A Legend In His Own Time


| January/February 1990



Jim Rabas and the crew

Jim Rabas and the crew in one of the many parades he was in.

'He didn't intend to be, it's just the way he was,' writes Bruce Vander-vest, N8193 Cty. C, Casco, WI 54205, in a letter about the late Jim Rabas, Sr., who died August 27, 1989.

'Jim owned, collected and ran several steam traction engines and related equipment. This did not start out as a hobby, but as a way of life, custom threshing in northeastern Wisconsin. Jim Rabas, Sr., in my opinion, symbolized what rural America was and what old engine collecting is about. I am thankful I was born in time to have known Jim and men like him,' Vandervest continues.

According to newspaper accounts from the Algoma Record Herald, Jim Rabas Sr. purchased his first steam engine, a 75 HP Minneapolis known as 'The Big Jim,' at age 17. With the engine and a separator, he did custom threshing in the Pilsen and Stangelville, Wisconsin areas.

'Jim's favorite place to be was on one of his steam engines pulling a polka band in a parade,' the Record Herald's report continues.

An earlier article from the same newspaper tells more about Rabas: He continued threshing until 1948, then afterwards maintained his steam engines for shows and parades. The longest trip for 'Big Jim' was on the highway from Algoma to Milwaukee to exhibit at the State Fair. For exhibits and transportation, he replaced the metal wheels with large tires.

A founder of the Wisconsin Historical Steam Rodeo, Inc., Rabas is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Mildred Kirchman, two sons, two daughters, and thirteen grandchildren.