Gerken Family History


| November/December 1990



The engine

RR2 Humboldt, Kansas 66748

One hundred twenty-eight years ago, in 1862, my grandfather H.H. Gerken and his wife came as newlyweds onto the land where I (Junior H. Gerken) now reside. Soon after breaking the sod and establishing the farming operation, Grandfather supplemented his farm-ing operation by building a horse-powered sorghum mill with wooden rollers, and thus began making sorghum molasses for himself and for others in the surrounding area who brought their own cane to the mill to be processed.

About 90 years ago my grandfather purchased a Nichols & Shepard 'Red River Special' horsepower driven threshing unit and also a horsepower driven four-hole Sandwich corn sheller. Grandfather converted this com sheller to belt driven soon after he purchased his first steam traction engine. Thus began a Gerken family tradition and career of custom threshing and corn shelling over a period of almost 60 consecutive years which involved my grandfather and his two sons, L.F. Gerken and H.C. Gerken. H.C. was my father.

The first horsepower threshing unit did not have a mechanical self feeder. The grain had to be fed into the threshing cylinder manually. It also did not have a grain weigher. The grain was measured in half bushel containers from directly out of the auger at the bottom of the shoe, which was the bottom on the separating unit. This first unit also lacked a straw blower (stacker). It had a combination sprocket chain and crossbar device that conveyed the straw and chaff away from the rear of this separator. Grandfather's unit also had what was called a 'katydid' stacker which was set up beneath the first conveyor and then it oscillated back and forth and made a half moon stack of sorts.

My father, H.C. Gerken, was a teenager at this time and he broke into his lifelong career as a thresherman by hand feeding this first horse-power unit. In just a very few years Grandfather abandoned the horse-power concept and purchased his first steam traction engine. Gradually as time went on came the mechanical self feeder, the mechanical grain weigher, and the mechanical straw blower (stacker) as well. About this same time Grandfather purchased a French Burr (Stone Burr) mill and thus began a custom grinding operation of processing wheat into flour and corn into meal for the public of the surrounding area.

In those early years threshing units were comparatively few and far between and so it was not all that unusual that the custom threshing vocation was almost a year around affair. So it was at times with H.H. Gerken and sons during many of their early years. This was made possible by the fact that many farmers stacked their grain, thus making it possible to thresh their grain at most any time of the year, weather permitting.