Box 111, Davis Junction, Illinois 61020
History obtained by: George W. Hedtke, Emil F. Svanda, and Armour Van Briesen, all of Ogle County, in vivid detail September 15, 1967 from Mr. Heiji S. Oltmanns, Route 1, Byron, Illinois, Ogle County.
On August 21, 1894, a threshing crew of 17 men gathered at the break of day to commence stack threshing of grain on the farm of Mr. Hiram Bergschmidt, located south of Byron, Illinois on the German Church Road in Marion Township, County of Ogle. The farm at this time is known as the Fred Seabold farm. The steam threshing outfit comprised of a small Northwest return flue steam engine and a Northwest hand feed separator, was owned and operated by Mr. Andrew Roos. The young engineer was Mr. Edwin Knauss. The tenant farmer was Mr. Harm Luepkes, who was in the barn at the time of the explosion and was not injured.
Mr. Heiji S. Oltmanns, who was born July 12, 1877 at Oregon, Illinois was 17 years of age when the steam engine blew up. He was at the top of one of the bundle stacks preparing to start pitching bundles to the platform of the hand feed separator when the explosion occurred. His uncle was on another bundle stack across from him also preparing to pitch bundles to the platform of the hand feed separator when the steam engine explosion shook the ground. Neither one of the two were injured in the tragic accident. Mr. Simon (Siebrandt) Oltmanns, father of Heiji S. Oltmanns, and Mr. Amos Ehmen, and Mr. Richard Luepkes were waiting to cut the bundle bands and to start stacking the straw. Mr. Charles Bergschmidt and Mr. Luepkes were also helping with work.
This is a steam powered threshing scene in a farmer's barnyard during the late 1800's in Ogle County, Illinois. The threshing outfit is believed to have been a Minnesota, built during the latter part of 1800's by the Seymour Sabin & Company, Stillwater, Minnesota. The Company later was bought out by the Northwest Threshing Company around 1900 when the New Giant steam traction engine came into the picture. The engine pictured here is claimed to be the victim of a steam explosion, south of Byron, Illinois, the morning of August 21, 1894, which took the lives of four threshermen and injuring several other workers at the scene. A story of the tragic explosion given in vivid detail by a 90 year old man in 1967, is printed herewith.
It was approximately 7:00 A.M. that morning when the crew readied themselves to start the threshing operation. The whistle was sounded and suddenly the steam engine blew up. Mr. Hiram Bergschmidt, owner of the farm, was apparently killed instantly by the right rear wheel of the steam engine, when he with the wheel were blown about 15 rods and his body was found against a fence post. His head was badly crushed and his legs broken with one leg in an upward position along the side of his body when found. Mr. Andrew Roos, owner of the steam engine threshing outfit, also had both legs broken badly, one of which had to be amputated that day. He died 8 days later. Mr. Richard Luepkes, who was waiting to help stack straw, was badly scalded by steam and hot water. He died about 24 hours after the explosion. Mr. John Van Briesen, who was a hired man to Hiram Bergschmidt, and an uncle to Armour Van Briesen of Stillman Valley, Illinois, was standing with some neighbor boys at the left side of the steam engine when it exploded. He was scalded critically by the steam and hot water. He died that night. A nurse sang hymns to the boy at his bedside before he died. Doctor Woodcock and Doctor Masten came from Byron, Illinois with a horse and buggy, to give medical care to all of the injured. Nurses came from wherever possible. Rose (Schemerhorn) Hathaway, helped bandage the injured, and she hastly tore bedsheets and tablecloths into strips for bandages. The injured were being cared for in the farm homes of neighbors.
There also were other injuries at the time of this tragic accident, and more detail about the steam engine explosion. The right rear wheel of the Northwest return flue engine was blown beyond the 15 rods where Mr. Hiram Bergschmidts body was found. The wheel traveled approximately 50 rods from the setting and went through 2 board fences before it hit a stump in the pasture and toppled over into a ditch or a pasture hole. The wheel is believed to still be in its pasture grave. The left rear wheel of the steam engine hit the water tank wagon on that side and it didn't go very far in the tragic explosion. The smoke box and the front part of the engine boiler was blown forward into the side of the bundle stack on which Mr. Heiji S. Oltmanns was standing at the top. He was not injured. His father, Simon (Siebrandt) Oltmanns, who was at the rear of the separator waiting to start stacking the straw was seriously injured by being trampled by run-away horses. He received a head injury which required a steel plate, and other injuries which took a long time to heal. He died in 1916. Edwin Knauss, the young engineer, was blown with the platform of the engine against the opposite bundle stack on which the uncle of Heiji S. Oltmanns was on at the top. The uncle was not injured. Mr. Knauss received burns and injuries in the steam blast, but recovered satisfactorily in time. He lived to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. He died in 1961. Mr. Amos Ehmen, who was to cut the bundle bands the day of the steam engine explosion, was scalded quite badly by steam and hot water, but he recovered satisfactorily in due time. He died in 1961. Mr. Hiram Brass, who was helping at the Bergschmidt farm the morning of the explosion was scaled by the steam and hot water about the chest and legs. After much time he recovered satisfactorily. Mr. Charles Bergschmidt, who was at the farm threshing site that morning was not injured. Charles Luepkes received some injury but recovered in a short time.
Following the tragic steam engine explosion, which occurred on the morning of August 21, 1894, a man by the name of Mr. John Canfield, came with a horsepower threshing outfit that fall and completed the threshing run in the area of the Ebenezer Reformed Church.
This sad, but true historic happening, was told and described in vivid detail by Mr. Heiji S. Oltmanns, at the age of 90, in his families home with his wife, Minnie, and daughter Anna, to George W. Hedtke, and Emil F. Svanda of Davis Junction, Illinois and to Armour Van Briesen of Stillman Valley, Illinois. Hedtke, Svanda and Van Briesen, are working together to compose history stories of happenings in Ogle County, to learn from and for the purpose of future generations to read and learn by.
It is with great regret that this historical article didn't get to the press before the passing away of Mr. Oltmanns, following a brief illness. He died, October 19, 1967, thirty-four days after he related this historical story on September 15, 1967. Other members of his family include: Mrs. Henry (Minnie) Ehmen and Mrs. George (Hazel) Wiltfang, both of Oregon, Illinois.