How Do I Run The Darn Thing?

| July/August 1990

Route 1, Box 54, Princeton, Wisconsin 54968

One can almost hear a prospective thresherman saying, 'Now that I own it, how do I run the darn thing?' Not all who purchased threshing machinery were this naive. In fact, many were very sophisticated mechanics and engineers. A large number of these learned at the knee, so to speak, of a neighbor, uncle, brother or father. A few were out on their own while still in their teens.

Jim Rabas Sr. purchased his first 75 HP Minneapolis engine and separator when only 17 years of age1. Ernest Danielson reported, 'I started threshing when I was sixteen years of age. It was hard for Dad to get help, so Dad put me to hauling water for the steam engine. I hauled water for two years, then Dad put me to running the engine.2 Likewise Victor Gallagher learned from his father. He claimed to have always been a threshing and steam enthusiast. 'I started by helping my father, Frank Gallagher, run his 32 x 56 Huber Superior separator and 20 HP double cylinder Reeves (1919) when I was about 15 or 16 years old.'3 Orville Hendricks began firing a Keck-Gonnerman engine when only eight, which prompted his mother to remark that he cut his teeth on the draw bar. About the same time he tended the blower. Soon he was elevated to water boy, a job that he recalled nearly killed him. One day the regular engineer did not show up for work and Orville took over although he was only fourteen. He admitted, 'I had to lie a little bit, but I got a steam operator's license when I was seventeen.'4

In a recent letter, John Steinkuhl of Evansville, Indiana related how he learned to operate a steam engine. 'Better than a book or pamphlet is directly working with the engineer. We three Steinkuhl brothers, George, Pat and John, were mechanically inclined. North of Darmstadt and Evansville, Indiana and in Gibson County, at the age of 17 years, Joe Broerman had me start hauling water. I helped with the engine and at times Broerman let me run it with his supervision during the whole threshing season. This is how I pretty well learned the procedure. Afterwards my brother George bought an 18 HP Keck-Gonnerman from Charles Bossee. By this time I knew enough about running the engine, and shredded corn at Elberfeld.'5

There were those who possessed insufficient knowledge to manage the machinery they had purchased, and they did not have someone at hand to teach them. Into this category fell those who had been enamored by the sight, sound and fury of the threshing scene, and who as a consequence became easy targets for accomplished salesmen. Perhaps it happened at a county fair where the beauty of the beast and the thought of the prestige of ownership overwhelmed otherwise sensible persons. Some of these men wound up with a new or used rig, probably a mortgage on their real property and a series of notes running as long as three years at six percent interest, or more. Only after their name was on the dotted line did many realize that they did not know how to run a steam engine or a grain separator.

There were several sources of help. By using a combination of these there was no reason why one could not become a successful thresherman.


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