Ground Zero

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Fairbanks-Morse Type N engine
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Ideal Engine Co. stationary vertical engine powers
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International Harvester, Famous verical engines
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Ideal Engine Co. stationary vertical engine powers

The Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, is overwhelming to the uninitiated. A sawmill here and a steam engine there, and ‘oh – did you see that pair of steam-powered sawmills over by the railroad track?’ one woman was heard to exclaim. ‘Yeah, but let’s go back over to the gas engine area, that’s my favorite,’ her friend fired back.

Unlike the countless rows of large, carefully lined-up tractors and steamers, stationary engines seem strewn in any convenient spot possible in their closely populated area. At the height of the day, they all chug and burp, attracting attention like a pond full of bullfrogs calling out for a mate. Curious onlookers heed the engines’ interesting sounds and stop to gawk over the various makes and models. Some displays attract more attention than others, and many onlookers stop to see Dan Peterson.

The Mt. Pleasant native knows a thing or two about the Old Threshers Reunion. Dan’s grandfather Lloyd Peterson was an Old Threshers board member during the 1960s and 1970s, and Lloyd’s time on the board left an indelible stamp on his young grandson. At 2 years old Dan attended his first Old Threshers Reunion in 1958, then at age 15, Dan restored his first tractor, a Massey-Harris 12-20. From that point forward, Dan gladly accepted his role in the Old Threshers’ community, attending almost each reunion (missing no more than one or two shows, he says). At the Old Threshers Reunion, Dan perennially displays a trio of engines that most any collector would gladly own. These engines are beauties in their own right, but they also have strong Peterson family ties.

1908 IHC Famous

Dan’s International Harvester Co. 2-hp Famous originally pumped fuel from storage tanks to trucks at his grandfather Lloyd’s fuel business, the Farmers Oil Co., in Olds, Iowa. The engine, serial no. KA10161, worked hard for many years until the engine was retired when the cam gear wore out in 1933. Dan located the Famous about a decade ago and restored it.

The engine’s pistons were free, but the cam gear that powers the water pump needed work. The gear’s teeth were completely worn through, and repairing the gear was the most time-consuming job of the restoration. To repair the cam gear, Dan brazed metal to the gear, building up the worn gear teeth, and then machined the excess metal down to the perfect size.

The Famous also had a cracked cylinder, bad compression and needed a general clean-up and paint job – most of the usual maintenance a restoration project entails. To finish the project, Dan constructed a great-looking oak cart.

1911 Fairbanks-Morse Type N

As far as Dan knows, this marvelous horizontal Type N engine, serial no. 118203, is original from head to toe including the cart’s front and back wooden side rails and screen cooler. The engine’s history is interesting, too. Dan says it came from the Wayland, Iowa, area and was once owned by Adie Leichty, who ran a blacksmith shop and sold farm equipment including Case steam engines and implements. The Type N powered a sawmill presumably for a very long period of time, considering the engine’s spent condition when Lloyd purchased it in the mid-1970s.

‘I’m told that when the Type N became outdated at the sawmill, the engine was completely worn out, but all its parts were still there,’ Dan says. ‘The whole thing had sunk completely down into the dirt all the way up to the frame, but the sawmill workers covered it with oil-soaked gunny sacks to preserve it. A lot was bad, but the structure was still there.’

Lloyd did the FM’s first restoration when he brought it to the Peterson family’s implement dealership in Mt. Pleasant. Dan says the immense project was accomplished during the winter months when many of the dealership’s employees could assist in the restoration. Then, in the early 1980s, Dan did some more work on the Type N. ‘I didn’t have to do much, except fix a few leaks,’ he admits. ‘The Fairbanks-Morse is a real sturdy engine and doesn’t need much to keep it going. It’s my favorite and almost always starts the first time. It’s very enjoyable to listen to when it’s running.’

Bolte cement mixer

Originally manufactured in Kearney, Neb., this cement mixer first belonged to Dan’s cousin, Jesse Canby, but no ones knows exactly where it originally came from. Jesse used the cement mixer to build his house in the ’20s, then the mixer went to Jesse’s son, Jay, who built his house in the 1930s. Finally, the mixer went to Lloyd so he could build his own house in the ’40s. Dan acquired the engine about 20 years ago and restored it. What a job that turned out to be!

