Starting the parade. Mount Aqua oil rig in background. They drilled for oil in early teens and hit hot health waterquite a health center was built. After the Montana earthquake, the water failed and so did the resort.
Oscar O. Cooke, the man who started and runs Oscar's Dreamland at Billings, Montana, is a man of superlatives, and a visit to his show is an unforgettable event.
Oscar is one of the most active men over 80 we have ever seen. When he operates his 1906 Best steam traction engine, standing at the controls 15 or more feet above the ground, he is an artist at work. He handles it as if it were a choice riding horse.
When we visited Oscar's Dreamland in 1981, the first hint we got as we approached his grounds was the sight of three small gliders rising and dipping above a lot of steam and smoke.
That was only the beginning. Once we were inside the gate, roaming the multi-acre field, we were surrounded by Oscar's collection, which he calls the biggest private collection of farm artifacts in the world.
Oscar was being interviewed for TV when we first found him. Later we talked to him in the cook shack, a real vehicle from olden days in which he was eating a speedy lunch.
He not only claims the biggest one-man collection of steam and gas engines, but also the biggest one-man show. He also has the tallest revolving clock in the world.
How many engines does he own?
He has about 45 steam traction engines, slightly more than 300 gasoline tractors, dozens of stationary gas engines, and over 100 threshing machines.
He is seeking three tractors, each a 30-60, to round out his collection. One is a Fairbanks Morse'only one is known in the U.S., and one in Canada'; a Case'I missed three or four,' and a Mogul. If he had those he would possess all the 30-60s that were ever in production. If you can help him, let him know fast.
He owns a lot of other antique items alsothe tallest air motor windmill, a biplane, antique cars, covered wagons, horsedrawn equipment and a list that could go on and on. He's got handsome Belgian draft horses that draw carefully restored wagons.
And he's got a lot of friends. The day we were there, all kinds of buddies were running the engines. His family also works with him.
Marcella, his wife, is 'right in there pitching' all the time. She handles public relations, answers telephones, greets arrivals, keeps the records and maintains watch on the finances.
Marcie Ann, his daughter whom we met, was home for the summer from Stephens College, in between studies for a prelaw degree. She acts as 'unofficial promotion chairperson' for the Midwest. Marcie has her own Rumely and runs a threshing machine.
This 1/3 scale Gaar-Scott was built by Bill Billings of Wellington, Kansas. He brought it to Oscar's since he had been to all the towns named Billings, except Billings, Montana!
Wiley, Oscar's son, has a small collection of motorcycles which he is gearing up for traveling exhibitions.
My wife, Margaret, and I visited Oscar's Dreamland for his show last September with our cousins, Jean and John Baucus of Helena and Sieben. To all of us, this was a delightful occasion. While there we ran into Bill Mackay, who has a ranch at Roscoe, and who has restored a number of choice antique cars. Bill is the new president of the board of trustees of the Montana Historical Society.
The parade at Oscar's was stupendous, in line with everything else that he does. It was a phantasmagoria of steam and gas, with engines sometimes moving in circles clockwise and counter clockwise, other times cutting straight through with never a traffic tieup or a fender bender.
Oscar seemed to be everywhere on his big Best, standing up there high above the other participants and piloting the heavy machine with ease, while keeping an eye on the way the whole thing proceeded.
Oscar is a man of many parts and experiences. He started out on a farm, and as a teenager bought a farm of 160 acres in eastern Kansas. He was 14, and he put $400 down on it.
'I broke sod with a team of Molly mules,' he recalls. He grew watermelons on part of the land 'most beautiful vines you ever saw.' He did threshing, then went into the machinery business at Emporia, Kansas. Next he went to work for Allis-Chalmers and was Omaha branch manager.
'I helped develop the round baler,' he states with pride. 'I have the No. 1 round baler.' He also flew his own plane.
In more recent years, he became a Montana rancher in the 1960s. Now he devotes a lot of time to his collection and preparing for the next show. The 1982 extravaganza is set for the third week in September.
Oscar is not only a collector of engine she also collects buildings.
He has established the village of Cookeville, made up of restored buildings which he brought in from various near and distant places.
Second oldest church steeple in Billings, Montana-still original. The small log school house to the right was the first school in Yellowstone County at Coulsonbefore there was a Billings!
Smoke box door of 18 HP 1915 Rumely. Smoke box door of Reeves 20 HP, about 1911. This engine was shipped to Wyoming and only plowed two daysthe owners thought that it burned too much coal.
The main building is a general store, complete with wooden canopy to protect shoppers from the sun. Another used to be the post office at Pompley's Pillar, a Montana name that goes back to the days when Lewis and Clark were exploring.
There's a church, too a log cabin with a steeple that Oscar says is the oldest in Billings. Inside it is a log pulpit, with the top sawed off at a slant. A small ledge was allowed to remain, 'so the preacher's Bible would not slide off,' Oscar relates. There is a small old time pedal organ to accompany the singing of hymns.
Latest accomplishment in Cookeville is the completion of the barbershop. We don't know if Oscar will take time to do the shaving or sit still long enough to get one.
Whatever happens at Oscar's Dreamland, no matter how happy a time any visitor has, it can't outdo Oscar's. He has found his true calling making Oscar's Dreamland a dream come true.