50 Years of Steam Threshing

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Opposite page: Our first Steam Threshing Day, September 1956, engine no. 22592.
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Above: Threshing Day on Steam Valley Farm.
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Right: Wellington Vosburg working on his Williams thresher about 1945.
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Left: Steve Harris, engineer, and my sister, Barbra Crosby, on engine no. 22592, in 2004.
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Below: Loads of grain for our Steam Threshing Day in 1976, daughter Julie Vosburg on the tractor.

It started one May morning in 1956 when my dad
asked, “Do you want to go back and fill the engine with water?” He
was referring to his 1909 Case that my grandfather had bought new
for threshing and sawmilling. It sat back in the woods beside the
sawmill and hadn’t been run since the year I was born. At 14, I had
never seen it fired up, although, all the while I grew up I had
played on it and ran it many days in my imagination.

Needless to say, he didn’t have to ask twice, and before noon we
had it full of water; we couldn’t fire it of course, as it needed
piping. The platform was rotted off, the ash pan was gone, etc. One
of our ugly bulls had smashed the side steps off and there wasn’t
any paint showing, but I was as excited as if it were a new
one.

It was kept in the woods during World War II to keep it safe
from scrap dealers. I remember a junk man coming to the house and
offering to buy it, but after a brief discussion with my father
leaving with the knowledge that it wasn’t for sale and never would
be.

The day finally came when we could fire it up – what a thrill!
We ran it home and parked it in the yard where we spent the rest of
the summer working on it any time we could spare.

We always threshed our own grain using our Hart-Parr tractor,
but sometime that summer the belt pulley broke – that was okay as
Dad decided we would use the Case for power, and that is how our
first “Steam Threshing Day” started.

We stacked our oats that year, and one sunny Saturday in
September we had our first day. Friends and neighbors came to help,
and best of all, although he hadn’t steam-threshed since 1926, some
of Dad’s former customers were still living and were very glad to
see us doing it the old way again. Interest was so great that we
decided to repeat the day again the next year and it became an
annual event. We never advertised or tried to make it into a show,
it continued to be just a small gathering on our farm.

The years passed, and most of the people who took part that
first day are no longer with us, but there are always new friends
willing to help, so we keep going. The biggest benefit from all
this, has been the many great people we have met through our
hobby.

We started with one engine and thresher, then in 1972 my wife
and I bought a 65 Case and I had a 1895 Buffalo Pitts thresher
given to me. Then our son-in-law, Scott Lester, bought a 20 HP
Farquhar and we now have a third grain machine, so we have grown
some.

The last few years some of our steam friends have been bringing
their engines in for the day. Last year we had six traction engines
and one steamroller, which made for lots of activity. They take
turns threshing as well as on the sawmill. We try to do everything
with steam that day. A stationary boiler and engine runs a cider
press for sweet cider, and corn and potatoes are steamed for
dinner. Hams are cooked in the smokebox of some engines, and if
they need more cooking a few minutes on the Baker fan soon takes
care of that problem. Young and old alike enjoy wagon rides behind
an engine, and sometimes one engine is piped to a whistle manifold
and large plant, and ship whistles are blown. It’s just a fun day
for people who like to see steam engines doing what they were built
for.

I’ve been asked why the name Steam Valley Farm. My grandfather
had engines before 1900 – he owned two Buffalo Pitts engines before
he got the Case – so there has been steam here for over 100 years.
Also, we make maple syrup commercially using a steam boiler, so
from early March until late fall it isn’t unusual to hear a whistle
blow or an engine under load. We have pulled trees, moved rocks and
steamed our gardens. If you have to do something it’s much more fun
if you can use a steam engine!

Even a small event such as ours requires much preparation and a
lot of cleaning up, and putting away afterwards. Sometimes I wonder
if we should continue, but by mid-winter people start asking to
come the next year, so more oats are planted and plans are
made.

This year, if all goes well, on the last Sunday in August smoke
will be billowing above the trees and the sound of working engines
will be heard, as once again grain harvest takes place in our
valley.

Contact steam enthusiast Brad Vosburg at: 10871 Vosburg
Road, Farmersville Station, NY 14060.

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