The Ideal Engine Co. vertical engine – original to the mixer – was in terrible condition, Dan says, and the unit’s restoration lasted a couple years. The mixer had been worked extremely hard, and rock-hard cement covered the entire unit, which, Dan admits, was the hardest part of cleaning up the mixer. ‘There’s still cement on the mixer that won’t come off,’ he admits. Inside the mixer, a wooden pulley system catches the sand and cement mixture and mixes it together in another compartment. This pulley system was extremely warped from decades of use and needed considerable attention, although Dan notes the bearings are still pitted and corroded – but they work, he says.

Aside from the cement, the rod bearings were completely shot, and Dan did all of the rebabbitting and metalwork.

Not much is known about the Bolte Manufacturing Co. Through research, Dan has discovered the company burned down at some point, and all of the records and history about the firm were lost. In fact, Bolte mixers are so rare even in Kearney that the local historical society tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Dan to sell his cement mixer.

What they powered

Dan’s trio of family-acquired engines looks great chugging away at the Old Threshers Reunion, but Dan’s quick to point out that’s not all they can do. ‘I’m in the process of finding implements and machines that were powered by engines,’ he says. ‘In everyday life, farmers didn’t just buy and run an engine just for the fun of it. They belted them up to something.’ Right now Dan is interested in acquiring more engine-powered farm machinery.

That same attitude extends to tractors, as well. ‘I don’t like to just show a tractor, either,’ Dan says. ‘I’m trying to get more implements to pull behind my tractors to show everyone what these tractors were made for.’ In fact, Dan owns a hay rake, sickle-bar mower and plow all manufactured by Massey-Harris. Dan actually owns more tractors than he does engines, and he brought his tractor collection to Mt. Pleasant as well, although they occupy their own display in the tractor area of the reunion.

Dan says his collection is a labor of love. ‘I’m pretty good with fixing things,’ the electrical communications manager admits. ‘I enjoy the work more than I like keeping them, but I’ve only sold one tractor restoration of all the things I’ve done.’

At the 2003 Old Threshers Reunion, Dan brought Alex, his 10-year-old son who ‘hopefully already has the bug,’ Dan says. Alex has restored a little Briggs & Stratton Model N with the help of his father. ‘Alex cleaned it up,’ Dan proudly says, ‘and I did the fitting.’

Chances are that Alex will take to the antique farm equipment hobby just as both Dan and Lloyd did. It would be hard not to catch old-iron fever living in Mt. Pleasant – the whole area is practically ground zero for rusty iron. Alex has a pretty good mentor, too. Dan’s collection stands as a prime example of the diversity and quality that spectators have come to expect at the Mt. Pleasant event.

Mix the great equipment with a hearty dose of Midwest Old Threshers Reunion hospitality, and the result is a recipe for a great show.

A Family Affair

Some collectors have all the luck. While many old-iron enthusiasts search endlessly – sometimes scouring thousands of miles – for hidden gems, Dan Peterson had to do little more than return to his family’s agricultural equipment store, Peterson Implement. The business was in the family for generations, and Dan hit a veritable gold mine of old tractors and engines to restore. Dan’s father taught him to be a great mechanic, but his grandfather Lloyd is the man who made most of his collection possible.

‘Grandpa would take trades of old tractors from farmers when they were ready to buy new equipment,’ Dan says. ‘Amazingly, if grandpa didn’t have a place for it at the store, or it was inconvenient to move it, he’d leave it at the customer’s farm in the hopes he could sell it to someone else close by.’

Some of these tractors were left behind and never picked up or resold by Lloyd, and they’re just now becoming known to Dan, who says he’s amazed that people are so honest about a deal that happened so long ago.

‘People would tell me grandpa traded for something and never came to pick it up,’ Dan says. Eventually, many of those old tractors came home to roost at the implement store. There was also a junkyard on the property that Dan turned to for 25 years. In addition to his engines, Dan’s tractor collection consists of a 12-20 Massey-Harris, a 20-30 Wallace, an Allis-Chalmers Model WC, an Allis-Chalmers Model U, an Allis-Chalmers Model G and a 40-60 Rumely OilPull. Most of these classic antique tractors were pulled from the Peterson Implement scrap yard. Currently, Dan’s working on a Massey-Harris Challenger.

What’s also special about the Peterson Implement tractors and engines Dan finds is he’s usually able to track the history of each piece of equipment.

‘A big thing for me is researching the history of what I restore,’ Dan says. ‘I like to find out who the owners were and where the equipment came from.’

That history often includes Dan’s family history, as well. All three engines he displayed at 2003’s Midwest Old Threshers Reunion just happened to have family ties.

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