In 1870 my grand father, John Novotny, Sr., sold the farm near
Cedar Rapids, Iowa and made preparation to come to Nebraska with
the entire family. He was at the age of 65, grandmother was 45.
Their children were John Jr. 23, Frank 20, Joseph 18, Terezia 15,
Anton 10 and Charles 8. They rigged two covered wagons to make the
trek of 370 miles. One of these wagons is still in good
preservation at my place. As they preceded west along broad Platte
Valley and then into the hills, there was more and more wild game
deer, antelope, prairie chicken everywhere. All the land was green
and showed signs of great productivity and a great future.
Trying to get established in farming was very difficult. My
grandfather on different occasions tried to borrow money and not
even that could be done. Not even when offered 25% interest. Times
were so hard that some new-comers could not stand the trials and
returned from where they came.
The first serious experience in the fall was when all the
prairie grass was dry, tall and extended as far as the eye could
see. A prairie fire swept the land which with a strong wind
traveled very fast. So barren was the country rendered by these
fires that trees had no chance t c get started; let alone mature.
My father said most of the fires were started by Indians in the
fall, in quest of wild game for their winter supply of meat.
Everything was left in a one vast charred and blackened countryside
and indeed a very sad situation.
In August 1874 another catastrophe over-ran the country. This
time it was grasshoppers (locust). About three o’clock in the
afternoon the sun was hidden by a vast cloud of them coming from
the north and when they descended all vegetation, corn and
As time went on these settlers became hardened and had a better
understanding of the land about them. The land was good and they
believed that the Great American Desert could be tamed and made
liveable. The more prairie there was broken, the more rain there
seemed to be falling. As they say rain follows the plow. More
settlers came and times were improving. My father got a homestead
claim for himself in the year 1883. Here he built a homestead
house. This little building is still in good preservation on my
One great help and surely a step toward progress was when
Novotny brothers purchased a J. I. Case threshing machine in 1873
from Adolf Dworak, J.I. Case dealer in Schuyler, 16 miles south,
which was their closest town. Threshing jobs were in demand by
settlers and the seasons of operating the rig was long. Threshing
season began when grain was in shock and lasted till late fall from
stacked grain, sometimes as late as Christmas. On one late job a
blizzard came and covered the horse-power. Only tips of the levers
or sweeps were sticking out of the snow bank. Moving from one place
to another was a task which my father and uncles often talked
about, with no bridges across the creeks which they had to cross.
Once while crossing a creek the machine sank deep in mud. While
trying to pull it out the rear axle, which is wooden, broke. At
that time there were no hydraulic jacks or any other lifting jacks.
They used blocks and levers. The only thing was to get anew axle
from Schuyler, which took all day. At first only John Jr. and my
father, Frank, operated the outfit but later Joseph, Anton and
Charles went along too. My father, Frank, was the only one staying
with the machine through all the years of its operation. The yearly
earnings amounted to any-where from $700 to $1000.
The machine is 32 in. cylinder, 12 bar, run by Buffalo Pitts
horse-power to which were hitched five teams of of horses they
walking in a circle, generating power which was transmitted to the
threshing proper by tumbling rods. It is estimated that in the 43
years of continual operation of the machine, it threshed about
700,000 bushels of grain. No record was kept but the owners
themselves made the conservative estimate. The spout was placed
between spokes of the hind wheel which could be used on either
side. Grain was spouted into a bushel basket or half bushel when
talley box was used for wheat. All the grain emptied either
directly into a wagon box or into sacks which had to be carried
into a second story bin. This machine did a lot of heavy threshing,
especially if the stacks were not built right and didn’t shed
water and if packed and hard, which was often stacked while wet and
green. This machine threshed fast enough to keep seventeen men
busy. I, myself remember we threshed 1900 bushels of oats in one
day. As for cleaning and saving grain, it did excellent work with
common sieves. One reason why the machine is still in good
condition and could be put into operation if absolutely necessary,
is because every year it was carefully stored and repaired.
Properly oiling on the machinery was never neglected. All the parts
of the machine are the original with the exception of side gear or
bevel gear through which power was delivered to the cylinder and
then to the rest of the machine. Some other small parts were
replaced but two leather belts are the original and were on the
machine every hour of its operation.
I started to work at this machine about 1905, cutting bands
first. As time went on I was allowed to work on the straw pile and
going higher and higher until I got to the front feeding the
machine and tending horses on the Horse Power. In 1912, 1913, 1914
I tended separators for two different operators.
In 1916 my brothers Jaroslav, Frank Charles and I bought a
13-horse cross compound Reeves Engine and 2850 J. I. Case
separator. Then in 1929 we bought a 16-horse Reeves double simple
which we operated until 1941. Because of shortage of water and help
we bought a 22-36 McCormick Deering tractor and threshed until 1958
when the combines took over.
The McCormick binder on my place which my father bought in 1893,
was used 65 years and is still in good running order. In 1958 it
dropped only two untied bundles the last half day. It will be 70
years old in June 1963. Three horses were used to pull this binder.
Later tractor was used. This binder was used for all these years on
this 240 acres farm and did a lot of heavy cutting.
I will not describe other old implements on this place this time
until some later date. We took good care of these implements for
many years and treasure them very highly.
The Novotny family, as pioneers, did their work well. Let us
live their Faith. They brought along with them to the new land the