Steam Farming in Montana: Four Generations of Steam Engineers

Since the 1880s, the Yaegers have been farming with steam in Montana

| July 2010

  • The Yaeger children circa 1909. The oldest girl was married and the youngest boy wasn't born yet. My dad, Joe, is second from the left in the back row.
    The Yaeger children circa 1909. The oldest girl was married and the youngest boy wasn't born yet. My dad, Joe, is second from the left in the back row.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger; colorized by Farm Collector
  • Uncle Frank and Dad heading onto the county road with the Odenwald Aultman & Taylor engine and the Yaegers' Aultman & Taylor threshing machine. The hopper pulled by the engine was used to gather bulk grain to be dumped into wagons.
    Uncle Frank and Dad heading onto the county road with the Odenwald Aultman & Taylor engine and the Yaegers' Aultman & Taylor threshing machine. The hopper pulled by the engine was used to gather bulk grain to be dumped into wagons.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Chris Odenwald on the platform of his 20 hp Aultman & Taylor steam engine threshing. My dad is at left of the smokestack on the water wagon.
    Chris Odenwald on the platform of his 20 hp Aultman & Taylor steam engine threshing. My dad is at left of the smokestack on the water wagon.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Dad (left) standing on the entry to the 32 hp Reeves cross-compound Canadian Special they bought for plowing. Uncle Charley is standing on the steersman's platform.
    Dad (left) standing on the entry to the 32 hp Reeves cross-compound Canadian Special they bought for plowing. Uncle Charley is standing on the steersman's platform.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • The 20 hp Reeves Highwheeler, threshing.
    The 20 hp Reeves Highwheeler, threshing.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Dad got his photo taken on this 32 hp Reeves cross-compound engine they were thinking of buying, but didn't. He carried it in his wallet for many years.
    Dad got his photo taken on this 32 hp Reeves cross-compound engine they were thinking of buying, but didn't. He carried it in his wallet for many years.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Cultivating (or
    Cultivating (or "summer fallowing," as this photo is labeled) with horses. Twenty horses are shown in this photo.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • The 32 hp Reeves the Yaegers plowed with from 1920 through 1938. Uncle Audie is riding the Emerson disc plows.
    The 32 hp Reeves the Yaegers plowed with from 1920 through 1938. Uncle Audie is riding the Emerson disc plows.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Alva Stevens' 32 hp Reeves double-simple Canadian Special engine at the rear was moving one of our neighbors' houses when they got stuck in Rock Creek.
    Alva Stevens' 32 hp Reeves double-simple Canadian Special engine at the rear was moving one of our neighbors' houses when they got stuck in Rock Creek.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • A photo of the 32 hp Reeves neighbor Herman Otten loaned the Yaeger brothers in 1930 so they could finish their plowing.
    A photo of the 32 hp Reeves neighbor Herman Otten loaned the Yaeger brothers in 1930 so they could finish their plowing.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Dads' and the case he made for it.
    Dads' and the case he made for it.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • The camp where the cook car set for the summers. The combine harvester is an Advance-Rumely hitched to a 15-30 McCormick-Deering.
    The camp where the cook car set for the summers. The combine harvester is an Advance-Rumely hitched to a 15-30 McCormick-Deering.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • The 20 hp Case steam engine Dad used to cross the Missouri River on ice, shown here. The Yaegers daily average was about two sacks of seed, which sold for $50 each during the Great Depression.
    The 20 hp Case steam engine Dad used to cross the Missouri River on ice, shown here. The Yaegers daily average was about two sacks of seed, which sold for $50 each during the Great Depression.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Mike Tyler and me on the 20 hp Nichols & Shepard in the spring of 1955. Note the tall steamboat whistle.
    Mike Tyler and me on the 20 hp Nichols & Shepard in the spring of 1955. Note the tall steamboat whistle.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • The Yaegers had two Advance-Rumely combine harvesters; Dad is peering into the cylinder area of this one.
    The Yaegers had two Advance-Rumely combine harvesters; Dad is peering into the cylinder area of this one.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Uncle Audie dumping wheat directly into a Milwaukee Railroad boxcar at Joan, Mont. (which no longer exists on maps). The Model TT truck had an over-center
    Uncle Audie dumping wheat directly into a Milwaukee Railroad boxcar at Joan, Mont. (which no longer exists on maps). The Model TT truck had an over-center "dump box."
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • A 16 hp Russell steam engine Dad bought in 1957 for $50. I was cleaning out the wet bottom in front of the firebox and Dad was working on something in back.
    A 16 hp Russell steam engine Dad bought in 1957 for $50. I was cleaning out the wet bottom in front of the firebox and Dad was working on something in back.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Son Michael and nephew Randy Yaeger pose with the 1909 20 hp Reeves double-simple engine (serial no. 5187) they'd just bought from our late friend Carl Mehmke's museum near Great Falls and delivered to Mike's place near Helena.
    Son Michael and nephew Randy Yaeger pose with the 1909 20 hp Reeves double-simple engine (serial no. 5187) they'd just bought from our late friend Carl Mehmke's museum near Great Falls and delivered to Mike's place near Helena.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger
  • Our 1909 15 hp J.I. Case (serial no. 21743) threshing near Kalispell in 1989, celebrating Montana's statehood centennial. Our son, Michael, is at the throttle.
    Our 1909 15 hp J.I. Case (serial no. 21743) threshing near Kalispell in 1989, celebrating Montana's statehood centennial. Our son, Michael, is at the throttle.
    Courtesy of Gary Yaeger

