Route 1, Box 259, Frederic, Wisconsin 54837
I first met Webster (Web for short) and Louise Mooney at 'Midwest Old Threshers', Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in the early 50s. At that time it was primarily steam enthusiasts and in a short time everybody knew everybody else.
Steam power goes back to 1890 when Web's dad, John, owned a Gaar-Scott thresher with a drag stacker and a Gaar-Scott 10 HP with a left hand flywheel. John lived at Whiting, Kansas, and visited his aunt at Nortonville. Here he met Tom and Dean Ryan who had a sawmill at Muscotah and he ended up firing their engine on their mill.
John got married and bought some acreage near a schoolhouse at Larkenburg. Here Web was born in 1903. A sister was born in 1905 and another son was born in 1910.
John owned two cows, a span of mules and a few hives of bees. Here he set up a sawmill and bought an 8 HP Nichols and Shepard, no. 5888. This 8 HP had more power than the Gaar-Scott which he scrapped in 1903. In 1911 he bought a used 13 HP Nichols and Shepard and a 32' Case thresher with a geared blower. He hired a separator man by the name of Carl Juelke.
Carl was a bit lax about filling the grease cups but quick to sketch 'Mutt and Jeff' in the dust collected on the thresher, not to mention other pranks.
Bees were still a sideline hobby for John and he would often lay by the hives and watch the busy bees while smoking a corn cob pipe. From his 36 hives in 1969 he extracted a ton of honey.
Web finished the 9th grade at the age of 13 and by this time he was his dad's helper.
In the spring of 1919, they were sawing a lot of elm bridge timbers. Web was to be the offbearer and Mug Maxwell was hired as fireman. Web eventually took over the engine. From then on Web could handle any engine.
John purchased a used 16 HP double side mounted Nichols and Shepard, No. 11455, and a 30 x 46 N.S. separator from the Russell branch at St. Joe, Missouri for $1000. John took this rig on their regular run and Web took the 13 HP N.S. and a 28x50 Case thresher that had replaced the 32'. They now had two rigs in the field. The 16 HP was used for pulling hedge for farmers, as time permitted.
In 1928 they bought a 20 HP Nichols and Shepard side mounted, No. 11306, for sawing and the 16 HP was scrapped. They sold the 13 HP together with the 28 x 50 Case thresher. The 8 HP was kept to pull the 'lizard' (in Wisconsin we call it a 'go-devil') used to skid logs in the mill yard and fetch logs across a bridge. Web recalls an oak log 19' x 14'.
The boiler went bad on the 20 HP in 1930, so they bought a 1915 20-80 double cylinder, double geared Peerless, No. 17577. Dismantling had begun on this engine so the pulley was missing. John knew of another 20 HP simple Peerless being scrapped and luckily got the pulley and other parts for $10.00.
The engine was to be used on 36 x 60 steel Nichols and Shepard thresher, but since the Peerless had only a 36' pulley, it was a hard steamer. By replacing the 13' thresher pulley with a 10', it slowed the engine to 200 RPM and there was no more problem.
Web mentioned threshing 3600 bushels of oats for one farmer. Grain was run into 50-bushel wagon boxes and unloaded by two scoopers. Later on Gust Gigstadt built a wood elevator and simplified the scooping problem.
The Mooney's were steam men and were tempted to buy a 25-90 Nichols and Shepard but it was bought by a road contractor in 1931 who contacted Web about loading it on a flatcar. He watched Web as he steamed it up and cautiously loaded it on the car. The contractor was inspired at Web's talent and offered Web the job of running the engine for him. Web worked very close with his dad and chose not to leave home.
It was a sad day when John Mooney got killed in September 1933. He was still spry at the age of 72.
The Peerless was still used for sawing and one day while sawing, a man drove in the yard and was surprised to see the Peerless in action. He said he had run that engine when it belonged to the Star Contruction Company. He at once recognized the star painted on the bunkers. He said at that time they were building what is now 'old Highway 71' between Kansas City and St. Joe, Missouri.
In 1934 Web started working for the Allis Chalmers dealer in Nortonville. In those Depression days, jobs were hard to come by. He got $1.50 per day, six days a week (60 hours).
1936 was the year Allis Chalmers came out with the W.C. tractor on rubber, a very versatile and tough tractor. Then too came the 6 foot 'All-Crop' combine. These two machines were indeed outstanding in their time. Web was called on to service and adjust the combines in keeping satisfied customers.
Later on, the round baler came out, another first, and it too proved to be a good seller with very little upkeep. Dealers hesitated to take in the square bale machines on trade.
At any rate, with this job, Web could still do some custom sawing in the evenings, and would do so until dusk.
The International dealer had taken a 15-30 International chain drive tractor on a trade. It had been sold to a well driller who burned out a bearing and the dealer got it back. At one time he tried to sell it to Web for $200.00, but it seemed nobody wanted it after the McCormick Deering enclosed gear drive tractors came out. The dealer came down to $50.00 and Web finally got it on a $25.00 offer.
Web went to work on the bearing and revised the complicated carburetor system. It was belted to the mill and had plenty power sawing up to 3719 feet in one day, but it required too much maintenance. He ended up selling the tractor.
In 1940 Web wet up his saw mill to the west edge of Nortonville. He bought a used Rumely 6 tractor for $150.00. He had the motor rebored and overhauled for $50.00. He did considerable threshing with it and a 28 x 46 Nichols and Shepard separator. He also rigged up lights for the mill as he had a deal going to saw walnut 'fleches'. There were pieces measuring precisely 2-9/16' x 8' x 24' to be used for gun stocks.
Web retired from the Allis Chalmers job in 1969 after 35 years with them. He still sawed lumber occasionally until he had a stroke in 1973.
The Peerless engine was traded for a very late 16-60 double rear mounted no. 14043. This was the last Nichols and Shepard engine built (1924). This engine was driven home a distance of 29 miles and was sold to a hog raiser at Lawrence for sterilizing hog houses. In 1950 it was again sold to Kenny Reynolds who completely restored the engine and brought it to a number of shows.
Web tells about the year they had finished their shock run. Another thresherman, Bert Robinson, asked Web to help finish his run of stack threshing. Bert had an 18 HP Aultman Taylor and a wood 32' Rumely separator. He also had an Aultman Taylor clover huller, Marcellas corn sheller and a sawmill. Upon finishing the run, they hoped to bring the rig home.
One lantern was hung on front of the engine, another set on the platform. When passing over a box culvert that was six planks wide and four feet deep, the right driver broke through and settled down a foot and a half. The rear lantern slid to the right, upset and went out. They tackled the task of jockeying and blocking before proceeding the rest of the way.
Steam was in Web's blood and from 1955 his spare time was spent building a scale working model of a 25-75 Nichols and Shepard double rear mounted engine. Before 12 years was up, he had matched the engine with a 36 x 60 Red River Special separator. The proud owner of this precision rig is now Chady Atteberry, Blackwell, Oklahoma. Since Web and Louise moved to 'The Village Villa' in Nortonville, Chady also has the Mooney's picture collection, including slides and movies.
The Web Mooney's have had a rich devout Christian life and my wife and I enjoyed visiting them on three occasions this past summer and hope to do so more times. Would that friends would stop in, write them a letter and remember them in their prayers.