Preserving a Steam Traction Legacy

A pair of Missouri brothers continue their forebears’ passion for steam traction engines.

| April 2019

 separator-and-threshing-crew
The Fieker Bros. threshing crew in Lawrence County, Missouri, posing with their Gaar-Scott thresher in this undated photo. Ernest Fieker is shown fourth from left; Edward Fieker is seventh from left.

More than 100 years ago, two Missouri brothers went into business for themselves. With a steam traction engine at the heart of their enterprise, they threshed, sawed wood, performed roadwork, pumped water out of mine shafts and moved buildings. The engines they worked with are long gone, but two successive generations have followed their lead, keeping the brothers’ legacy alive.

My grandfather, Edward H. Fieker, was born in 1888 in Newton County in southwest Missouri. He was the youngest of seven children born to German immigrants who later moved to a farm in Lawrence County, near what would become Stotts City.

In its heyday, Stotts City was a booming but rough-and-tumble lead and zinc mining town surrounded by farmland, prairie and timber. It was the stereotypical late 1880s mining town of the western frontier with all the necessities required to support a population of a little more than 900, from general store to undertaker. Some lead, but mostly zinc, was produced from the Keystone, Boston Loy, Julia West, Three C’s and Mystic Valley mines.



sawmill
The Fieker Bros. crew sawing lumber near Sarcoxie, Mo., in about 1912. Edward Fieker is leaning on the drive wheel, next to the axle; Ernest Fieker is standing behind the engine, with an axe in his hand. Ernest and Edward’s older brother, Fred Fieker, was helping out that day. He is shown sitting on the water tank on the side of the engine.

In 1901, construction began on the White River Railway. Completed in 1906, the line was a division of the Missouri Pacific railroad connecting the main line at Carthage to the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern railway at Cotter, Arkansas. The White River Line ran just 2 miles north of Stotts City. A depot was built with a section tool house nearby.

Shortly after the White River Line was finished, Edward, then about 18 years old, took a job with the railroad as a section gang worker, maintaining and repairing a designated length of rail bed, switches and signals. Each section on the line ranged from 3 to 10 miles in length and was maintained by a gang of four to six men, including a foreman or section boss. This daily exposure to steam locomotives, coupled with his farming background, may have fostered Edward’s later interest in steam power.

Brothers become entrepreneurs

After a few years, Edward left his railroad job and moved to town. He must have managed his earnings wisely, because he and his older brother, Ernest, soon went into business together, forming Fieker Bros. Just three years apart in age, Edward and Ernest got along well and shared many common interests. A handful of their tools, stamped “Fieker Bros.,” survive as the last remnants of this long-forgotten partnership.

edward-h-fieker
Edward H. Fieker.

The brothers tried their hand at several ventures, including an automobile dealership selling Model T Fords and later, a Saxon automobile agency. A large wooden building in downtown Stotts City housed the dealership, with an automobile lot adjacent to it on a side street. According to a 1917 fire insurance map, the same building was then also home to blacksmith and carpentry shops, as well as a feed mill and plenty of implement storage. Photos show the car lot filled with Model T’s of the 1909 to 1914 style; the Saxon autos would have likely been sold a little later, around 1916.

ernest-w-fieker
Ernest W. Fieker.

But Fieker Bros.’ primary income came from ownership of a steam traction engine. The first steam engine owned by the brothers was a 16hp simple double-cylinder engine manufactured by Reeves & Co., Columbus, Indiana, probably built circa 1912. In about 1921 or 1922, the brothers sold their Reeves, replacing it with an A.D. Baker 23-90 Uniflow with a superheater. Both engines were used in varied applications during the time the Fieker brothers owned them. 

Steam engines more than earned their keep

Local newspapers of the time routinely printed tidbits of information that hardly seem newsworthy by today’s standards, but I’m happy they did. Archived issues of the now defunct Lawrence Chieftain have proven to be a treasure trove of information with regard to the Fieker brothers’ activities. I have been able to confirm some of the stories that had been passed down by word of mouth, and I’ve discovered other stories that had never previously been told. 

fieker-brothers-dealership
The Fieker Bros. dealership in Stotts City, Mo., in about 1914.



Newspaper reports indicate that the Fiekers used their engines to grade roads for the city and county. In 1921, they purchased a rock crusher to process some of the overabundance of southwest Missouri rock into gravel. Old family photographs bear witness to sawmilling and threshing activities as well. I even have a photo of Edward using the Baker engine to move a barn. According to family lore, they were also hired by Stotts City mining companies to pump water out of flooded mine shafts.

