Threshing with An Indiana Special

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Rt. 1, Box 1501 Jennings, Oklahoma 74038

This article is a follow up to one I sent in a few months ago. In that article I told about my 20 HP double Keck steam engine, #1636. This article is about my 36' x 60' Keck- Gonnerman Indiana Special wooden separator #2359.

Thanks to the fact that the engine and separator records of the Keck-Gonnerman Company were saved, I was able to find out the following about my thresher: It was sold new on September 9th, 1924 and shipped from Mt. Vernon, Indiana, on September 27th. It was purchased by Joe Asmus, Frank L. Heisser and Vick Brucker at Perkins, Missouri. It was equipped with a gearless wind stacker #2249, a K. G. 'C' feeder #1613 with 14' carrier and a Kay-Gee belt and bucket elevator/weigher #650. This machine was fitted with S. K. F. bearings on the cylinder and blower shafts. It also differed from the standard 36' x 60' in that it is a double belted and double crank separator.

The story goes that this machine was last used in the late 50s or early 60s. I got the thresher from John Hall in 1990. At that time the machine had been sitting in a barn for several years. John had partially disassembled it, which made it easier to load when John Fry and I went to get it in the fall of 1990.I can say that we got more than a few interesting looks on the road back to Oklahoma. We also got a lot of questions whenever we stopped to refuel.

Threshing at Pawnee, Oklahoma, July 19, 1992. Keck-Gonnerman Indiana Special separator owned by Steve Dunn.

From the Fall/Winter of 1990 to the Spring of 1992 I did a lot of work on the thresher. The frame timbers and most of the wood was in very good condition, but there was some water damage to the top of the machine. I ended up replacing the wood on the top.

The only other wooden machines I have ever seen are Joe Harper's Aultman-Taylor and his Red River Special. Joe always does an excellent job of restoration and what really sets off his machinery is his attention to detail.

I wanted to try to do the same with the Indiana Special. These machines were rather elaborately painted with striping and stencils. Well, I had never done this kind of work before, but there was some of the original stencil lettering visible on the separator. I made tracings of them and then cut stencils from these tracings.

As far as mechanical repairs to the machine were concerned, the previous owners were very liberal with lubrication and there were only a few repairs to be made. The feeder required a new deck of 5/8' beaded ceiling board. The belt and canvas web were in pretty sorry shape and I ended up making a new one from scratch. One or two of the belts that were with the machine were in useable condition, but the others would have to replaced. I found a source for new belting and had it on the separator the Thursday before our show at Pawnee this year.

I wanted to run the machine even though we were not going to thresh with it at this year's show. David Bennett and Dale Wolff helped, and we managed to get the old thresher belted up to my engine and running slowly. There were some loud rubbing sounds coming from the rear of the machine. It took a while but we finally discovered a chunk of wood stuck in the tailings auger. There were a couple of other minor problems but nothing that couldn't be fixed.

The Oklahoma Steam Threshers Association usually has its annual election of officers meeting about the middle of July. It was suggested that we thresh a couple of loads of wheat the morning of the meeting. Well, I got volunteered to do the job with my Keck-Gonnerman outfit.

The morning of the threshing I got to Pawnee early to pull the engine out and get a fire started. A crowd started gathering about 10:00. About 10:30 we started to set up for the threshing. I was really concerned because we still hadn't run the separator up to speed enough to determine if anything adverse would happen. At 11:00 everything was ready and at 11:05 we began.

We had four men pitching and it didn't take very long to find out the new belts needed tightening. About 25 minutes of cutting and splicing, as well as plenty of belt dressing, cured the slipping belts. Well, after about 15 minutes of work we managed to slug the cylinder, too. I had put the feeder /band cutter back together just as I had taken it apart. It seems I didn't have the thing adjusted right, as it allowed more than one bundle to enter the cylinder at a time. I spent about ten minutes digging straw out of the concaves. I recently got some material from my friend, Rick Apple in Tennessee, on how to set the feeder up correctly. There shouldn't be any more stuck cylinders. As you can see, just about everything that could have gone wrong, did!

1923 model AB Mack truck with Indiana Special separator, 20 HP double Keck-Gonnerman traction engine. Left to right: sitting on truck, Paul Martins, Daniel Roberts; on engine, Dale Wolff, George Hockmyer and Ed Sheiver.

Well, we decided to break for lunch. After lunch we were to have our election of officers, but Dale Wolff and I went back up to check on the engine and separator. While Dale looked over the separator I opened up the throttle on the engine. At this time Dale came back to the engine and I climbed up on the half empty bundle wagon and began to pitch bundles into the machine. It seemed that all of the problems of the morning had been solved and the thresher never missed a beat. In no time, we were through.

I want to thank a number of my friends for their help that Sunday morning: Chaddy Atteberry, Henry Martens, Ivan Burns, John Fry, Louis Woods, Dale Wolff, Ed Sheiver and Nat Archer.

I'll say one final thing in closing. This is probably the closest I'll ever come to threshing with a brand new machine. By that I mean, with all of the new belts and adjustments that had to be made, for me it was like threshing with a new separator.