My name is Jacob Freeman. I am the grandson of Robert Freeman Jr., Marshall, North Carolina. I have always called him “Papaw.” I am the great-grandson of Robert Freeman Sr., known to everyone as Bob Freeman.
I was asked by my papaw to write the story of their 1924 Fordson tractor and No. 3 Geiser threshing machine. Papaw has said for the 10 years that he has subscribed to Farm Collector, he has never seen a No. 3 Geiser (or any Geiser threshing machine) mentioned. The story of these two machines started in the late 1930s.
“I was with Bob Freeman when he bought the 1924 Fordson tractor near Greeneville, Tennessee,” Papaw told me as I sat in front of him with my computer in my dad’s garage. “He brought it back to the house in Madison County, North Carolina, and he started a wheat threshing business. We used the tractor to belt-pull a No. 3 Geiser threshing machine that we think was built sometime in the early 1900s.”
That tractor and threshing machine combination was used to thresh wheat for people all over Madison and Buncombe counties from the late 1930s until the mid to late 1950s. That is when Bob sold the Fordson tractor for $35, after it was unused for about three years.
Tracking down a tractor
“In the mid 1960s I tracked down the Fordson,” Papaw said. “The man that Bob had sold it to couldn’t get it started so he gave it to John Bell.” John Bell owned Main Auto Parts in Asheville, North Carolina, about 20 miles from Marshall, where Bob and Papaw lived. “John Bell couldn’t get the tractor started either, so he had it parked in the back of his shop. I looked at it and knew it was Bob Freeman’s old tractor, so I went in to talk to John. I asked him if the tractor was for sale. I acted like I had never seen the tractor before. John said it was and that he would take $75 for it. I told him I would give him $50 and we settled on $65.”
So the tractor had been sitting a total of 13 years without having been started. “We had to push the tractor into the shop when we got it home,” Papaw said. During the time it was in the shop, it was torn down and rebuilt. “While we were taking the motor apart, Bob Freeman was watching me,” Papaw said. “I asked him how often he changed the oil in the engine while he had it. He sat and thought and said ‘I don’t think I changed it once while I had it.’” The men who owned it after Bob Freeman thought that the reason it wouldn’t start was because of the carburetor. “When we got the motor torn down,” Papaw said, “we found out that the magnets on the flywheel had lost their magnetism. That was the real reason why it wouldn’t start for all those years.”
The interim owners had taken the original carburetor off to be rebuilt and it had been lost. Papaw wanted the rebuild to be complete, so he began tracking down the original carburetor. After some time, he found out that it was last seen at a house in Spring Creek, North Carolina. “When we went to the house, we went down to the basement,” he recalled. “Laying there in the dirt was the carburetor. After another trip to the house and a piece being mailed to me, we had all of the original pieces to the carburetor.”
Once the tractor was rebuilt, it had to be started with a 6-volt battery because the magnets on the flywheel still were not magnetized. Other than that, the tractor was as close to original as it could be. When this whole project was finished, it was the late 1960s.
Launching a reunion
The tractor was used very little until the 1980s. “In 1988, my neighbor, R.B. Fisher, told me he had wheat he wanted threshed,” Papaw said. “We had kept the Geiser threshing machine all of those years after Bob Freeman stopped his business. So we had both the tractor and the threshing machine and we decided we would do it like Bob did in the ’30s.”
That threshing became an annual event known as the Old Time Threshers Reunion. From 1988 to 2010, men, women and children made their way to Bear Creek, North Carolina, on the fourth Saturday of July to witness history brought to life: a 1924 Fordson tractor belt-pulling a No. 3 Geiser threshing machine in the same way that it did in the 1930s when Bob Freeman started a business with the two pieces of equipment.
For more than two decades the reunion was a well-attended annual event. Some people came to relive a scene from their childhood; others came to see how it was done in the “good old days.” For the Freeman family, the reunion was more than a social event. It was something that brought all of us together. Papaw was always the leader, planting and cutting the wheat, keeping the machines serviced and clean and telling anyone he met to come down and see how wheat threshing was really done.
It has been four years since our last reunion but in that time the threshing machine and Fordson tractor have still been cleaned and serviced and still belong to the Freeman family like they have for almost 70 years. FC
For more information:
— Call Robert Freeman Jr. at (828) 649-2339, or Jacob Freeman at (828) 206-1134 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— For more on Geiser Mfg. Co., Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, see Farm Collector, November 2008, pages 30-31 or read the online article, The Geiser Mfg. Co. Peerless Steam Engine.
Have a story to share about your old iron project, discovery or collection? Jot it down, gather up good quality prints or digital images and send it to us: Editor, Farm Collector Magazine, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; email: email@example.com.