Loved and Fond Memories

| July/August 1986


Bellwood, Nebraska

Over the years I have wanted to write a story and just never got to it. I am 57 years old and was too young to take part on the great steam rigs that once threshed the grain of this great land that we live in today.

Back in 1947, I bought a 50 HP Case. I met up with a lovely lady and got married in 1950. My father-in-law and his bunch had lost their thresherman. He asked if I would buy a threshing machine and thresh out their ring. I bought a 36-64 all steel Minneapolis, it had a 14 foot Garden City Feeder. I was young and eager to thresh with a steam engine, needless to say I learned a lot the first day. I was pulling a very heavy load and I was determined to make this engine pull this machine. I found out very quickly that you don't carry high water in a Case boiler. I couldn't use the injector, because every time I tried, it would pull the steam pressure down too far, and I needed all the pressure I could get. I used the gear pump and carried the water level at 3/8 to inch from the top of the glass. I had her hooked over in the corner and she was doing all she could.

My Uncle Harold Forney of Surprise, Nebraska, and 11 other farmers had bought a rig of their own, back in 1919. Uncle Harold had run this engine for 15 years. He was my idol. Their rig was a 25-75 Russell, mounted on a universal-butt strap boiler. I grew up beside this engine, rode on it and got to steer it back in 1936. They cut it up in 1940. This grand engine had worn out two Nickels and Shepard separators for them. I just couldn't see why they had to destroy such a fine engine for a few dollars. Because of this, I had a burr under my saddle for 11 years. My uncle could have bought the Russell for a few dollars, but he didn't! Both he and my dad said that back in the late thirties the ax had fallen. The steam rigs were a thing of the past, and the combines were here to stay.

Getting back to my own rig, in late July of 1951, my uncle and a friend of his had heard that I was threshing out northwest of Bellwood, Nebraska. They came down to see how we were getting along. My uncle came up to the engine, looked over at me, smiled and went back to the machine. I saw him step up on the grain wagon, run his hands through the wheat, then he disappeared. I knew where he went though. It wasn't long and I saw him reach behind the sieves, take out some chaff and blow on it. My father-in-law was the separator man, and he and my uncle stood beside the machine and visited for quite some time.

During all this time, the sun had gone under, and there was a big black bank forming in the Northwest. It was coming over fast and the wind had gone down to nothing. The smoke from the stack was going straight up. The steam gauges read 160 lbs. The bundle pitchers were getting in a hurry and had started to lap the bundles in the feeder. The old 50 was sure chewing her cud, but she took it. My uncle had come up to the engine, he stopped and looked up at the smoke box. The paint had all burnt off, both box and stack. I got down off the engine and he said to me, 'Well, kid, I checked you out and you're doing a good job, but you could sure use a bigger engine. You'll burn this little fellow up.' I said to him, 'Uncle, would you just happen to know where I could pick up a h of a good 25-75 Russell?' He said to me, 'Well, no, not now.' As he left, he said, 'You will get done before the storm hits, I'm sure!'