Typical Old Time Threshers

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1011 Gambier Road, Mount Vernon, Ohio 43050.

On of the fondest recollections I have of the threshing seasons was the one when I had just turned six. The threshers had arrived for the annual 'Boyer' threshing. My Dad farmed 260 acres, all with horses, of course, and the Boyer threshing was always the largest on the ring. The threshers always tried to arrive in the evening, to prepare for two full days.

The threshing ring consisted perhaps of about twelve or fifteen farmers, all helping one another, with no thought of whether one threshing was larger and therefore required more of a given man's time than another. The threshers were the Herring family, 300 pound Henry, and his two sons, Orrie and Donie. They were all born to be threshers, and with two large outfits served quite an area in Shelby County of Ohio. One outfit used a Reeves 16 engine, and one a Baker 20. The one with the Reeves served our area, and while old Henry never touched an engine, he had, in Orrie and Donie, expert engine men. Orrie handled the Reeves, and soon noticed my fascination with the engine. This particular time, Orrie suggested I be boosted into the cab, and be shown some of the fine points of the steam engine. He went further, and asked me if I would like to handle the throttle and start and stop the engine as loads of grain were brought to or taken away from the separator. I was thrilled! But there was a trick to starting this Reeves, a twin cylinder of course, for just the slightest extra pull on the lever would usually throw off the belt. So he taught me to put my left hand on the front side of the throttle, then pat it lightly with the right hand until the wheel just began to move, then open slowly. I quickly learned the touch and from then on never threw the belt. As young as I was, I followed the engine farm to farm, being allowed to handle the throttle. Steam was being injected into my system never to be released in the sixty-nine years since then.

During the next several years I followed the outfit, finally being allowed to do anything on the engine, eventually to drive the outfit from one farm to another. Some of the farmers took a dim view of 'that kid' driving the outfit into their farmyards, and 'setting' the separator and engine. One I shall never forget was 'Harve' Ward, a bit older than most of his neighbors, with his chin whiskers to indicate that he was older, perhaps somewhat wiser, although inwardly he was a grand old man. One day when I was probably not more than fourteen, I brought the outfit to Harve's barnyard, with the Herrings riding on top of the separator. I drew close to the barn, and stopped. Old Henry climbed down and asked Harve where he wanted it set. Harve wanted it in the back barn-lot, requiring going between the corner of the barn and his covered water tank. Henry said 'come on, Ralph', but Harve threw up, his hands and said 'that kid is not going to take that thing between the barn and the water tank'. Henry's answer I shall never forget. 'That kid is going to take her or she isn't going to be took'. I took it through and we lost no weatherboarding.

To this day I owe a great deal to that Herring family. They recognized in me a great longing for things mechanical, and went out of their way to teach me. Actually I never became one of their crew, for when I graduated from High School at age 17, I went directly to college for I already saw the necessity of a mechanical education. I eventually graduated from Ohio State University with two degrees and went directly into Diesel and Natural Gas engines, where I spent my entire career. I loved steam, still do, and try each year to cover one or more of the reunions, but I soon realized that the future was so much brighter in Internal Combustion. I eventually became Vice President and Director of Engineering of a large manufacturer, and in my later years was largely responsible for the development of the jet gas turbine. I have often wondered how much of my successful career could be credited to the old threshing family - the Herrings.

I am sorry to report that the Reeves came to a sorry end. I don't know what year it was built, but it was not new when I started with it in 1907. About 1933 I was back for a visit, learned that the last of the Herrings was gone, that the Reeves was still threshing not too far away. I found it, was thrilled to see it, and talked with the owner. I told him I had first operated it in 1907. He argued that it couldn't be nearly that old. But he made me a bet that I couldn't get up in the cab and stop it dead then start it again without throwing off the belt. I did it perfectly after which he said 'you have to be right, for no one not acquainted with that engine could do that unless he had had practice'. I had no idea I had scared him, but learned later that he sold it for junk. A friend of mine saw the boiler cut up with a torch, and reported it was in perfect condition.

My greatest regret is that I didn't buy it, for although I live in town, I would have bought a small farm with a barn for it's protection, just to own it.