October Steam Day

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The next generation of steam engineers, aboard a 1904 Advance 16 hp straw burner working with a 1905 Advance 32-48 hand-fed separator, at the Kemlers' annual Steam Day in 2008.
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Dave Kemler’s 1910 Gaar-Scott 16-48 (no. 14788) steamed up for the first time in 80 years. Dave and his son Matt restored the engine, which is outfitted with a spark arrester, standard equipment on straw burners.
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This 1919 Port Huron 33-54 is a workhorse: It’s gone to work every season since the mid-1950s.
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A 1920 Russell 25-75.
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A vintage Ford Model T truck fits in perfectly at Steam Day.
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Aaron Davis, Marshall, Mich., feeding bundles of oats to a 1905 Advance 32-48 hand-fed separator, threshing from a wagon load of bundles.
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Stack threshing with a 1920 25 hp Russell (no. 16907), Port Huron 33-54 separator and Port Huron tank wagon.
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The crew of volunteers and guests at Steam Day 2008.
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A 1905 Advance 32-48 hand-fed separator.
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A 1920 25 hp Russell steam engine (no. 16907) powering a Port Huron separator. The engine’s former owner, Henry Byler, is at the wheel.
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Steam threshing with a 1904 Advance 16 hp straw burner (no. 12214) and 1905 Advnace 32-48 hand-fed separator on the Kemler Farm during October Steam Day 2008.
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A 1911 20 hp Advance (no. 12752); the engine has been used on the Kemler farm since 1967.
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Threshing in the golden light of an autumn afternoon.

Dave Kemler has spent his entire life surrounded by steam engines.

“I don’t remember not being around steam,” the Stanton, Mich., man says. “I was 4 years old at my first show in 1948; that’s how far back I go in steam. A lot of people talk about steam as a hobby, but for me it’s more a way of life.”

A big part of that life involves hosting a steam threshing show each October, after the air has cooled and the peak of the summer show season is well past. Dave puts on an intensive, full-bore threshing event. “We do 12 to 14 acres of grain and that really gives a straw stack,” he says. Last fall a small army of enthusiasts operating five steam engines threshed a large stack of bundles plus another 12 to 15 wagon loads.

Past on parade

Each morning, a parade of equipment heads to the field just after sunrise, echoing the days when a steam threshing crew would arrive at a farm and prepare to go to work.

A 1920 25 hp Russell powering a Port Huron threshing machine was run by its former owner, Henry Byler. “This used to be my engine,” he says. “I bought it out of Pittsburgh, Ohio, and then sold it to Matt Kemler. I have the privilege of running it today.

“When we came out here to the field,” Henry adds, “the water wagon was hooked behind the Russell and the Port Huron threshing machine was hooked behind that. It was quite a parade.”

The 33-54 Port Huron thresher was built in 1919. Dave’s dad bought it for $125 in 1953; it’s reported for duty every year since. Dave’s dad used the Port Huron to thresh more than 50 acres a year during the 1950s. “I think we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of it,” Dave says with a smile.

Wooden wonders

Dave and his son Matt collect mostly Advance and Port Huron engines and equipment but they also have Gaar-Scott and Russell machinery. Wooden threshers are a prime attraction at Dave’s show. Rarely seen in operation at other events, they are workhorses at the Kemlers’.

“This 1905 hand-fed Advance (wooden) threshing machine has been used in my event every year ever since I restored it about 10 years ago,” says Dave. “We pulled it out of a barn in 1963. It hadn’t been used since 1919.”

The 1905 thresher was paired with a 1904 Advance 16 hp straw burner that Dave bought in 1995. Grain from the thresher was being hand-sacked and loaded on an original grain wagon. Another Advance, a 1911 20 hp (no. 12752), pulled the water wagon for the steam engines.

At noon the activity stopped for a meal reminiscent of threshers’ dinners of old. A cook-out was bolstered by a potluck feast; another meal is served in the evening, all courtesy of the hosts.

Participants come from Ohio, Michigan and Illinois; one even came from Iowa. “We threshed a lot of oats,” says Kevin Hayslett, Sheridan, Mich. “It’s a lot of work but that’s OK. We have a good time, and Dave is quite a host. I like this better than some of the big shows; it’s more relaxed and you don’t have to worry about what’s happening around you. If somebody gets up on a steam engine, it’s pretty well guaranteed that they know how to operate it.” FC

Read more about Dave Kemler: “Imitating Chromolithography for the Steam Hobby.”

Don Voelker is a freelance photographer and writer in Fort Wayne, Ind., specializing in tractors, farm equipment, historic sites, museums, barns and covered bridges. View his work at www.voelkerphotography.com.
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