I am an old steam engineer 73 years young and have been
interested in steam all my life. I came to Graham Co. in 1902, from
Nuckles Co. Nebraska with my folks.
I ran my first engine in 1912, a 10 H.P. Minneapolis pulling a 6
hole corn shelter for my brother, Clint.
I was 18 when I began and in 1913, we hired out to a man by the
name of Lou Dailey, picking up a few jobs over the country as this
was a poor year and not much wheat. This was an Advance 18 H.P.
engine and Aultman-Taylor 32 separator.
Then we began to get the bug to own an outfit. In 1914 there was
a good crop all over the county and we bought a new rig of our own.
This was a 20 H.P. Gaar Scott double cylinder and a 36-60 Rumley
We were out 3 Falls with this rig 1914 -1915 -1916. In 1917 was
a poor year and we left our rig in the shed, and I hired out to a
man by name, Art Wray. We made a short run, finished by
mid-October. He had a 25 H.P. Case engine. On October 31, I married
my neighbor girl, Phila Spelman and we built a house on the farm I
had bought in 1915. Our families were neighbors for 10 years-had
grown up together-always went to the old time parties, church and
Sunday school. We have two daughters, two fine sons-in-law and 6
grand grand children. Will be planning to celebrate our 50 years
together this Fall.
In 1918 I left my wife home to learn to milk the 2 cows
(which she never learned to do well enough to stay in the business,
that was always my job) We took rig to Zurick, in Rooks Co. and
made a run there.
In 1919 we went out with our outfit here at home. It was a wet
year and we were still at it in December when a big snow came. My
brother had bought a garage in Morland, and wanted to quit
threshing. So we sold the rig to a Company of Twelve farmers. They
still wanted me to run the engine, and finished their threshing up
in January 1920. They wanted me to help them that Fall, also in
I always arranged my farm work so I could get out every Fall and
fire some thresherman’s engine, and I always got good wages.
But – when nite come -Where was the bed? A straw stack, a barn, any
building if the weather was bad. Most always had a tent. One night
the tent blew down and it began to rain and we spent the rest of
that night in a country Church.
By then out in this part of Kansas most all farmers used headers
and put the wheat in stacks. Set the separator between two stacks
and used long extension feeders, with three men on each stack with
pitch forks giving all they could get on the forks, and sweat
In 1922 a stranger came to me, ask me if I could run a steam
engine, I said I’d been around one some. So he took me out to
see his 30-90 Case engine and 40 in. Case separator. I said I would
help him. And I run his engine 7 years. This was Roy Thomas, and
one of the best threshers in this part of Kansas. He is now retired
and lives in Topeka, Kansas. I called him last April (1966) when my
wife and I were on a trip down that way. I had not seen him for
about 25 years. When I went to the door he said ‘I’ll be
damned.’ Of course we had a chat, took some pictures and we
started for Hill City.
The last threshing I done was in 1936, in Washington Co. at
Clifton, Kansas. Was there visiting my brother Ernest, who ran a
garage there. One eve he came home, ask me if I wanted to run a
steam engine a few days? I took the job. Jack Berger had a Nichols
Shepard 20 H.P. engine.
I have run other makes of engines on different jobs, but they
have all been coal burners, and I would not lay the shovel down to
let any one show me how to fire with coal. I always used a screen
over the smoke stack on windy days to prevent any cinders from
starting fires. In rainy seasons we would get stuck in low spots
but always managed to get out. And we had fun along with the hard
work. Always had some guy on every crew everyone picked on.
Sometimes ended in a fight.
When we didn’t have a cook shack, we would eat with the
farmers. THEN we found where the good cooks were, and we never left
the table hungry.
I remember one time, came a rain with all 10 men with the cook
shack. We sent the cook into town for 5 gallons of ice cream. That
time we got our fill of ice cream. and left some to spoil.
I always like to visit with old threshers, but not to many left
I have been to Threshers Reunions at Wichita, Kansas two times,
Mount Pleasant, Iowa one year and Bird City, Kansas three different
Meet old threshers from many places with their caps and badges.
Those with engines let me try the levers a little, sometimes back
them around or move them a little.
Mr. Ralph Fuller of Minneapolis, Kansas, was here in 1965 to the
Graham Co. Fair with his two little steamers and a host of displays
he had made, you name it he had it. All interesting.
I enjoy your magazine and all the threshing stories. Hope you
will like mine and can use it.