanical and pattern making ability naturally. Grandpa Conrad and Uncle Bernard made wood patterns by hand, Uncle Reiner gave his guidance, patience and thoroughness in completing a job, Uncles Henry and Joe contributed their knowledge in engineering, Uncle Victor and his father Gene gave their expert ability to weld and their superb experience with engines.

The club salutes you, Alan, on a job well done.