| September/October 1966


It has long been my good intentions to dedicate a few paragraphs in memory of my good friend Harris Johnson from Balsam Lake who passed away at an early age. For the most part of his life he was employed by Polk County with the road crew as a machine operator, including a rock crushing plant and a road roller. Whenever working in our locality he often stopped a few minutes to talk steam. In pursuit of his hobby and love for steam he had set up a complete stationary boiler and Atlas engine to operate a sawmill on highway 8 east of St. Croix Falls. His devoted wife was in full accord with his hobby as was one of his two sons. Wendell who still has a 45 Case in good condition. Mrs. Harris Johnson reluctantly sold their 65 Case 33383 as well as the saw mill set-up. She borrowed me some pictures which are to be returned. One is of Harris' fathers steam-rig that for many years Threshed in the fertile Wanderoos valley. The other picture was taken in 1962 with the 45 Case engine bought from Lloyd Loomis of near Mondovi. Wendell still puts his 45 Case through the paces sawing lumber or threshing at the Dresser threshing Bee. The passing of Harris Johnson not only strikes a sad note to his many steam friends, to his community, but the county as well.

Speaking of steam engines, that illusive 'hearsay' engine out in Burnett County that Ronnie Gjerning and I sought so eagerly is still at large. We did however, make another hunt in hopes to locate the engine or should we say its ghost. 'Pine Island' mentioned in our hunt, struck a bell for Jerry and Ricky Erickson who have hunted deer in that 'wild life' area, so with their enthusiasm aroused we now doubled our posse and with renewed hopes, packed our lunch and hit for the taller timber and more remote areas. Their pondering had narrowed down the thinking that to get an engine into these parts only two narrow approaches were feasable. Having carefully checked those points we were still at a loss. Back to the main road we went and questioned a farmer who had been a resident in that 'deer country' sinc 1936. He says 'You guys are all wet, its just a myth'. He had never known of such a mired engine. Not liking to admit we goofed we proceeded down the highway to another neighbor. He had just come in from his fields where he was poisoning pocket gophers. Says he; 'Of course there's an engine out there' and recalled very vividly how he saw it 10 years ago, 'it is facing west, drivers 'this' wide and a big flywheel', but 'you guys were too far north. Do you know where 'plantation house' is?' 'Sure do' was Rickys reply. 'Well go north from there a half mile to your right on the hillside you can see where Ed Cockle had his sawmill, using an Avery undermounted steamer.' Well to the north and west a trail leads off and its in there somewhere perhaps covered with brush by now.' About the time we used up all clues of a trail and seemingly only swamps left we did find a nesting mallard duck. Unless we can engage some firmer evidence of personal guidance we are ready to give up that 'ghost'. Pictured lunching are Ronnie, Jerry and Ricky while on the engine hunt.

Speaking of retrieving old iron, I now have a 32 x 54 Case thresher parked in our pasture. George Christian has owned this machine for some time but has had rather negative results to get it moved the 11 miles in hopes to use it to thresh again. Now Ronnie Gjerning had come to the rescue. Since Ronnie goes to school and during vacation is a busy boy, he was booked to move the thresher. Thus on that Tuesday morning with the weather cloudy and drizzling, and garbed in a raincoat he took off, with Ronnie driving his dad's 60 John Deere and George and I following in my truck. There was no turning back now. Having greased the thresher wheels the day before we were to loose no time. Rolling the thresher from its 'hibernation' all went well and by noon the weather was clearing, after all, we should take some pictures. Before starting back we loaded an Ottaway drag saw on my truck from a nearby farm. The farmer owner told me it hadn't run 10 hours and he bought it new 20 years ago and always kept it in the shed. Passing through the village of Atlas we stopped at a gravel pit to partake of sandwiches, coffee, fruit and candy bars. Thats when I snapped the picture of the 'big move'. This thresher can be restored. It is equipped with that 'guaranteed no choke' Garden-city feeder with dividing board, and boasts a unique steering pole and a unable drive belt. It has an 18' drive pulley. Any reasonable offer buys this machine. Upon paying Ronnie. Geo says, 'was quite a job for my thresher to push that John Deere eleven miles'. Well it sure did some pushing down one steep hill but Ronnie kept cool and all went well.

By the way while I think of it, in the last column I stated that George cut 11 acres rye one afternoon, well he actually left home at 12:30 and cut 17 acres and was home by 6:30. My apology for that mistake.

When you grow too old to dream, that's too bad. Many a time have I dreamed about steam engines, that's good. A most recent one I had was rather quick and to me amusing. I had just received in the mail some hand-bills from the Justin Hintgen show at La Motte, Ia., and must admit he spares no efforts to put on a good show. I noted Ray Ernst would be there with his 6 hp Nichols Shepard, a show piece indeed that Ray should be very proud of and he is. Well my 'slumber version' had Ray resting on a wood chunk with his straw hat in hand, in a rather relaxed attitude alongside his 12 hp Russell Portable. (Of course he's had no portable to my knowledge). At any rate the steam pressure was down to a mere 35 pounds. I asked Ray 'What seems to be the matter?' Casually pointing to his engine he says 'I think she's lost her cud'. Maybe only a dairyman could grasp the pun.