Farm Collector

Letting Off Steam

If you’re a regular reader of Steam Traction, you’re familiar with the work of Robert T. Rhode, whose articles have graced these pages for many years.

A professor of English at Northern Kentucky University, Bob has an abiding love of steam traction engines and the history of American agriculture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bob’s interest comes naturally, thanks to his family’s connection to steam in those halcyon days now long past. His father, Joseph, grew up around the Reeves engine that his uncle Charley Cobb ran for a local threshing ring, and his mother, Ida, grew up close to the Keck-Gonnerman factory in Mount Vernon, Ind. As a child, she and her friends would play on the engines parked in the lot of the Keck-Gonnerman factory.

Bob visited his first thresher-men’s reunion at the tender age of 1, when his parents took him and his brother, Charles, to the Central States Threshermen’s Reunion at Pontiac, Ill., which was (and still is) an annual pilgrimage for the Rhode family.

Against this background, Bob tendered a growing interest in steam and agricultural history, which he gradually incorporated into his professional life in academics through his classes on the history of American literature.

In 1993 he penned his first article on steam for Iron-Men Album, “A Reeves Rig in the Steaming Teens,” about the 20 HP Reeves engine that Uncle Charley ran. An original oil painting by Bob, depicting his father as a boy standing in front of the Reeves, with Uncle Charley at the controls and Charley’s wife sitting nearby, ran with the article.

This issue marks Bob’s 100th article on the steam era (“Franklin Flood of 1913,” starting on page 10), 60 of which have appeared in Iron-Men Album and Steam Traction.

“Fourteen years ago, when I sent in my first article on the steam heritage, I couldn’t foresee that I would publish 99 more,” Bob says, “but I’m so glad I did. My publications have opened channels of communications with hundreds of fascinating people involved in steam preservation and restoration, and I’m deeply grateful for the friendships I’ve made.”

We’re grateful, too, Bob, and I know we’re all looking forward to the next 100 articles to come!

Richard Backus



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  • Published on Sep 1, 2007
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