Iron Man BILL VOUK

1 / 13
Bill, third from right, about 1925. His father Frank is on his right.
2 / 13
Bill narrating the parade at the 1987 show.
3 / 13
Bill and Ed Arms with 40-60 Twin City tractor at the fourth show in 1968.
4 / 13
Bill at age 84 with the 80 HP Case engine at the 1995 show.
5 / 13
Bill on ground about 1930; 1930 Minneapolis separator.
6 / 13
Starting the 35 HP Ingeco gas engine at the 1987 show.
7 / 13
Bill at the sawmill feed lever sometime in the 1940s.
8 / 13
Bill on grounds at ''Plow ville USA'' on September 14, 1961. 65 HP Case.
9 / 13
10 / 13
Sometime in the 1940s with a 36'' Huber separator.
11 / 13
Heading out on threshing run, 1954 or '55. 22-36 McCormick Deering tractor and 28'' Huber separator.
12 / 13
Bill with 80 HP Case engine, 1967, at the third show.
13 / 13
Bill on his ''pride and joy'' 80 HP Case engine in 1968, the fourth show.

703 County Road 2 South St. Stephen, Minnesota 56375

W. F. (Bill) Vouk Sr., at 86 years of age, is one of the few men
surviving who actually operated a steam traction engine during the
glory days of steam power. This is the story of his involvement as
a steam engine owner, sawmill operator, thresher man and
showman.

Bill was born May 21st, 1911 to Frank and Regina (Smoley) Vouk
in Brockway Township, Stearns County, Minnesota. His father farmed,
did custom threshing in the surrounding area and custom sawing on
his farm and owned a general store and saloon in what was to become
the village, and later, the City of St. Stephen, Minnesota.

Ever since Bill was old enough, he helped his father on the farm
and with the threshing and sawing. He tells the story of a
horse-team runaway which happened to him, when he was going out to
do some plowing with their J. I. Case foot-lift sulky plow. He was
thrown off the seat and the plow passed over him, one wheel on one
side and the beam on the other.

During Bill’s early childhood, the custom threshing and
sawing were done with a 60 HP Case traction engine. In 1917, his
father bought a new 80 HP Case engine in company with his engineer
at the time, August (Gust) Schuneman. When Gust had to leave for
the World War, Frank bought out his share. In some years, the
threshing run, using a Minneapolis 36′ wooden separator with
wing feeders, lasted for up to 80 days. The sawing, on a #2 Howell
mill, was done for several weeks each spring. When his father died
in January of 1930, Bill, at the age of 18, took over as head of
the family, which consisted of his mother, three older sisters,
four younger sisters, and one younger brother. He continued with
the farming, threshing and sawing and in 1938 went into the auto
repair business in the garage that his father had built in 1927 for
rent to Mr. Schuneman, out of which he also ran a New Idea farm
equipment dealership, selling most of the farmers in the area their
first tractor machinery. After this, the farmland was rented
out.

In 1939, Bill put another threshing rig into operation,
consisting of a 1919 10-ton Holt Caterpillar and a 36′ Huber
steel separator, also with wing feeders. Both this rig and the
steam engine were run that year. After that, the steam and the
Minneapolis separator were retired, although for several years the
steamer was fired up each fall to clean the Caterpillar and
Huber.

Plow ville, USA Melrose, Minnesota, September 1961. Bill is in
the white cap, Gust on engine in coveralls. 65 HP Case purchased
that year and a 32′ Red River Special separator.

In 1948, Bill started his own plumbing and heating business at
which he worked until his retirement in 1976. In 1949, while his
threshing ring was getting smaller due to more rigs in the area,
the roads in the area were beginning to be paved, so Bill replaced
the Cat and 36′ separator with a 1922-36 McCormick-Deering
tractor and a 28′ Huber separator, both on rubber tires. This
rig was used until the last custom threshing run in 1961.

Bill continued sawing with the Caterpillar until about 1953,
when he and Gust decided to get the steamer going again, so they
put it on the sawmill that spring and the next, with Gust as
engineer. After that, the sawing was discontinued due to the lack
of customers.

