A STORY TOLD TO ME BY AN OLD FIREMAN

1 / 3
Setting up to stack thresh in Woodbury Township, Minnesota.
2 / 3
A Buffalo-Pitts 40-80 Hp. engine. The engineer, Charlie Kanec is standing on the side of the engine. My Uncle Emil Knack is standing with the pitch fork
3 / 3
Stack threshing in Woodbury Township, Minnesota.

1545-10th Ave. East, St. Paul Park, Minnesota 55071

As I am recuperating from an operation in the hospital and have
nothing to do, I thought I would write a few stories told to me by
my uncle who was a fireman on a Bufflo-Pitts steam engine.

But first I thought I would tell how I became a fan of these
old-time engines.

In 1951 I went to work on the Lloyd Belden farm in St. Paul
Park, Minnesota. He had a 50 h.p. case engine which nowdays gets
steamed up about twice a year. Well in the days I worked there, we
had five big farm tractors so the engine didn’t get used as
much as it did when, many years ago they first got it. I am told
they plowed with it pulling an eight bottom plow plus belt
work.

Well, one year we were going to fill the silos with chopped hay.
We put a F-20 on the blower and after three hours, the motor burned
up. So, they took it to the Implement dealer to get it fixed. He
loaned us another F-20 which had a bad bearing in the motor. Well,
that didn’t last very long so Lloyd finally gave in and said if
we are going to get the silo filled we better get the old reliable
out of the shed. We steamed the old Case up and put her on the belt
and went to work.

We filled the two silos, plus three snow fence silos, three
rings high without any trouble. One morning Lloyd thought he had
enough steam up to start out, so we started putting the hay in the
blower. She started to slow down, but it was too late to shut the
feeder off because she was plugged really bad. After that one
incident he made sure he had plenty of steam up before we
started.

One winter we spent the whole winter months in the shop
reflueing the engine, cleaning, and painting it. You might say, we
put her in mint condition and she still is in that condition. She
stays in the shed except for about twice a year when Lloyd takes it
out of the shed and steams her up for the fun of it.

My uncle, Emil Knack, was a fireman on a Bufflo-Pitts 40-80
horse power double compound engines owned by Herman Stanky. The
separator they threshed with was a 46 inch International
Harvester.

Their threshing run was 82 days long, starting with shock
threshing in Cottage Grove township and ending up with stack
threshing in Woodbury township, both being close to St. Paul Park,
Minnesota.

Emil said that he fired with straw being the engine was a straw
burner and I can imagine that he was pretty busy in order to keep
steam up to run that big of a separator. There is a lot of
incidents that my uncle Emil talks about happening and I’d like
to mention just a few of them.

The owner of the engine and separator had hired a middle aged
Negro man as a tanker man. Well, this fellow was scared to death of
snakes. When he would be gone for a long time and pretty soon they
would have to shut the engine down because they would be getting
low on water. A few of the men would go down to the waterhole to
find out what was the matter. And here was the tanker man sitting
on top of the tank with a snake on the ground scaring him so bad he
wouldn’t get off the tank and get the water tank loaded, some
times losing two or more hours. It seems that this fellow’s
brother was killed by a snake bite in Africa and that is why he was
really scared of snakes.

Another incident was the oiler on the separator was always
sleeping some place around the separator and when the men wanted
him for something they would take a oil can and squirt oil on him
to wake him up. Emil said he was so dirty all the time that the
owners wife would complain all the time about this man’s
clothes always full of oil and dirt. And she couldn’t figure
out how this man could get so dirty.

One day the rig was going to move from one place to another and
the oiler was riding on top of the separator. Well, it had rained
that night so the road was a little muddy. The oiler man fell
asleep on the separator and slowly the back wheels started sliding
towards the ditch.

Well, being the oiler was asleep, no one warned the engineer and
firemen that the separator was slowly sliding in the ditch. It
finally went far enough off the road to tip over with the oiler
landing out in the field. After spending a day to get the separator
out of the ditch and pulled right side up, they found out the
cylinder shaft was broken. So after three days of fixing, they were
finally able to start threshing again. You can be sure the oiler
didn’t fall asleep again the rest of the threshing run.

Well, my Uncle Emil said he fired on the Bufflo-Pitts for five
years and there are many storied he tells about his experiences.
But sadly the engine and separator were finally sold to somebody in
Wisconsin.

The engine went to some man who put it on a saw mill in
Wisconsin. It sure would be something to see that old Bufflo-Pitts
engine running, but hard telling where it is now, maybe cut up for
scrap iron or rusting away on some farm.

My Uncle Emil and my Dad and his brother, Albert, then went to
North Dakota to work on farms out there. So well close this story
by saying it sure is lucky we have the steam engine shows to go to
where the memories are brought back to life by the fine shows in
our area. My dad always tells me I was born 30 years to late. If I
had to pitch bundles in a big separator like he had to, I probably
wouldn’t be such a good steam fan. But that all changes when I
take him to the Zumbro Valley Threshmans Reunion at West Conrad,
Minnesota. Then he gets excited and is more of a fan than me.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment