Farm Collector

41 Acres of History

Somewhere in the Midwest lives a man – let’s
call him “Jake” – who has collected with an unflappable passion all
his life. Scattered over the 41 acres that make up his “yard,”
sometimes in rows and sometimes haphazardly, there are steam
engines, tractors, fixed engines, farm equipment, large cranes,
ditch diggers, and almost anything else that could be imagined, all
sitting silently, waiting. “I will not let them go to the scrap
yard,” Jake says.

This man, single handedly in many cases, has moved pieces of
equipment each weighing many tons to his property. Once, Jake even
built a special transporter to move a large engine weighing over 80
tons. Imagine the dedication and work it took for him to accumulate
this amount of history in one place. He has passionately and
quietly given much of his life to gathering these remnants of the

Sheep graze among the historic steam engines to keep the weeds
down, a llama walks among the sheep to keep the wild dogs and
coyotes away, and so it has gone on this way for many years. “I
bailed hay last Sunday and put it up to feed my sheep next winter,
I ran out of hay this spring and had to buy some,” said Jake. “I
wouldn’t need the sheep in the winter, but when spring comes you
can’t find any sheep to buy.

“I got the idea to start collecting in high school days,” says
Jake. “Around 1932, we had manual training in high school. We got
old motors and tore them down and fixed them. Then is when I really
got interested.”

Around 1935, Rural Electric Membership Corp. put in electricity
around the area. People used electric motors to pump water or run a
feed grinder, which left many old engines just sitting around and
worth only junk price.

“In 1937, I made up my mind to get started when I saw this old
engine sitting on a lot,” Jake says. “I went and talked to the guy,
he said it was a 1919 International kerosene, 3 HP igniter engine
and, yes, it was for sale. I bought it for $2 or something like
that.” Jake took his old tractor and a farm wagon to pick the
engine up. It was not easy – that engine weighed 300-400 pounds –
and he didn’t have any help. “I finally got it loaded and went
home. When I took the engine apart I saw it needed some repairs so
I went to the International dealer and would you believe he had the
parts on his shelf? Anyway, that was my start in collecting,” Jake


“I didn’t get into the steam engine business until the late
1940s. I guess I was about 25 years old when I got my first steam
engine, which was the 1892 12 HP C. Aultman Star. I paid $300-350,
and of course, had to get it right away,” Jake says.

The engine had been sitting in a briar patch for years and was
sunk into the ground about a foot. “We worked our tails off,” says
Jake. “All we had were pick axes and shovels to get that engine
loose and out of there.” He took it over to his neighbor, Gus, who
was an old thresher man and had steam engines for years. “He gave
me some pointers and said my engine had hardly been used and it
just needed a couple of flues. There really was not much

Jake has had the Star inside a shed for about 50 years. “The
Star is all original and just like new,” he says, “this engine is
pretty rare too. There are only about seven of them in existence
that I know about.” The last time he ran it was about 40 years ago,
with 100 pounds of steam pressure.

“I thought about getting the Star out in 1992 and doing some
threshing with it,” Jake says. “I had this 22-inch Geiser Peerless
hand-fed separator that was not a wind stacker, but still would fit
pretty good.” The wheat was not good back in 1992, and so the idea
getting the Star out was just too much. “I would have to take all
this stuff out (of the shed) and then take out the back wall,
otherwise I would have had to move all those other big engines.

“All the things setting in this shed have been in here around 50
years,” he says. “You are not going to find another shed anywhere
that has engines sitting in it in original condition for all that
time. The thing with me is that I don’t want to part with any of
this stuff.”

Jake feels that investing in engines is a good place to put your
money. “Just like that old 20-40 Case over there. I just heard of
one recently that sold for thousands of dollars, mine is in almost
new condition.” Jake also has an 1895 16 HP Gaar-Scott, along with
a 1908 6 HP Case portable, both in fine shape.

