Farm Collector


Neponset, Ill. Friend and employee of Mr. Swearingen from a
personal interview.

O. E. Swearingen was 84 on December 23, 1966. When he was only
ten years old he worked on an old Monarch Steam Engine. While his
dad was away one day, O. E. and ‘Oatsie’ (his brother)
watered and fired ‘old Charlie’ and ran it around a bit.
Then they erased the tracks so their dad wouldn’t find out they
had run it. Young Orin used to stand on the fire door handle to
reach the levers! An interesting fact about the pay those days,
came out when O. E. stated he received fifty cents ($.50) a day
while helping his brothers all this at the age of 12!

The first time O. E. was alone on an engine was the time when
Harry Scaife ran a sheller and shelled around Neponset. At that
time some immigrants to this country would talk to ‘Onie’
in foreign languages confusing the young engineer considerably! At
other times he would have to drive through cornfields because the
farm lanes were altogether too narrow to go through. The
corn-sheller had only a hopper and drags at that time. It was an
Ottawa corn-sheller, being practically the same as today with a few

O. E. was sent to New Market, Indiana with a new engine to
deliver and then sent to Lafayette to finally assemble still
another separator. He arrived in the evening aim located the
dealer. He fired up the engine on a flat car and drove it off.

Orin recalls that he met a blind man, and also one deaf and dumb
man, both of whom made engines. Once a Hubert needed repair. He
told the men how to fix it but was too tired to do it himself. They
wanted badly for him to do the job himself, but he told a plumber
what to do for them and they were very pleased to get their engine

O. E. set up the new separator and bawled out the owner because
the man started the engine and jarred the separator while O. E.
tried to put it together. Guess what they had for dinner! Bread and
milk! Of course the wife had gone with the buggy! Finally O. E.
received a telegram from Colean asking One to come back at once to
the plant at Peoria. Colean asked Orin how the engine went and he
replied that the grates and wheels need to be corrected.

O. E. was sent to Orion to fix an outfit. It took different
pulleys for the repair job. He was met by three drunks who were
going to lick O. E. because the outfit didn’t run right! He
worked alone on the machine until the Separator Man (a neighbor)
came to help. The machine had been out of condition for a week and
the owner had paid out fifty (50) dollars for meat to feed the gang
for that week, and nothing had been accomplished! The blower ran so
fast that it almost shook the machine to pieces! O. E. stayed to
get the machine running and he finished the run although the owner
refused to take the new machine! This ‘Buffalo Pitts’
engine was distributed by the Colean Company. The Colean was
similar in design to the ‘Pitts’. It used the injector, and
the exhaust steam went in the water instead of a heater like
‘Pitts’ had. The Swede finally took the ‘Pitts’

Will Colean fired O. E. Swearingen by phone because the repair
man that had trouble with the ‘Pitts’ had run O. E. down to
the boss! The next day Will Colean wanted to rehire O. E. but Orin
said ‘no’. Will Colean then gave O. E. a fine

O. E. also worked for his brother Pete and ran a threshing
‘run’. Pete had purchased a ‘Pitts’ and had some
trouble-makers who had forgotten to grease it thus,
‘freezing’ a gear. O. E. finally freed it using jack screws
to do as after taking off the wheels. He worked two weeks on

The Colean engine smoke stack was too small and didn’t have
enough of a draft on it; the wheel spokes were far apart and the
rim too light. The rims flexed on the gravel roads. One wheel did
crack on brother Pete’s new Colean and Will Colean had to
replace the two big wheels.

Orin also worked for the Star Engine Company, selling and doing
repair work for them out of Peoria. O. E. thought the Star was the
best engine, although both the Colean and the Star had two
cylinders. The engine and separator together with a dry belt and a
canvas cover, cost between $2800.00 and $2900.00

The first auto that O. E. worked on was Doctor Priest man’s
old Yale – a two cylinder-opposed flat chain drive with planetary
transmission. It’s speed was around thirty to thirty-five miles
per hour. The gear shift was: ahead, low gear; back, high gear; and
foot pedal was reverse, (two forward and one reverse). The first
car that O. E. sold was a Ford.

