Essential Engines

| December 2003

After Harold Caskey retired from the farm, he found his thoughts turning back to the farm machinery of days gone by, especially vintage tractors and farm engines. 'I needed something to do, so I started thinking about getting some of the old farm engines,' the Maple Lake, Minn., collector recalls. Harold was particularly fascinated by air-cooled engines as opposed to the liquid-cooled engines that are much more expensive.

Harold, now 77, grew up when farm engines provided most of the power for farm work before rural electricity arrived. 'We had a couple of small farm engines as I was growing up,' Harold remembers. 'A McCormick-Deering and a John Deere 1 1/2-hp engine did the chores.'

Deere of many uses

One of those chores included pumping water from the well for cows. 'We had a great big stock tank, and even though some of our pastures had sloughs, it seems like a lot of times the cattle came up and they all wanted to drink at the same time,' Harold explains. 'They'd drink that tank right down.' The stock tank was refilled using the family's John Deere 1 1/2-hp engine, he adds. Because the engine's gasoline tank was small, Harold says, it frequently ran out of gas and had to be refilled.

That little Deere stationary engine also helped Harold's mother wash clothes. The family washing machine was operated by a lever that was pulled back and forth to perform the washing action. The lever could either be hand operated - there were seven boys and five girls in the family, so there was no shortage of 'volunteers' - or powered by an engine. About half the time, Harold explains, his mother belted the Deere engine to the machine. 'It would run all day,' Harold says. 'With 14 of us, there were a lot of clothes to wash.'

The little green engine also powered the family's Letz burr mill and their uncommon two-hole corn sheller (most corn shellers built during the 1930s were one-holers). 'Those little engines did a lot of things on the farm,' Harold says.

With such a long history with Deere & Co. farm engines, Harold's thoughts naturally turned to the John Deere 1 1/2- hp from his childhood. That's when he decided to collect engines. The engine wasn't difficult to locate, because his brother still owned it after all these years.