Woman at the Wheel

Lifelong interest in vintage steam engines puts a Missouri woman at the wheel

| January 2000

  • "It's just an incredible piece of machinery," Valerie Bruns says of the 1915 20 hp Illinois Thresher Co. steamer. "The engine's smoke stack is not original, but was on the engine when Leonard Bruns bought it in 1973. The engine - one of just 63 built - has a 9-inch bore and 11 3/4 inch-stroke. The illinois was built in Sycamore, Ill., by William N. Rumely, son of Meinrad Rumely, founder of the Rumely company.
  • Valerie never misses the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Assoication Show at Boonville, Mo., where the Bruns family is a fixture. She is shown here with her father, Leonard Bruns.
    Valerie never misses the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Assoication Show at Boonville, Mo., where the Bruns family is a fixture. She is shown here with her father, Leonard Bruns.
  • The biggest challenge of steam for Valerie?
    The biggest challenge of steam for Valerie? "When you show a steam engine, it takes a lot of caution, being with it constantly, taking care of it," she says. "You want to protect against something going wrong, somebody getting hurt. We're always very careful."
  • Where it started: Valerie between the spokes on the back wheels of the Illinois in 1976, preparing them for new paint.
    Where it started: Valerie between the spokes on the back wheels of the Illinois in 1976, preparing them for new paint.

  • Valerie never misses the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Assoication Show at Boonville, Mo., where the Bruns family is a fixture. She is shown here with her father, Leonard Bruns.
  • The biggest challenge of steam for Valerie?
  • Where it started: Valerie between the spokes on the back wheels of the Illinois in 1976, preparing them for new paint.

When steam engines were at their peak in the early years of this century, a woman's place was most definitely in the home. Eighty-five years later, the role of women in society has changed dramatically. Still, when the woman at the wheel of a vintage steam engine moves with a willowy grace, and wears an embroidered blouse with her bib overalls, more than a few heads whip back for a second look.

"One time another woman and I were driving a steam engine down the road to a show," Valerie Bruns recalls. "There were people already sitting in lawn chairs along the road, waiting for the parade of vintage of equipment to start. We saw two older men sitting, waiting, when one of them looked up and saw me driving.

"He looked down, and then up again; and then he squinted, and elbowed his buddy. He mumbled something, and both of them looked up and shook their heads, as if to say 'What's the world coming to?'

"I love that kind of reaction," she says.



Like many aficionados of vintage iron, Valerie has, simply, grown up around it.

"My dad had always been very active with steam engines," she says. "When he was very young, his uncle took him on threshing crews that traveled across the midwest, threshing wheat. My dad was really young then: his uncle would make him take naps under the water wagon after lunch."



SUBSCRIBE TO FARM COLLECTOR TODAY!

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!

Save Even More Money with our SQUARE-DEAL Plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our SQUARE-DEAL automatic renewal savings plan. You'll get 12 issues of Farm Collector for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Farm Collector for just $29.95.




Facebook Pinterest YouTube

Classifieds