Farm Collector


1288 Lexington Avenue Winfield, Iowa 52659

I am 23 years old and a spring ’93 graduate in agricultural
engineering from Iowa State. Having Swiss ancestry, I was led to
study the German language at the university, and eventually decided
to spend a few months in Switzerland after graduation. With help
from distant relatives in Switzerland, I was able to find a job
near them as a farmhand. I left on May 25 and returned on October

Now ever since I first saw a steam traction engine, when I was
eight years old, I have been totally fascinated with them and want
dearly to own a full-size engine someday. God has truly blessed me
to be able to grow up near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (Midwest Old
Threshers Reunion), and also to make the acquaintance and
friendship of a nearby farmer who owns a traction engine and taught
me everything I know about them-in part by just giving me the
chance to run it and a 1/3 scale model of

So what do my interests in steam engines and Switzerland have in
common? Well, I told the farmer I worked for about my old iron
addiction, and he mentioned that there were Swiss organizations
that put on shows and have museums for ‘Old Timers,’ as
they call them. (Somewhere along the line they adopted this English
term into their own Swiss-German language.)

The farmer’s son mentioned that he thought he saw an
‘Old Timer’ advertisement in one of their farm magazines.
So, after eagerly looking through the magazine pile, I found the
one with the ad. The show was held on August 21 & 22 in
Moriken, Switzerland. I believe the name of the organization was
‘Freunde alter Landmaschinen,’ or ‘Friends of Old
Agricultural Machines.’

The farmer’s son, his girlfriend, and I went on the 22nd. We
had no trouble finding the show, as they had advertised it by
suspending an old Lanz ‘Bulldog’ tractor from a crane about
100 feet in the air. (Lanz, a German company, was eventually bought
by John Deere in 1956.) I was surprised to see as many gas tractors
and engines as I did. Most were German makes, although many were
Swiss, and there were also a couple of French and Italian tractors.
To them a real ‘Old Timer’ would have been built around
1940. The transition from horses to steam and later gas took place
at a later time than it did here in the States. In fact, I was told
that in the 1950s, some Swiss agricultural schools were still
preaching that horses were the best way to go. Some Swiss farmers
still use horses to this day. I saw one farmer pulling a dump rake
with a horse and talked with another who uses horses for seeding
grain. The small size of their farms, and steep slopes, make
justifying a tractor difficult.

In all actuality, a transition from horses to steam didn’t
take place quite like it did here. What farm steam power there was
consisted mostly of portable engines hauled by horses and used for
threshing. (The farmer’s father-in-law, going on 80 years old,
recalled several horses being almost unable to pull a portable
engine up the hill leading to their farm.) I didn’t look into
whether steam was used for sawmills, but I strongly suspect that it
was, as Switzerland produces a large amount of lumber and it seems
that in every town there is at least one sawmill.

Anyway, at the show I counted about 200 gas tractors. Included
among the pack: John Deeres 1948 ‘A’ and 1937 ‘B’
and Farmalls ‘H’ and ‘B.’ Also among the lineup
were various European makes of stationary gas engines and garden
tractors, and a Willys Jeep or two left from WWII. Upon speaking
with the owner of the John Deeres, I found that these two tractors
were found in France. He told me the U.S. gave some 10,000 tractors
to France after WWII since so many horses, one of their main farm
power sources, were dead. He also was able to locate a couple of
Allis-Chalmers models and a Massey-Harris in France.

Now, this is a steam magazine so I’ll get off this gas
subject and get to the interesting part! My eyes caught right away
the only steam engine at the show. It was a single-simple English
portable, built in 1921, and belted to a small wooden separator.
They had been threshing oats; chaff was gently blowing around
everywhere. The grain was put in burlap sacks. As shown in the
photo, the engine has a very tall stack and narrow-face-large
diameter flywheel. I talked briefly with the operator of the engine
but didn’t get into the history of it. I did, however, show him
photos of a 16 HP Gaar-Scott and a Case return flue I was able to
run a couple of times, much to his delight. I also brought along a
couple antique tractor calendars, which I showed to him and others
at the show. All were utterly amazed at how modern American
tractors were, even in the 1930s, with rubber tires, electric
lights and starters. I also showed a picture or two of traction
engine models from the Mt. Pleasant show and one fellow wanted to
know pretty badly how he could import one into Switzerland!

Well, I didn’t get to stay but more than a couple of hours.
Seems that the farmer’s son and his girlfriend just
couldn’t understand what it is to have the old iron disease, so
I had to leave when they wanted to go!

  • Published on Sep 1, 1994
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