Steam or Gasoline?


Old Time Threshing Scene
Old time threshing scene featuring a portable steam engine with a vertical boiler. (March 1929 issue of American Thresherman)

During the 1920s and ‘30s there was a huge debate among threshermen as to which power was the best to use on a separator—the old standby steam, or the increasingly popular gasoline and kerosene tractors. These two poems, submitted in 1929 to The American Thresherman magazine give the opposing points of view.

From the March issue is this gem by A.W. Erickson (home town not given, but the author must have threshed in the big wheat fields of the northwest) titled “Give Me the Big Steam Rig!”

You kin talk about yer tractors an’ yer little twenty-twos (small 22-inch threshers),
O’ yer small an nifty threshers thet air run by three men crews;
You kin sing about yer enjines thet air driv by gasoline
But I like to hear the chuggin’ o’ the ol’ time big machine!
Chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug!
As the forty-inch cylinder chews a tough and dampish slug!

Yes I love to hear the zoomin’ as the concaves rip the grain;
Hear the blower’s deep notes boomin’ like a basso’s rich refrain;
Hear the drive belt’s chipper rippin’ as it leaves the enjine’s wheel
In response to power impulse from the throbbin’ steed o’ steel!
Chud a chud a chud a chud a chud a chud a chud a chud!
Hear it talkin’ to the pitchers like a thing o’ flesh and blood!

Fifteen strappin’ husky pitchers form the backbone o’ the crew
With a separator tender an’ a water hauler too;
While the man who runs the enjine is the king-pin o’ the lot.
We must not forget the cook shack with its cook an’ coffee pot.
Chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug!
Both the cook and enjine driver have to keep their kettles hot!

Nineteen men to keep her busy an’ a boss to watch the clock
While a dozen pair o’ Normans strain at pullin’ in the shocks.
It’s a he-man aggregation that surrounds a big steam rig
An’ a starvin’ congregation if the cook takes on a swig!
Chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug a chug!
Hear it cluckin’ like a rooster that has found a lady-bug!


Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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