Third Generation of Steam

Excerpted from the May/June 1978 Iron-Men Album
John R. DeGraffenreid
September/October 2004
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It all began in the year of 1912 when my grandfather [first generation] purchased a new 18 HP single-cylinder, side-mounted Buffalo Pitts. He purchased a grain separator at the same time and began his threshing career, in and around Bagnell, Missouri. My father [second generation] said when they unloaded it off the flatcar there was a factory man with it to start them out on it.

This, not being a big wheat country, they would thresh about three months and build roads and run a sawmill the rest of the time. This was about par for the course for the next 15 years, at such time they purchased a 27-44 Twin City tractor which they threshed with until about 1937. My grandfather owned several engines during this time, but sold all but 'Old Buffalo' which he owned at his passing in 1939.

In the early 30s a friend of the family borrowed the engine and the sawmill to saw a tract of timber and in the process had a fatal heart attack while turning a log on the mill. The old outfit set for some years and one day my father said 'Let's go get Old Buffalo,' to my brother and I [third generation].

My brother and I cared for the engine while dad did the sawing. I don't know why, but either we had plenty of water and not much steam or was it the other way around? Well, I don't know if any of you ever fired with green sycamore slabs or not but dad being a very conservative sawyer; there wasn't much left but sap. By this time the war clouds were gathering and Uncle Sam said I Want You, and I was almost glad to go to get out of firing the engine.

My brother and I were gone from 1940 to 1947 and in the meantime dad had gotten an old car engine for the power unit for the mill. One day a junk dealer came along and offered dad $50 for her and dad said the man will give $50 for her and I don't guess we will have any further use for her and I said he will give $100 and lets keep the whistle, gauge, pop valve and babbitt out of the bearings.

In the spring of 1967, I heard of a number of engines at Columbia, Missouri, owned by H. H. Lawson. My brother and I went up and looked at them and a short time later I got this friend that got me to go to Mt. Pleasant to go with me and look at these engines. We made a trip or two and he bought a 22 HP single-cylinder Keck Gonnerman and I bought a 20 HP double-cylinder Keck Gonnerman.

I began to think we needed some grain so we could have something to thresh so I prepared 10 acres of oats the first part of March. I looked at the old grain binder we had from years past and it was rotted down, so I went back to the man from whom I purchased the engine and got a 10' power binder and got it ready for harvest.

In June we got the oats bound and shocked, so we set a date for an old time threshing, did a little advertising, 'come and see if you like, no charge.' There was probably six or eight hundred people and now many people say we didn't know about it, so you will have to have it again.

Well, what do you know, 'Time slips away.' Ten years have come and gone since I wrote the first part of this article. As can happen the fifth generation has come along in fact three of them; two girls and a boy.

The threshing show has continued all these years and the 11th one was held July 23 and 24, 1977.

In 1969 I decided that I should build a half-scale model of the 20 HP double Keck-Gonnerman that I purchased in 1967.

It was a rewarding six years of past-time and I met and corresponded with some of the nicest people in obtaining governor, injectors, pop valve, etc. Namely, Clyde Comstock, Fred Brubaker and Paul Campbell.

The first time I showed the engine publicly was at an art and craft show at Riverview Baptist Church in March of 1975. In July I went to Paris, Mo., to the Mark Twain Old Threshers Show and I heartily recommend this show to anyone and especially model builders.


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