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Melge Golterman
This picture, taken in the 1890's, shows a 12 hp Birdsall engine and a Case separator belonging to Melge Golterman, St., of Wentzville, Mo. See article by Mr. Golterman, Jr., telling of the experience of threshing in his family.

JR. Wentzville, Missouri

To the best of my memory, the accompanying picture dates from
the 1890’s. Father is standing at the left rear of the 12 hp
Birdsall with the taller individual to the right, his younger
brother, Malcolm. They threshed together for many years until Uncle
Malcolm retired because of ill health. My father continued on in
the business for many years thereafter. Sorry I cannot give you
more details of the picture. Before his illness, Father could even
name the horses hitched to the water tank. The separator is a Case
agitator. Too bad I failed to take notes when Father was able to
give the information.

Below is an account of the experiences of my Father, Melge
Golterman of Wentzville, Missouri, who operated a steam thresher
for fifty-five years.

Father’s first experience with threshing goes back to the
late 1870’s when Grandfather Golterman threshed his own wheat
with a separator belted to the Owens-Lane-Dyer Engine.

My father began his custom threshing career at the age of 19,
when together with his younger brother, Malcolm, he started out
with a used 12 hp Birdsell Engine and a Case 36 inch agitator
separator. At first this had a slat stacker, but he replaced it
with a blower. However, they continued with the hand feeder until
they changed to a larger Case separator at the turn of the

Many interesting stories center around this hand feeder. Back in
those days it was the high ambition of young men to feed the
thresher. They took great pride in the skill with which they spread
the grain as it was fed into the cylinder. A very special time to
be on the platform was when the attractive young ladies were coming
out with the lunch.

These were the days when the local neighborhood looked forward
with pleasant anticipation to the arrival of the thresher into the
area, for it afforded an opportunity for everyone to get together.
All had a good time visiting while they worked. Work itself was not
looked upon as a drudgery. There was friendly rivalry as to who
could do the most in the least time with most skill and strength.
The ladies pitted their skill in baking the finest pies and cakes.
The dust and dirt of the thresher was not objectionable for there
was a joy in being able to help a neighbor in the exchange of work.
Father relates how on more than one occasion, the young ladies in
the community would come out and insist on riding either on the
dusty separator or on the coupling tongue while the machine was
moving from one crop to another, not minding the fact that their
white starched skirts acquired a brown sticky dust as a result of
the experience.

Often rivalry developed between threshermen each feeling that
his machine could do the most work in the shortest time. Back in
the days of the hand feeder a rival might go visit another machine,
and upon getting permission to feed, would immediately see how fast
he could choke the machine. Having accomplished his purpose, he
would get down off the platform and walk away.

During the off-season months Father would operate a sawmill
(Owens-Lane-Dyer, equipped with a top saw) engaging in the custom
production of lumber and moving his mill and engine from place to
place during the winter season.

Melge Golterman, Sr., celebrated his 88th birthday on November
26, 1959. While this account was being written, he was called to
rest by the Heavenly Father and on January 13, 1960, we placed his
body in the Wright City Cemetery beside his Father, Mr. Charles
Golterman, who had gone to rest on January 28, 1928, at the age of

Father had been familiar with the steam engine all his life. In
fact, while a boy about the age of six, he can just remember his
father, assisted by a neighbor, raising the tall smoke stack of a
16 hp Owens-Lane-Dyer Serial No.490 skid engine that his Father had
purchased in St. Louis. Since it was a used engine back when
Grandfather purchased it in the 1870’s it is no doubt around
100 years old.

About 35 years ago the above mentioned engine came into
Father’s possession. He immediately modernized it by enclosing
the large-barrelled boiler in a complete jacket, lathing some
excess weight off the long connecting rod, replacing the old safety
valve with the modern pop valve, installing a new governor and
converting it into a portable. If any of the readers of this
magazine remember seeing one of these rare engines, they will
recall that the cylinder is located on the right rear of the
firebox with the crank head shaft running across the end of the
boiler in front. The boiler and engine are all handmade. At the
present time, this engine is housed in a large shed on our farm and
it is ready to operate when water and fuel are applied.