Behind the shed is a very rare 10 HP Case portable, no. 2260,
built in 1883. “I got that (Case) from some company in Virginia,”
Jake says. “There is also an 1898 16 HP Advance I got from a guy in
Chicago. He didn’t know anything about steam engines and had cut
the crankshaft in pieces to take off the flywheel. I got that all
fixed; the boiler was in real good shape.

“That big Huber in the field that says ‘The New Huber’ is a 1916
or 1917 plow engine.” Plow engines are different from a threshing
engine in that they have much heavier gearing and a differential
gear. The engine itself was made to turn three or four more
revolutions faster to make up for the lower gearing. “This engine
would take a lot of work to fix, but I have some new replacement
parts in the shed,” Jake states.

“I bought a 1921 20 HP Minneapolis steam traction engine, no.
8425, in 1952,” he continues. “It was in a sawmill and had never
done much work.” The original name was still visible – The
Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. “The whole thing is kind of
dirty, but it is a really good engine.” There was a head tank on
the front and a water tank on rear, both were good with very little
rust and held water.

“I threshed with this engine in 1954 on a 32-inch Avery
separator. A guy about 5 miles from here came over and wanted to
know if I would thresh a 20-acre field of his wheat. I wasn’t in
the threshing business, but I thought this would make a nice show.”
Jake hooked the engine to the separator and drove to the neighbors
– the roads were all gravel at that time so he didn’t have any
problems. “I like to see a really nice straw stack when I’m
finished and there was enough straw for that on those 20 acres,”
Jake says.

The Minneapolis owner had told Jake that he should have an
International tractor his neighbor owned. The neighbor had bought
it new in 1912 just to move hay balers around. He parked it behind
a shed in 1935 and had not used it since. “Anyway, I went over and
bought that, too,” says Jake. “It was a 12 HP International
gasoline tractor. I totally rebuilt it about 20 years ago, but
stopped and never did get it back together.” This is a very rare
tractor and as far as anyone knows, there are only two left. “I
think I gave about $100 for it. The farmer had taken the front
wheels and put them on a corn picker, but I got them back.” Jake
made new axles then took the tractor completely apart and had it

The Advance-Rumely Universal is probably Jake’s favorite
tractor. “They just have real good construction, you can see both
front wheels when standing on the platform. If I was going to buy a
new engine and wanted to make a living with it, I would have bought
the Rumely,” he says. Jake kind of likes the Frick engines too,
especially the good design, but doesn’t like the looks of the
center crank – he prefers a side-crank engine.

In 1949, Jake bought the 1915 20 HP Baker counter-flow engine,
no. 1192, that is sitting in his shed. “I’ve had that a long time.
Actually, I am the second owner.” The engine was on exhibit at the
state fair in 1915. “My friend, Gus, and I threshed with this in
1950, he ran it most of the time and thought the Baker was easy to
handle. You can stand on the platform and see both front wheels,
which means an awful lot when you are pulling a threshing machine
down a narrow county road. I didn’t have a separator at that time
so we used his 48-inch steel Advance-Rumely he bought new in 1924,”
says Jake. “I still have it over in the shed – we put it there 57
years ago right after we finished threshing.”


Since then, Jake has gotten several separators – a late model
Minneapolis 32-54, probably made in the early 1920s, one of the
last steel separators built. “About half the pulleys are Rockwood
pulleys, which is something you hardly ever see on a separator,”
says Jake. “The separator here is a wooden 30-50 A.D. Baker. This
is a rare separator as there are very few wooden Bakers, and I
think it was built between 1910 and 1920.”

Jake bought a 1906 2-cylinder 17 HP Huber, serial no. 7776, in
1955 or 1956 – this is the engine with one vertical cylinder and
one horizontal cylinder. Jake stated, “This is a very rare tractor;
I don’t know of another one in existence and I have been in this
business for 60 years now. It is totally original, but I think it
may have been repainted once.”

