Farm Steam Engines and Works of Art


| November/December 1997



Cover of the issue

33 Linda Avenue, Apt 1301 Oakland, California 94611

Reynold M. Wik of 33 Linda Avenue, Apt. 1301, Oakland, California 94611 provided the illustration for the cover of this issue. Dr. Wik writes about 'Farm Steam Engines and Works of Art,' A well known name in the field of American agricultural history, Dr. Wik is the author of Steam Power and the American Farm.

The Andrew Hill painting shown on this month's front cover is one example illustrating an artist's fascination with a dramatic steam threshing scene. This San Francisco artist produced this painting in 1875 after observing the spectacular operations on the Dr. Hugh J. Glenn bonanza wheat ranch near Willows, California. At the time, Californians usually referred to Glenn as the greatest wheat farmer in the world.

Born in Virginia in 1824, Dr. Glenn served in the Mexican war, received his M.D. from Missouri University, engaged in the freighting business, and then began buying land along the Sacramento River in California. He continued to expand his farm until by 1880 he owned 66,000 acres. In fact one of his fields was 17 miles long. Meanwhile, he invested $125,000 in farm machinery, $185,000 in horses and mules and $100,000 in buildings. His ranch included 32 houses and 27 barns, while his blacksmith shop had equipment enough to enable mechanics to build their own wagons, headers and various farm implements. One of his mechanics, George Hoag, constructed the mammoth separator shown in this painting. It was 35 feet long with a 48 inch cylinder and was driven by a 25 horsepower Enright steam engine manufactured by Joseph Enright in San Jose, California. On August 8, 1874, this outfit consisting of 84 men and 130 horses and mules, threshed 5,779 bushels of wheat in one day a remarkable feat in a day when threshermen in the Ohio Valley thought 900 bushels daily was an exceptional performance.

On July 26, 1879, the Glenn ranch established a new world's record by threshing 6,183 bushels of wheat. This time George Hoag used a 25 horsepower Gaar Scott steam engine and a separator of the same name. The Willows Journal, on July 26, 1879 described the event by stating:

At sunrise Wednesday morning the whistle of the ponderous engine sounded the signal for the grand onslaught upon the sea of yellow grain. The headers and 36 header-wagons and an abundance of willing hands moved simultaneously with the machinery and naught could be heard but the hum of the massive separator and the rattle and noise necessary among so many men, mules and headers. Four spouts poured out a continuous stream of golden grain. Four men attended the sacks and four did the sewing. . . At sunset the official count of the sacks was made, the total being 6,183 bushels of wheat cut, threshed and garnered from sun to sun. This showing we believe is unprecedented in the annals of farming in the civilized world.'