Iron Man BILL VOUK


| September/October 1998



Bill

Bill, third from right, about 1925. His father Frank is on his right.

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.