UNION ClTY, INDIANA.
It’s not always strictly a ‘MAN’S world’ at
these threshing reunion shindigs. Like Bob Hughes and wife, Marge,
who I sort of sneaked up on and caught with my old camera during
the 25th anniversary of The Pioneer Engineers Club at Rushville,
Twilight was already well spent and the evening shadows were
gathering – a very poor time to take a picture underneath the
canopy of a steam engine. But the steady, rhythmic bark of the old
Keck-Gonnerman was so tantalizing I couldn’t resist and found
myself winding my way nearer and nearer among the engines at the
bottom of the big hill until my ears told me where it was coming
There they were – Bob Hughes handling throttle and shoveling
black diamonds into the gaping fire-box door, while Marge was
basking in the glory of hubby’s hobby from her perch on the
right hand seat of the pulsating deck of ‘OLD KECK’. It was
one of those reassuring sights of man wife enjoying the same things
– a factor we call ‘togetherness’, the very important
ingredient that makes for marital bliss and never winds up in a
True, Bob is the more blustery and talkative type, willing to
please and hard-working, while Marge is more quiet. But when the
big Keck begins barking they both listen to the ‘talking of the
stack’, and the whirring of the big fan at the far end of the
long leather belt.
‘What’s he doing now, Mr. Hughes?’, yelled I, trying
to out bark the belching stack.
To which shouted Bob, loud enough to be heard, ‘About fifty.
But she’ll do a lot more.’
Now and then a few bright sparks would shoot skyward, rising to
new brilliance then, dimming, fall harmlessly to the ground – a
sight which showed up in the evening sky and lent suggestions that
possibly Bob Hughes and some of the others might become inspired to
venting their stacks with a spark show that night. Which they did,
to the delight of all.
After Bob Hughes had worked off his steam with the
Keck-Gonnerman and unbelted it from the Baker Fan, he was satisfied
to sit down and rest a spell and tell his yarn. And all yarns, spun
in an aroma of hot cylinder oil and coal smoke wafting on the
evening breeze beside a sputtering steam boiler, have a way of
lending special auras of romanticism to the tales.
‘It’s a wonder the town people don’t chase me out of
Bloomington, (Ind.,)’ said Hughes, laughing at his own dilemma
of having so many tractors and engines within the village
‘I built me a free-lance, third-scale model steam engine in
my town workshop,’ he went on. ‘I picked the things I liked
best of all the engines I’d seen and built it that way. I built
a Marsh Reverse Gear, like the Advance Rumely has. And I kind of
like the tall dome on the old Peerless – I used to run a Peerless –
so I put a dome like that on it.’
‘Then it’s rear-mounted like a Case,’ explained Bob.
‘I made it from scratch.’
Hughes says he saw a similar model built that way about twelve
years ago at a show and he liked it. But they wanted $3500 for it
way back then. So he just up and hunted all the junk he could
gather together and made one.
‘They still might run me out o’ town – the stuff
I’ve got,’ he chuckled. ‘I’ve got a 12-20 Rumely
Oil-Pull – one of the little heavy weights. Also an 18-36 Hart Parr
– a good one! And a model three-head block sawmill, one-half scale,
which I made from scratch. I made everything but the sawblade.
It’s the one that Paul Cole pulls with his little Baker
‘I have a 25-50 Keck-Gonnerman Gas Tractor, a B-R John Deere
– a rare one which the farmer who owned it called his ‘mountain
goat’,’ laughed Bob. ‘I tried and tried to buy it, but
the farmer wouldn’t sell it. Then one day he came and told me
he’d sold his farm and that he was giving me the tractor. He
evern hauled it to me and unloaded it without me being there.’
(How’s that for a gift dropped on your door step?)
In addition, Bob Hughes has a 1930 Avery Tractor with lateral
steering and variable width, complete with even the Bull Dog cast
on the front of the radiator. And still that’s not all this
‘town feller’ has around his town buildings and residential
yard. For there is the 22-36 Red River Special Separator, a set of
old stone buhrs which are mounted on steel farm wagons, an old John
Deere Corn Sheller, an antique half-horse gas engine, a restored
1932 GP John Deere and a model portable steam engine – to name a
‘Now you see why they still may run me out of
Bloomington,’ laughs the hearty Bob Hughes who has been living
all this time in such fears and seems to like it. (And so do the
bloomin’ Bloomingtonites, you can betcha.)