  • The Yaeger children circa 1909. The oldest girl was married and the youngest boy wasn't born yet. My dad, Joe, is second from the left in the back row.
  • Uncle Frank and Dad heading onto the county road with the Odenwald Aultman & Taylor engine and the Yaegers' Aultman & Taylor threshing machine. The hopper pulled by the engine was used to gather bulk grain to be dumped into wagons.
  • Chris Odenwald on the platform of his 20 hp Aultman & Taylor steam engine threshing. My dad is at left of the smokestack on the water wagon.
  • Dad (left) standing on the entry to the 32 hp Reeves cross-compound Canadian Special they bought for plowing. Uncle Charley is standing on the steersman's platform.
  • The 20 hp Reeves Highwheeler, threshing.
  • Dad got his photo taken on this 32 hp Reeves cross-compound engine they were thinking of buying, but didn't. He carried it in his wallet for many years.
  • Cultivating (or
  • The 32 hp Reeves the Yaegers plowed with from 1920 through 1938. Uncle Audie is riding the Emerson disc plows.
  • Alva Stevens' 32 hp Reeves double-simple Canadian Special engine at the rear was moving one of our neighbors' houses when they got stuck in Rock Creek.
  • A photo of the 32 hp Reeves neighbor Herman Otten loaned the Yaeger brothers in 1930 so they could finish their plowing.
  • Dads' and the case he made for it.
  • The camp where the cook car set for the summers. The combine harvester is an Advance-Rumely hitched to a 15-30 McCormick-Deering.
  • The 20 hp Case steam engine Dad used to cross the Missouri River on ice, shown here. The Yaegers daily average was about two sacks of seed, which sold for $50 each during the Great Depression.
  • Mike Tyler and me on the 20 hp Nichols & Shepard in the spring of 1955. Note the tall steamboat whistle.
  • The Yaegers had two Advance-Rumely combine harvesters; Dad is peering into the cylinder area of this one.
  • Uncle Audie dumping wheat directly into a Milwaukee Railroad boxcar at Joan, Mont. (which no longer exists on maps). The Model TT truck had an over-center
  • A 16 hp Russell steam engine Dad bought in 1957 for $50. I was cleaning out the wet bottom in front of the firebox and Dad was working on something in back.
  • Son Michael and nephew Randy Yaeger pose with the 1909 20 hp Reeves double-simple engine (serial no. 5187) they'd just bought from our late friend Carl Mehmke's museum near Great Falls and delivered to Mike's place near Helena.
  • Our 1909 15 hp J.I. Case (serial no. 21743) threshing near Kalispell in 1989, celebrating Montana's statehood centennial. Our son, Michael, is at the throttle.

I had the distinct privilege of growing up on a farm near Lewistown, Mont., where steam provided the power for plowing and threshing.

My father, Joe Yaeger, was one of the two licensed steam engineers on the farm. Dad was one of 16 children (eight boys and eight girls) and they all seemed to realize they were born to be the farm’s workforce.

Grandpa Frank Jäger landed at New York City in 1872, emigrating from northeastern France. In 1874, he found work in St. Joseph, Mo., with the T.C. Power steamboat packet. He had been a baker in the French army, so that was one of the two jobs he had on steamboats that plied the route from St. Louis to Fort Benton in the Montana Territory.

He also worked as a hunter (jäger is German for hunter), shooting wild game to feed steamboat passengers. Our name was Americanized twice. Grandpa learned he could “drop the umlaut” and add an “e.” He chose Jaeger but people still pronounced the name J-ger, so he changed the “j” to “y,” so they would call him Yaeger.

In the fall of 1876, he decided to stay at Fort Benton. He spent the winter hunting coyotes, and herding, feeding and tending mules for T.C. Power’s freighting business. From 1877 through 1880, he was a freighter all over Montana Territory. He tried gold mining for a short time before picking out a homestead in the Judith Basin area in May 1881, about three miles north of Brassey, Montana Territory.



Homesteader

On Sept. 28, 1881, Grandpa applied for a homestead about nine miles southwest of Reed’s Fort (which later became Lewistown). In later years, he added adjoining land parcels. He broke small fields using a horse. On the largest parcels, he hired out that work to a custom operator with a 30-60 Hart-Parr oil (gas) tractor.

Grandpa’s first major farm equipment purchase was a 1910 30-60 Aultman & Taylor gas tractor (serial no. 47) and one of the company’s wooden threshing machines. For cultivation, Grandpa purchased a “new style” 30-60 Aultman & Taylor gas tractor in 1918.