O. E. made a tractor from an old Ohio car frame and motor. It
had wood rims, steel tires in front and he bought the hind wheels
at Bloomington, Indiana. The first Model T Ford he worked on
wouldn’t get out of high gear because of a broken plate in the
transmission It was the only time that he ever had that happen. He
sold Fords, and then Chevrolet coup-four cylinder run-about (around
$490.00), was next.

O. E. had a jewelry store next to May Morris’ (Mrs. Hazen)
on commercial street in Neponset. In back of the store was a car
shop. He also used to start the one cylinder upright engine for the
print shop next door belonging to Bert Stetson. He built a garage
on Commercial Street around 1914-1915, and sold Reo and Ford cars.
Next he built a garage on Bureau Street in 1924 selling Reo’s
and Fords. The Ford company used pressure in pushing salesmen and
dealers. O. E. sold a carload (seven) of cars in one day by horse
and buggy. The field man found Orin rather soiled from working on
cars and driving on dusty roads and took the Ford agency away from
him and gave it to Frank Bumphrey.

Museum at Beetown, Wisconsin about two miles from our farm. My
father and brothers bought their first steam engine in 1896. It was
a Russell 13 hp. and a 36-56 hand feed Westinghouse Separator.
Before that, they threshed with horse power. In about 1889, they
bought a Red River Special threshing machine. The story is the
Russell engine was too small to handle it. So in 1901, they bought
a Nichols and Shepherd engine, 20 hp. It was a 1900 Sample on
display at Madison, Wisconsin. They had it shipped by freight to
Lancaster, Wisconsin. Then my father and two brothers, Bill and

Oscar, drove it home to the farm about 12 miles near Beetown. In
1912, Conrad Schauf (deceased) and myself bought this engine. It
was a pretty one trimmed in brass and a good one. We also bought a
Reeves threshing machine, so we threshed, hulled clover, sawed
lumber as we had a saw mill.

This was for all of Grant County so we were busy most all year
around. There were seven of us Clauer boys in my family. They have
all passed away except me. I am 77 now. My wife and I live on the
home farm of 120 acres. We rent out the land and the steam engine
is my hobby. Besides the 26 hp. Minneapolis engine, I have a Belle
City and also a McCormick threshing machine, a John Deere 1923
tractor, a top buggy my mother bought from Sears in 1914. My wife
has a doll collection as her hobby. We take our engine to the
Boscobel Antique Power Show and we also take our other hobbies. The
ladies are going to put up an old fashioned home showing folks how
we did things without electricity.

Those pictured as numbered are
1. Wm. Glassmaker,
2. Bill Glassmaker,
3. Ben Wiest,
4. Joseph Schauf, Jr.,
5. Conrad Schauf,
6. Clyde Clauer,
7. Henry Wiest,
8. Freddie Clauer,
9. Josie Schauf,
10. Jake Kirschbaum,
11. Gerhardt Kirschbaum,
12. Leo Wiest,
13. George Jackering.

In later years Mr. Swearingen or ‘Foxy’ as I always
called him, ran a garage; welding shop; an oil and gasoline farm
supply; farmed; built a country home and farm buildings; sold farm
machinery; ran a sawmill with a Huber return flu steam engine
(which we later tore down and delivered the usable parts to machine
shops in Peoria), and later used a Case ‘L’ on the sawmill.
To keep busy we drilled wells, lost the drill rod but invented a
grabber to retrieve it, thus saving a good deep well. He was good
at witching for water but sometimes if in the public eye we did
that at night for our knowledge alone! He rarely missed a camping
trip to the State Fair and we enjoyed many a ‘sky-larking’
trip to Peoria or Iowa or ? for repairs, fruit or some fair.

Arthritis and a hip injured by a fall from a pony when a kid,
has forced his retirement. He now lives in a health resort near one
of his daughters.

A surprise visit to him will bring a twinkle to
‘Foxy’s’ eyes, a hand will leave his crutch to greet
me, and ‘Gosh, I’ve been thinking about you and wondering
when you’d come!’

  • Published on Nov 1, 1967
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