Of all their activities, threshing has been the one most often reported in stories, articles and photos. The brothers did custom threshing of all kinds of grain, moving their engine and separator, along with a hired crew, from farm to farm. On occasion, they would ship their equipment by rail west to Kansas for the harvest season, beginning in late July. The threshing crew followed by truck and worked until the harvest was finished.

full-threshing-outfit
The Fieker brothers’ Reeves steam engine and Gaar-Scott thresher with threshing crew in Lawrence County, Missouri, in about 1914. Ernest Fieker is at far left (leaning against the engine with arms crossed); Edward Fieker is second from left (leaning on the engine’s water tank).

One newspaper article confirmed a 1920 Kansas trip and mentioned the purchase of a new truck. I have several photos of that new Oldsmobile Economy truck being readied for the trip. Buckboard seats were added to the bed and a canvas top was fitted to it, much like a Conestoga wagon. With Edward at the wheel, the threshing crew rode in the back with their personal gear, all at a blistering pace of about 20mph. That was no doubt a long, hot and bumpy ride.

New generation takes up steam

I’m not sure how long Fieker Bros. kept their partnership going after gas tractors fully replaced steam engines, but I know that my grandfather had a hard time letting the old Baker engine go. It sat idle for many years before he finally agreed to sell it to a nearby junk dealer, and he would occasionally go to visit and make sure that it was being well cared for. The brothers lived the remainder of their days with their families in Stotts City, dying just three months apart in 1968.

olds-economy-truck
The Fieker Bros. threshing crew headed for Kansas in July 1920. Edward Fieker is shown at the wheel of the truck.

In the late 1970s, my father, Rev. Fred Fieker, and his brother, Paul, decided they would like to have a steam engine, not only as a hobby but also as a way of preserving the Fieker Bros. legacy. They weren’t looking for a specific make of engine in particular, but as luck would have it, they found a 1921 Baker in Nashville, Illinois, a relatively short distance from Du Quoin, where we lived at the time. It would require extensive repair and restoration, but they were up to the task.

chieftain
From the Lawrence County Chieftain, Dec. 8, 1921.

A.D. Baker engine No. 1606 is a 21-75hp steam traction engine (21hp nominal, and 75hp brake) with a uniflow-style cylinder. The engine was manufactured in 1921 by the A.D. Baker Co., Swanton, Ohio, and sold through Weber Implement Co., St. Louis. The engine was purchased from its original owner in July 1977. Years of exposure to the elements left it in quite a state of disrepair, mostly complete but missing its smokestack, water tanks and canopy.

Grandsons carry legacy forward

The engine was moved to the home of Marion Schneider in Pinckneyville, Illinois, and restoration began in October 1977. Fred and Marion completed most of the restoration themselves. New flues were installed in the boiler, and all other necessary mechanical repairs were made. Marion Cook, Du Quoin, helped with the machining work. Fred designed and commissioned fabrication of a new smokestack. Paul designed and fabricated new water tanks in his shop at home in Stotts City. Finally, Fred and Marion Schneider built and installed a new canopy.

Mechanically sound and dressed in a fresh coat of paint in the original Baker red, black and yellow livery, old No. 1606 was brought back to life. In August 1978, the engine made its debut at the 19th annual American Thresherman Assn. show in Pinckneyville. After the show, the engine was transported to Republic, Missouri, for the Ozarks Steam Engine Assn.’s (OSEA) annual Steam-O-Rama. It was then moved to Paul’s home in Stotts City, where it remained for the next 32 years. 

jon-and-dan-fieker
Jon Fieker (left) and his brother, Dan.

After the engine arrived in Missouri, Ed Fieker (Edward’s other son), Mt. Vernon, Mo., took a very active role in its upkeep and maintenance with his brothers. Over the years, Fred, Paul and Ed enjoyed operating their engine and preserving an important part of the Fieker Bros. heritage. With the eventual passing of this second generation of brothers, my brother, Dan, and I inherited the engine. 

We’ve permanently moved our Baker back to the steam engine show grounds in Republic, where we are honored to continue the Fieker Bros. tradition every year at the OSEA Steam-O-Rama. For four days in September, we abandon the cares and concerns of modern life and retreat to a simpler time to walk in the footsteps of our forefathers, bearing their legacy into the future. FC


Dan Fieker is a registered pharmacist who owns and operates Family Care Pharmacy in Highland, Illinois. Jon Fieker lives in Aurora, Missouri. He works as a mechanical engineer with Industrial Machine and Engineering Company in Monett. Email him at fieker@suddenlink.net.

The next OSEA Steam-O-Rama, a combined effort of OSEA and the Southwest Missouri branch of the Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn., is set for Sept. 12-15, 2019, in Republic, Missouri. For more information, contact Charley Stark, (417) 732-7136.



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