Vigo County Fair Gas Engine and Steam Threshing Show

Baker engine

Retubing the Bob Johnson Baker engine. Temperature was 100!

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1830 So. Fifth Street Terre Haute, Indiana 47802.

Since becoming a member of the Vigo County Fair Association, it seems I can't keep my hand down at the meetings. I took the task of forming the steam power show in conjunction with the gas engine show which is chaired by Coen Hutchinson.

There hadn't been a threshing show at our county fair for 15 years, and the fair has been slipping a little. I thought about it a long time, and realized that something new and exciting would help.

Mrs. Eula Drew, owner of the Great James H. Drew Exposition Carnival out of Augusta, Georgia, is a dear friend of mine of 40 years. Her son Jimmie is now the owner. Eula asked me to join the Fair Association and to put my efforts into it. I retired from the Fire Department after thirty years of service. I then created the Fire-Police Museum in 1980 and had devoted most of my time to its operation. The Drew Carnival has been on the midway at our fair for 30 years, and we hope, for many years to come. The fair board asked me to look into the possibility of putting a steam threshing show together which would boost the fair's first two days attendance.

I broke into steam while living at a children's home here. My job was working in the steam power house. We had two return tube Atlas boilers and three steam engines, so I was well broken in after four years.

This was a challenge and a chance to get back into steam. So I called the old pro, Bob Johnson, of North Terre Haute, Indiana, who has owned two Baker engines and a Nichols & Shepard engine plus other steam related equipment. We sat down and laid out our plans. The first thing was to find equipment needed. Johnson's engine needed new flues, so we all pitched in and put the new flues in the Baker. Helping on the project were Leland Creed, Lloyd Creed, Dennis Ross, and Tom Champion. The Baker is a 21-75. This was in June, 1988 and it was 100 degrees in the shade. We worked up to within one week of the fair to complete the job.

Leland Creed was the ramrod boiler maker, overseeing the job. He worked the flues inside the firebox and he is 75 years old. Bob Johnson has had a heart problem and he had to act as an adviser on the job. Dennis Ross cut the flues and Lloyd Creed (son of Leland) and Tom Champion rolled the flues in the smokebox end, while Lori Johnson kept busy recording the event with a video camera.

Next we had to find a threshing machine and a binder, as the two go together. I found an old Mc-Cormick Deering binder 10 miles south of town in a new coal mine. It was going to be destroyed and was on the Hunter farm. I contacted members of the Hunter family and they agreed to let us have it. It had blackberry vines as thick as your thumb growing throughout the whole machine. I had to use pruners to cut my way through to the binder. Frank Killion transported the machine to the fairgrounds.

It was in very bad condition, almost beyond repair. I had to make new rollers and that took a large lathe. There was no canvas for it and we had to turn to Bob Johnson, who had saved some from his threshing days. The cycle bar cutter had to be restored by Coen Hutchinson. This binder had a bull wheel for ground power and all of it had to be gone over. All parts were rusted together. With a lot of oil and hard work we got it loosened up. Then it was ready for a test, so we hooked it up to a pickup truck and pulled it to get it to operate. Everything worked fine. Lots of work went into that restoration!

Next we had to get a threshing machine. I got word that there was one sitting in a field ten miles south of town, and four miles east. I found it buried up to the hubs and axles. I had to shovel it out of the ground. We added air to the tires and to my surprise, they stayed up. I contacted another volunteer, Tom Fears, who towed it back to the fairgrounds, by way of back roads at 15 miles per hour and it all stayed together.

Another big job was upon us a 1932 22-36 Avery separator, made in Peoria, Illinois. The bottom was all rotted out, the main pulley and the belting was gone. So my work was cut out for me. The separator was donated by the Boyll family of Pimento, Indiana. This equipment was donated to the Fire-Police Museum; we in turn turned it over to the Wabash Valley Fair Association to be used at the fair.

Work began on the bottom of the separator. The shaker was made new from aluminum, the grain getter cylinder was rusted tight and the beater grates had to be restored. The grain pans and the frames were all made of new material. Most of the flat chain on the Hart feeder was renewed. The wind stack was a rusty mess so a lot of work went into that. All new belting was put in place, a new drive pulley was added, the conveyor had to be taken apart and restored. The return elevator was restored and a coat of white paint applied. The great thing about this job: all materials were donated by Terre Haute industries.

Late June was upon us and it was time to bind the wheat for our show. At the time, we didn't have any wheat so I put in a call to farmer Fred Wilson, and he came through with four acres of wheat.

We got to try out the binder, and we had lots of volunteers. The Hollingsworth men of Vermillion County, plus my two grandsons, Tom Montgomery, Loran Watson and others came down and gave us a full day's work. Without these people we could not have gotten the job done.

We shocked the wheat and let it stand for a week. We had to work quickly because we get lots of rain this time of year. We loaded the four wagons, headed for the fair grounds and put it in the barns out of the weather.

I next contacted the fire department to supply us with water for the engines and the coal mine to obtain coal, all donated. We needed engines so Bob Johnson was contacted, as were Burl Bogart, of Memon, Indiana and Henry Youngblood of Monrovia, Indiana. So we had one Case, one Huber and one Baker engine.

I contacted John Curry, owner of Misco Company, and they transported the engines to the fairgrounds. We were in need of drive belts, so I called a building wrecker who had removed a 150 conveyor belt from a downtown dime store. The belt was the right material and thickness. We cut it to eight inch width and got enough belting for the separator and the baler, plus extra. All the belting that we cut for the separator was conveyor belting used at the coke plant and it was rubber covered and it works fine.

Our first threshing show was in 1987. We used rented equipment from the Clyde Knows farm north of Marshall, Illinois. The show was received so well by the public that we decided to acquire our own equipment.

Our second threshing show in 1988 was another hit. We used our restored equipment and Burl Bogart's Huber engine, with his brother as engineer, and Bob Johnson's Baker engine. The engines took their turn, one running the separator and the other running the baler, with John Greene overseeing its operation.

Our third threshing show this past July turned out to be our best yet, and the operation has helped improve our fair. Getting it all together were Tom Champion and Bob Johnson. The engine used was Henry Youngblood's Case, from Monrovia, Indiana and Bob Johnson's Baker from North Terre Haute, Indiana.

In the last week of June 1989 we cut, bound and shocked the wheat and had lots of help. When it came time to load the wheat a week later, help was hard to find and we had to hire help. Volunteer help is a cherished commodity. We would shut down the separator and bale the straw. We are using a Deering baler. John Greene of Clay County handled this operation. We had lots of people watching the poking of the wires through the wooden blocks. A few had never seen this type of baling. Some came to reminisce about the past. We would let some kids and women pitch the bundles and poke the wires and everybody had a great time. This makes the show.

Tom Champion put into operation his cut off saw with a 30 inch blade. Using power from the Johnson engine, we cut logs into one inch-thick sections and gave them to those who watched. Everybody wanted them. This was a great attraction added to the show. We hope to saw logs as soon as we can get a saw mill. We are looking into the possibility of setting up a permanent steam power show, and it could be run any time the need calls for it.

The creativity of all these steam operations knows no boundary with the fans and all are devotedly attached to it all. We all must keep this history alive. It is too precious to let it go. We must remember, if we don't preserve what we know and have for future generations it will be lost forever.