All of the above-mentioned equipment was retained and stored on
the farm, except the 36′ Huber separator, which he had sold to
Henry P. (Horsepower) Lahr of nearby St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Bill started attending steam shows in the mid-50’s with Gust
and Henry, and in 1961, at the urging of Mr. Lahr, he bought a 65
HP Case engine at the Merle Jones auction in Little Falls,
Minnesota. Also in that year, he was invited to give a
demonstration of steam threshing and plowing, which he did with
this engine, at ‘Plowville, USA,’ the National Plowing
Contest, which was held in Melrose, Minnesota.

All this renewed steam engine activity gave Bill the urge to
fully restore what he now calls his ‘pride and joy,’ the 80
HP Case engine which still sat at its old resting place at the end
of the barn. (See ’80 Years With An 80 Case’ in
IMA Volume 52, Number 2, for the story of this
engine).

In 1965, with the encouragement of his sons, and a
brother-in-law, Val Hlebain, who offered to provide logs to saw and
grain to thresh, and since he had the two steamers and all the
other equipment mentioned including the sawmill, Bill decided to
start the Vouk’s Steam Engine Threshing and Lumber Sawing
Show’ on the old family farm.

In 1966, before the second show, he was able to re-purchase the
36′ Huber separator from Mr. Emil Rosen of Swift Falls,
Minnesota to whom Mr. Lahr had sold it. In the ensuing year,
Bill’s collection of old iron has grown with the acquisition of
an 18 HP Advance-Rumely traction engine; a stationary
four-cylinder, 480 HP Ames steam engine connected to an electric
generator; many more gasoline engines, including a 35 HP Ingeco
weighing six tons; many more gas tractors including a 35-70
Minneapolis, a 40-60 Twin City and a 40-65 Aultman-Taylor, which
were restored with the help of Mr. Ed Arms, who also built a
working model of the 80 HP Case engine, which Bill now owns. He has
also acquired much more antique farm equipment to add to the show,
including a hand-fed Case thresher, purchased from Mr. Lahr; a
26′ John Deere thresher; a Birdsell clover huller; and an
8-bottom John Deere platform plow which was restored in 1995 for
use with the 80 HP Case engine. The afore-mentioned J.I. Case
foot-lift sulky plow has also become part of the show since being
dragged out of the woods and restored in 1996.

Since once again becoming active in the operation of steam
engines, Bill felt, as did some of his friends who owned steam
engines, that the State Boiler Division was being too hard on these
engines, in that the hydrostatic pressure for testing of antique
boilers was then set at double the working pressure. So Bill and
these friends got the State Legislature to change it back to 1
times the working pressure as it had been back when these boilers
were in common use.

This led to the founding in 1978, of the Minnesota Steam Engine
Association with Bill as its first president. This organization
seeks to preserve and protect all types of historic steam engines,
the steam engine hobby and also the steam engine shows, and
promotes the education of engineers in the safe operation and
maintenance of these engines and boilers, so that these historic
artifacts will hopefully always be around with qualified people to
operate them, for the continued education and entertainment of the
public. The organization now has over 250 members in 17 states and
Canada and has been very effective and successful in carrying out
its intended purpose.

During his retirement years Bill has kept busy with the
restoration of tractors and gas engines and keeping other machines
and equipment in good repair for his show. Through the years, he
has narrated the parade at the show, giving the history of each
unit that he owns, which the spectators really enjoy.

Bill’s four sons and four daughters have always helped with
putting on the show, with each in charge of a different aspect of
it. As both the family and the show have grown, Bill’s
sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren have also willingly
taken an active part in putting on the show. Bill, two of his sons,
one nephew and two grandsons hold the lifetime Minnesota Steam
Traction Engineer License, which came into being through the
efforts of the Minnesota Steam Engine Association, so it is obvious
that the love of steam engines has been passed on.

Now in his 88th year, while still involved in the general
supervision of the show, Bill enjoys spending more of his time
visiting with his friends and the visitors who return to the show
year after year, and he takes pride in preserving and sharing with
the public, especially the young people, his collection of working
antique steam and gas engines, tractors and machinery, as well as
his knowledge of past farming and harvest methods, through the
presentation of the Vouk’s Steam Engine Threshing and
Lumber-Sawing Show, always held the last full weekend in September
in St. Stephen, Minnesota.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment