WITH STEAM THE SEED WAS SOWN

Reeves compound engine

Melvin Hellwinckel

Content Tools

Box 55 Gray, Saskatchewan Canada S0G 2A0

In a letter to IMA concerning the plight of farmers in southwest Minnesota who have been forced to sell out because they were unable to finance their operations for 1985, Mr. Meluin H. Hellwinckel, 1022 North Elm, Luverne, Minnesota 56156, reminded us of an article in the March/April 1974 issue of the magazine on a similar situation in the 1930's. A portion of that article is here reprinted for the inspiration it may provide those farmers who are experiencing financial difficulties.

During the dry and dust laden years of the thirties, Saskatchewan farmers were losing ground, not only through soil drifting but financially as well. The general crop failure in 1937 was a final blow that forced many farmers to leave the land and their chosen occupation. The stories of those who were able to remain, often by sheer will power, uncanny ingenuity and Herculean effort, almost sound like fairy tales when recounted today.

One of those stories concerns Mr. George Routledge of Delisle, Saskatchewan. Early in April of 1938, George came to the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan to discuss his problem with us. He had been one our regular visitors, who had become accustomed to talking over farm mechanization problems with us. I must confess that Professor Evan Hardy and I were always happy to sit down and work with people like Mr. Routledge, because quite often we learned more from the discussions with practical farmers than they learned from us.

George Routledge and his boys had been farming on a rather large scale, requiring three McCormick-Deering 22-36 tractors for power. Their 1937 crop was a total failure due to drought. They did have enough seed to sow the 1938 crop and they could get their machinery in shape to do the job BUT they did not have enough money to buy fuel and oil for the three tractors. They could not get credit at the bank and the oil companies would not sell them any more fuel without cash payment. They could get relief vouchers to purchase fuel for a very small part of the farm that the relief officers ruled was the maximum amount to give any farmer. George felt that the relief offer was ridiculous and that all of the well prepared summer fallow at least should be sown to crop.

He told us that he would lie awake at night thinking about the problem and had realized that they had an abundance of good soft water from the spring run-off, they had three old stacks of wheat straw from the threshing of the 1936 crop, they had plenty of help and the old 1912 Reeves Cross Compound 40-140 steam engine was in the shed where it had been in storage for the past twelve years. George was pretty sure that they could get the old steamer in shape to run again, but wondered, would it be too heavy to roll into the soft fields in the spring of the year? Would it pack the soil so much that nothing would grow behind it anyway and, even if it could be made to work, could we hitch his three ten foot one-way discs behind it so that they would work right?

We assured him that we could and would go out to his farm and devise a hitch for the outfit. We figured that as the total width of the two drive wheels only covered a six foot strip and that as the width of cut of the one-way seeders would be 28 feet or more, he would only lose about 20% even if nothing grew in the wheel tracks. We arranged that he would make one pass up the field with his gas tractor and one of the discs to make a starting furrow, he thought he could get enough fuel for that. He was also to get the three one-way discs lined up in the position he would want them for seeding. In addition he was to find a heavy timber or a heavy piece of pipe strong enough to make a spreader bar and all the log chains he could get hold of to make up the hitch.

On a Saturday morning later in April, Prof. Hardy and I drove out to the Routledge farm. The boys had built a large straw rack on the back of the streamer and had even rigged up the plowing furrow wheel steering equipment in the hope that we could figure out some way of using it. They had made a furrow about a mile long up the field and lined the one-way discs, (2 Cockshutts and 1 McCormick-Deering) in the position they thought they should work. They had found a heavy 8 inch iron pipe about 16 feet long that worked quite nicely as a hitch spreader bar. We backed the steam engine in position ahead of the discs, where we thought it should run, and by the time we had the hitch organized, the boys had the steam pressure up to 140 pounds. With a few minor adjustments to the hitch, the outfit worked remarkably well. It was quite a thrill to see that outfit move down the field and working so well. The engine was going CHUFFA, CHUFFA, CHUFFA, as if the load was only a small test of its power.

After we were sure the outfit was going to work, we stopped to get trip ropes rigged up from each of the one way disc power lifts, to the fireman's deck. On that engine, the fireman had his own work area under the floor of the engineer's cab, which was quite high in the air. The Routledge boys rigged up an old disc marker to make a small furrow and the steamer did not have to be hand steered on the straight away stretches.

A 1915 model with serial number 6867, it is owned by Ed and Ray Smolik of Osage, Iowa, and is shown here at the Cedar Falls, Iowa, show in 1975. The picture on the right is the view from the operator's cab.

The Routledge family put in the whole crop in 1938 with the steam outfit and had very little trouble with it. The engine was never stuck in mud even once but as the boys said afterwards they walked over all the soft spots first to make sure the ground was firm enough to support the load. Later in the season they did accept enough relief fuel to sow the soft spots with one of the gas tractors. The crop turned out quite well in that area and from it Mr. Routledge was able to buy two new WD 40 McCormick-Deering diesel tractors on rubber tires. These were the first model of diesel engines to be marketed in wheel tractors and were quite a contrast to the Reeves steam engine that had provided the power to sow the crop. The old Reeves was never put back in the shed.