Getting the Huber was an interesting story. Jake was driving
around in another state and stopped at several small town stores.
He asked if anyone knew of any old steam engines and one man said
he knew of one nearby. Jake followed the directions, went down
country roads and through several gates. Way out in a field he
could see an engine in a shed. “I ended up buying the Huber and
went back later with my lowboy to pick it up.”

Jake picked up another small steam engine then loaded the Huber.
On the way back he had to take a small ferry. “I was the only
vehicle they loaded and as soon as I drove on the ramp that ferry
went down in the water. I thought, man, is this thing going to hold
me? I worried all the way, but the ferry slowly made its way across
the river.”


Jake originally built the large building that now houses his
engines and tractors for the airplane he owned in the late 1940s.
“I got so busy and had so much to do that I didn’t have the time to
fly,” says Jake. “I ended up parking it over at the airport. The
last year I owned the plane I flew only 5-1/2 hours, so I just
finally put it up for sale. I was getting all these engines and
they needed a shed. Since that first engine in 1937 one thing has
led to another, and I think my collecting business has gotten out
of hand.”

Having been in the excavating business for about 40 years, Jake
had equipment to handle heavy moving and lifting. “I had mostly
Caterpillar tractors, they are the Cadillac of crawlers compared to
an International or Allis-Chalmers or any of them. For example,
most of the bearings and gears on a Caterpillar are on a tapered
shaft, the International has it on a straight shaft and held with a
key.” He still has seven bulldozers sitting around along with three
big cranes and a lowboy. Jake says, “I quit moving dirt about 1997.
Someone else can do it now.”

Jake remembers, “One company in the 1950s junked an
Allis-Chalmers Corliss cross-compound engine, it had a 24-foot
flywheel and I wanted to buy it. I guess everybody can’t be like
me, at least I saved a little of the stuff. I have been fooling
with this stuff for 60 years, even 50 years ago there was not much
interest in collecting – everybody thought it was just junk.”


Several years ago Jake bought three De LaVergne engines from an
old city power plant and moved them to his field. One is an
8-cylinder, 1,000 HP engine weighing 81 tons, and the other two are
6-cylinder, 750 HP engines. Their size is unbelievable. “Those big
De LaVergne engines, you just don’t see anything like that any
more,” Jake says. “This was a big job – you know, I never took the
first picture of it.”

They had to take the wall out of the building then use
jackhammers to break some of the concrete in order to cut the
engines mounting bolts off to remove the engines. Jake used 200
tons of lift force to break the engines loose from the concrete so
they could be moved. The flywheels had to come off, too. They each
weighed 11 tons and each generator was about the same weight.

“I took some 24-inch I-beams and made my own transporter, it had
four axles in the rear with 28 wheels. I put a gooseneck hitch on
and made a hitch on a lowboy so there were 32 wheels holding the
weight,” Jake says. “When we put that 81-ton engine on the
transporter the 24-inch I-beams were bending like little sticks – I
had to stop and weld on some 8-inch pipe braces to add strength.
The whole thing weighed about 200 tons and I did not want that to
break down on the road.”

They had one semi tractor in front pulling and another in the
rear pushing, and were able to move along at about 10 MPH without a
bit of trouble. Jake says, “It took all summer to move those three

“I’ve got parts and engines everywhere, people will probably
find only about 10 percent of my stuff – that’s the way I’ve been,
I’m just telling you the facts,” says Jake. “Well, I’m not in this
for the money, there is a lot of stuff and I just enjoy keeping it
around. There is so much outside that I’m going to lose some of it
to the elements, I know that. Of course a lot of things would have
already been gone if I hadn’t gotten them.”

Now, Jake can get up in the morning and take a walk through a
lifetime of memories.

Donald J. Voelker, 5511 Kimberley Road, Ft. Wayne IN
46809-2140; (260) 747-9504; e-mail:

  • Published on Dec 1, 2008
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