As the years rolled on and the need for a larger rig became
apparent, an 18 horse Birdsall No.2580 and a Case Iron sides
thresher were purchased, the engine first in 1901 and the separator
in 1902. Later they installed a Wood Brothers self feeder. Father
always considered this the best feeder obtainable. The band knives
were detachable and I remember that he would sharpen a dozen sets
and then install a new set periodically during the threshing season
in order to insure cutting all bands. Through the years he made
several improvements on this Case separator. First of all, he
braced up the wood frame with iron so it wouldn’t fall apart in
moving and he put oscillating forks in the rear of the machine to
prevent choking. He also installed an Avery straw spreader back of
the beater. With this separator. Father continued until age forced
him to retire in 1945.

He did change engines in 1935, purchasing a Rumely 22 horse
power for the price of scrap. I did not think Father was serious
when he began looking at this old rusty steamer that had been
abandoned in a weedy field some years before in Lincoln County
forty miles north of where we lived. It was a common practice of
his to stop and take a look at every engine we could spy as we
drove through the country.

Since I was away at college at the time he made this purchase, a
grade school classmate of mine assisted Father in moving the old
dilapidated engine to our home south of Forestell.

Father spent all of that winter getting this one up in shape
with a shiny new cab and a complete jacket on the boiler. The high
esteem Father had for his Birdsell, however, was not diminished by
his ownership of the Rumely. The Birdsell remained the most unusual
engine with its spring mounting on front and rear, its auto type
steering, and its peculiar boiler design. In later years, I helped
Father by hauling water and I distinctly remember that we had to
put blocks in the frame when we began to thresh to keep the
Birdsell from jumping up and down on its springs. Due to the short
exhaust pipe, this 18 horse Birdsell had the keenest puff of any
steamer in the country for it could be heard for miles around while
threshing. I learned later that he was driven to the Rumely for its
greater power, having been choked down a number of times the
previous season. To Father, this was a disgrace, so he took
immediate steps to correct this with more power.

At one time Father had four large runs, going to the Missouri
River bottom to thresh until 1915, when he broke the gearing on his
Birdsell in a large creek, the road running down the creek because
the local farmers did not want to spare any of their valuable land
for a road. One experience while threshing in the ‘Bottom’
was racing out of the area with another rig, the other engine being
a Jumbo. When Father’s little Birdsell began gaining on them,
they tried shifting into a higher gear. This resulted in its
stalling. Then they slipped off the governor belt for unlimited
speed, all to no avail, for Father proudly described how the little
Birdsell just ran away from the Jumbo. The Jumbo was a popular
engine with many, having a reputation (as I heard one old
thresherman express it) ‘Just the best of them all’. In
those yesterdays the machine men would get together to exchange
experiences. Father remembers hearing one man address another who
had made a recent purchase in this heavy accent ‘Can’t you
afford anything better than a ‘Umbow?’

In addition to threshing and sawing Father engaged in hulling
clover with a hand feed Rumely and also shredding fodder with a 10
roll New Piano. This shredder was built for custom work requiring
two men feeding from both sides, a wagon of corn fodder on each
side of the machine just like the thresher. The fodder blower,
fully as big as any straw stacker, was located in front so that
when it was coupled to the engine it gave the appearance of being
pulled backwards.

Father also lived through the days of custom wood sawing where a
farmer would get up a large rick of poles and then invite all
surrounding neighbors to help in an all day wood sawing into
stove-lengths with a steam threshing engine belted to a buzz

Father’s talents for using many different kinds of machines
and tools were known and appreciated by the community in which he
lived. One of Father’s early mill settings was for a Captain
Mosley, a Confederate war veteran. One rainy day they could not saw
lumber so the Captain asked Father if he would help work on the
barn he was building. Father’s skill with tools so pleased the
old Captain that he remarked at the supper table, ‘These boys
can do anything? Father was always pleased to tell this story in
his later years, for he took great pride in his work.

My Father has lived through an age that rose to its height
during his active years and then reluctantly into the decline and
eclipse by the privately owned combine. Father has survived all the
farmers in one run except two. Most of those who worked with him or
for whom he threshed have gone to their eternal reward.

Father enjoyed this work more than anyone I know. He evidenced
this joy by spending his spare time in getting the machine in
first-class condition for the season. Rare indeed was a breakdown
of any kind, going for years without loss of a single hour for
repairs. He was so proud of this!

A year before Father’s passing from this earth, my cousin,
Mr. Leslie Frazier, questioned him concerning his fifty-five years
working with steam power for tape recording. Father revealed that
he had threshed 1,765,000 bushels of wheat, made 67 sets with his
sawmill .sawing 5,000,000 board feet of lumber and 33,600 railroad
ties. These activities covered three counties in eastern

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