4253 Mission Blvd., San Diego 9, Calif.
It was the year 1842 when the first Priseler set foot on the now
‘Century Farm’ in northern Illinois. My Great-grandfather,
Joseph, became one of the first settlers in this community, coming
here from Northeast, Pennsylvania. He bought the land from the
government for $1.25 per acre. The Winnebago Indians, for whom the
county is named, were quite numerous in the territory at that time.
This farm has been in the Priseler family ever since, and now my
brother, George E. Priseler, farms the same 200 acres, 3 miles east
of Pecatonica, Illinois.
My grandfather, George W., my father, Jay J., and my brother,
George E., as well as myself, Lee F., were all born on this farm. I
was born in 1911, so I am not really an old timer according to Iron
Man standards, but I still like to recall the ‘good old
There has been a lot of machinery over the years on our farm.
Down through the years, new machinery in the neighborhood was
usually ‘first’ on the Priseler farm, or ‘Century
Farm’, as it became known after the first hundred years.
I heard of horse powers, reapers, steam engines, etc., way back
then. Grandfather George W. ran a sawmill, a Farquhar, powered by
hired steam engines along about 1898. He tried an engine off of a
steamboat, but it did not have power enough. He operated this mill
until 1905, during which time my father must have cussed all
sawmills, because as long as he lived he always said ‘No
One’ could saw a straight board on a sawmill. After
father’s death in 1960, my brother, George E., bought a Corley
#20 mill with a 52′ blade. This mill is powered by a John Deere
3020 Diesel tractor.
The present house on the farm is part of the original house
built in 1844, added to over the years and completely remodeled in
1955. I lived there until 1936 when I joined the U. S. Marine
Corps, coming to San Diego, California, where I still live.
To go back in May 1907 my father, Jay J. Priseler, went to
Peoria, Illinois to buy a used Avery undermounted steam engine, and
a Yellow Fellow separator. The engine had a rusted hole in the
smoke box, which the Avery Company was to fix in time for the
threshing season. Came threshing time, and NO engine arrived. So
Dad took off for Peoria on the train. When he arrived at the Avery
Company, there stood the engine, still with tire rusted hole.
Dad’s temper mounted, and he called off the whole deal, but
before he could get away, the President of the company arrived on
the scene, found out the trouble, and said, ‘Give Mr. Priseler
a new engine for the same price as the used one!’ So Dad came
home the proud owner of a brand new 18 horse undermounted engine
and a 36-60 separator, for the full price of $2300.00. The freight
from Peoria to Rockford was $42.00. Dad had to run the engine 15
miles from Rockford to the farm.
That same fall he bought a Success 8 roll shredder. Took five
years to pay off the whole deal. Times weren’t too prosperous
then at a cent to a cent and one-half per bushel for threshing. Dad
operated the threshing rig for 10 years. By that time brother
George was about 10 or 11 years old and decided, this was for him,
but Dad had other ideas by that time, and sold the threshing
machine and engine over the loud protests of my brother, to George
Anders, Herman Anders, and Herman Theodorff, brothers and
brother-in-law respectively. He received $800.00 for the outfit and
the next year he paid them $100.00 to have them do his
Dad also acquired a Sandwich baler, about two years before he
bought the Avery steamer. At that time he had a Rockford 8 horse
gas engine that he ran the baler with. This particular baler had
egg shaped gears. The egg shaped gears caused a slow packing
stroke, and a quick feeder arm return. Dropping the head blocks
used to separate the bales was quite a knack.
If they were not dropped at just the right time, the plunger
simply ate up the 2′ thick headers. George scrapped this
mechanical genius just about two years before the steam re-unions
started, along with a 12 horse Hercules gas engine, to make room
for more modern farming equipment. This 12 horse Herclues engine
was used on a buzz saw rig. The baler, as well as the engine, was
in perfect condition and he has bemoaned the fact that he wrecked
them ever since the reunions were begun. Dad also sawed a lot of
wood with the 8 horse Rockford engine.
Dad passed away in December, 1960, age 84 years, one of the few
old-timers in the community. Brother George, 4 years older than I,
has kept a spark in me regarding machinery from the time I was big
enough to follow him around. As kids we built buzz saws out of
anything available, including the ends out of a steel barrel,
mandrel of 3/8 rod, and the jack out of a
Montgomery Ward crate, and powered by a Wiel Bros. 1 horse gas
engine. Best part, it worked, making splinters out of shingles and
laths. Later on, he built a drag-saw, besides various buzz
This picture of our Avery Steam engine, after we sold it, with
Herman Theodorff firing it, reminds me of the time the steam gauge
started around the 2nd time. Pop valve stuck, of course. Herman was
just about ready to leave ahead of what he felt sure was to be an
explosion, when Dad showed up, hooked the poker over the relief
valve, letting out as much steam as Herman had built up.
Dad bought a Moline Universal gas tractor in 1918a two cylinder
job. It was the first of any gas tractors around. All the neighbors
viewed it with alarm, but it worked, marvelous, so we thought. Dad
hooked the 2 cyl. Moline direct to the grain binder, and drove it
direct from the seat of the binder. In 1925 he traded the 2 cyl. on
a 4 cyl. Moline, same type with two driving wheels way out front.
In the picture, that’s it with me at the controls, hooked up to
the Sandwich Baler, brother George is on the drawbar. We did custom
baling for the neighbors, in fact the whole community and put an
awful lot of hay through that old Sandwich.
Times change and now the farm is being operated by brother
George with all modern equipment. We speak of modern equipment, but
actually back when the steam engines and related equipment was
being used, it was pretty modern for that day and age.
I now work as an automatic transmission mechanic in San Diego,
California. However, any of us who have lived through the
revolution in machinery still like to reminisce about the ‘good
old days’ and see the old machines restored and in action
again. We like to talk about the ‘good old days’ and all
that happened, but actually we can only remember the good things
that happened, and few there are who would really want to go back
except in memory.