Steam engine threshing

A typical scene of steam engine threshing as it was done on Missouri farms a generation ago. The 1955 St. Charles Fair provided a real-life re-enactment of this memorable scene.

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135 Eau Claire Drive, St. Charles, Missouri

Please accept my renewal subscription and change my address as shown below. While I class myself as a 'thresher', my only actual connection was 'water boy' with the rigs that threshed on farms near my boyhood home in Garden City, Missouri, about 20 to 30 years ago. The old steamers always fascinated me and I regretted to see them replaced. I always felt a little sorry for the generation only a few years behind mine who would never see this tremendous farm, spectacle. Accordingly it was a great thrill for me when I was able to re-create for the 1955 St. Charles County (Mo.) Fair the 'threshing exhibit' described in the enclosed clipping and photographs which I hope you can use in the ALBUM.

We actually threshed about a wagon load of oats beginning each day at 4 P. M. The bundles were hauled in by truck then reloaded on two wagons, one pulled with a fine team of Missouri mules to give our audience as authentic a scene as possible. The threshing was staged in a natural ampitheater with several hundred spectators daily lining the grass covered hillside. The entire 'rig' had been given a fresh coat of red and green paint by volunteer painters just prior to Fair time. I'm enclosing a photograph and two articles which appeared in our local paper in regard to this exhibit, which I hope you can use in the ALBUM, at least to the extent of giving credit to the men whose well preserved equipment we used.

It is my fond hope that the St. Charles County Fair, one of the finest county fairs in Missouri, will make this threshing exhibit an annual feature so that this great tradition of agriculture can be kept alive and real in the minds of coming generations.


'Beginning 4:00 p. m., Thursday afternoon and each afternoon, through Sunday, on the north east corner of the Fair Grounds, will be re-enacted one of the most memorable legends of agricultural history steam engine threshing complete with the coal smoke, dust, straw, and smell of hot steam and metal that went with it. Hard at work will be the 60hp. 1919 Nichols & Shepard steam engine owned by William Thorough man of Washington, Missouri, and the Nichols & Shepard 'Red River Special' thresher owned by George Brinkmann of St. Charles. On display also will be an A. D. Baker steam engine owned by Bernard McMenamy and a 1926 Rumley 'Oil  Pull' tractor owned by George Brinkmann. The Fair is also indebted to Mr. Brinkmann for providing bundled grain to make this demonstration possible.

'The steam threshing engine, immense and ponderous by today's standards, was the forerunner of the mechanical revolution that has swept through American agriculture in less than a generation. Almost overnight what many old timers (and a few of us youngsters) regard as the most memorable period of farming, has passed into legend.

'Steam engines for farm use were first developed about 1860 as horse-drawn portable engines for belt operation of threshers. Conversion to self-propelled traction engines which could pull the thresher from farm to farm came soon after. In the early 1900's some such engines were developed specifically for pulling gang plows and were used to break the virgin prairies of the Dakotas and Canada. The largest of these were rated at 110 h. p. and weighed over 40,000 lbs.

'Steam engines reached the peak of their use in 1910 with some 72,000 engines on U. S. farms. After that they lost out rapidly. Oil-burning internal combustion tractors such as the Rumley 'Oil-Pull' on display, still large and cumbersome by today's standards but less troublesome than steam, were introduced to power the threshers. After World War I the thresher itself gave way to the modern combine. The last steam engines were built in 1926 and are rapidly disappearing from the American scene, but not before this combination of Yankee genius and the might of steam had made the American people the best fed people in history. Here indeed was the key that unlocked the horn of plenty.

'The Fair still needs one bundle wagon for the threshing. Also if anyone has any old farm implements they would like to display, they are urged to bring them to the Fair Grounds on Tuesday.

All threshermen (whether they ever threshed or not) are urged to register and wear the 'Old Thresherman' button. Registration fee will be 50c and all proceeds will be used to defray the expenses of this and future threshing exhibits. Y'all come.'