‘I was raised on a farm in Monroe County, Indiana,’
reminisced Hughes. ‘I was always around threshing machines and
sawmills. Dad did threshing and sawing – two at a time, before my
time around in the Martinsville, Ind, area. He even operated a core
‘When I was growing up, I helped Dad one year threshing with
steam, and one year threshing with gas,’ ‘minded Hughes.
‘Then I went to work as a mechanic in a stone quarry. I wanted
to quit, and go into shop work, but they treated me so nice I just
stayed and I’m still there.’
‘I still repair channel machines, fork-lifts, trucks and
cranes, tractors – do about all the machine work, including that on
frictions, like in a clutch,’ says he.
Speaking of the Keck-Gonnerman (his first love – next to wife,
Marge, of course), recalls Iron-Man Bob Hughes, ‘I got the Keck
in October of 1972, three miles east of me where it was setting in
a big barn. I had helped to put new flues and water tanks and a new
cab on it seven years ago. I brought it home, tore it down in my
backyard. All I had to do was re-work the valve gear and governors,
then clean and paint it.’
‘I traveled a lot, trying to find the right striping, and
get dimensions for re-building the platform,’ explains Hughes.
‘Went to Loogootee, Ind., fifty miles away, to get the right
dimensions for the platform. For the striping, I found a fellow who
had two Keck catalogs, and borrowed one and hunted old men who told
me how it should be.’
Although Bob Hughes has brought his Hart Parr and Rumely
Oil-Pull to the Rushville, Ind., show for the past four or five
years, this was the first showing of his Keck-Gonnerman.
‘I like steam the best and the OilPull next,’ is the way
Bob Hughes puts his engine-tractor affections. ‘But Marge likes
the old Hart-Parr the best.’
And after Marge finally spoke her piece, we now know why. For
the Hart-Parr Tractor took lots ‘n lots of ‘loving
care’ from both Bob and Marge before it got back together
‘The Hart-Parr was the first tractor we fixed together,’
says the reticent but lovely Marge. ‘We hauled it in here in
four or five loads of parts and dumped it. We worked five weeks,
every evening after Bob got home from work ’til after midnight.
Finally we painted it and got it finished one night at ten
o’clock, then made a tape recording of it and phoned the fellow
who had owned it and played it back for him. Of course he knew
right away what it was. How surprised he must have been that we got
all that back together in so short a time, and running.’
‘We made it just in time to take to the Rushville show,
seven years ago,’ said Marge.
But the most challenging of all of Bob Hughes’ engineering
expertise had to be conjured up on the old Rumely Oil-Pull which he
found in Michigan, some years ago.
‘The biggest part of it was gone,’ explains Hughes.
‘No piston pins, cam bearings, front end, and no fenders. It
had a truck front-end and short ‘pc’ fender for curve. The
fellow who hauled it in was asked if he was a ‘junk
dealer’,” laughs our Iron Man.
Bob Hughes had to make many parts for the old Rumely O.P.
‘I went to a tin man in town and got the curve for the
making of the fenders,’ says our hero. Then, with a look of
mirth in his brown eyes, he went on, ‘I called a man in
Michigan and he’d measure parts on his Rumely and even draw
around some of them and he’d send me the pattern and I made
‘Even the four-foot crank, he drew around it, and sent the
drawing and I made one. I’ve saved every pattern and bill in
rebuilding the Rumely,’ laughs Hughes. ‘We got the prize as
best-restored tractor for it last year at the Rushville
Bob and Marge Hughes have two daughters, four grandchildren and
one very interested son-in-law who took the old Hart-Parr to the
Rushville Show this summer.
‘Our son-in-law is an expert cabinet-maker, but we told him
he should get himself a tractor, and he agrees,’ says Marge.
‘We are fortunate our kids live on each side of us in the same
‘Some say this engine or that tractor is the best, but I
like ’em all,’ sums up Iron Man Bob Hughes.
To him all steam engines are ‘beautiful’ – and all
tractors next best, even if he doesn’t always get his in the
usually accepted manner of the buyerdealer swapper relationship.
Nor is Bob Hughes’ timing always in perfect chronological order
when it comes to engine-tractor acquisition.
Such as, ‘I got this Keck-Gonnerman watch fob and wore it
first, then I got the Keck-Gonnerman.’ says he.
And, even if some of his best models and nicest-performing
engines and-or tractors do happen to arrive as ‘basket
cases’ or have to be scrounged out of junkyards and ‘built
from scratch’, we admire you (and Marge) all the more for
Which is why we are reserving a special box seat for the two of
you, Bob and Marge, in our Hall of Iron Man (and Woman) Fame. Just
give two toots on the old whistle cord and we’ll open wide the
gates so you both can ride right in on the swayin’ deck of