Carl Mehmke with early harvesting machine, near Great Falls, Montana. [Stemgas photo].
Machinery with which he farmed became the foundation for the extensive steam museum of Walter Mehmke, near Great Falls, Montana.
Walter Mehmke ran a steam threshing business and then farmed until 1957. He then spent full time with his hobby, until about four years ago, when he became ill. The museum is kept going by his wife. His son, Carl, helps her.
We visited the museum this past summer with our brother-in-law and sister-in-law, John and Betty Gordon, of Cascade.
The museum is open throughout the year, with 19 or 20 steamers, all in a row, plus a lot of gas tractors, and innumerable other pieces of equipment and farm and ranch memorabilia on a multi-acre tract.
All the steamers are operable. They include Case, Reeves, Ault-man-Taylor, Avery, Garr-Scott, Minneapolis, and others.
'The 210 Case, the Number One engine in our line,' says Carl, 'is the one my Dad started farming with, plowing up sod about 1925. He was raised in Belt, east of here and threshed in the country quite a few years before starting to farm.
'In 1925 he started threshing here for the Boyle Land Co. They wanted him to take some land to farm. He passed it up for a couple of years, then accepted their offer.
'They built a set of buildings, including a new home, and provided all the land he wanted, if he would farm it.
'He kept his own Case Engine and never sold it or cut it up for junk. In 1953, we had quite a flood here. One ranch had a 15 HP Case. He got it for bringing it home, out of the flood debris. He got some machines just for the hauling.'
The Mehmkes wish to keep the collection intact. They add to it every so often. Friends help steam up the big machines.
One of the exhibits that attracts a lot of attention is an old Shay engine and a passenger car, on a rise above the main museum area.
The main exhibit building contains many items of old-time farming. Here can be seen paintings by Lawrence N. Venohr, a friend of the family, who paints old-time threshing scenes.
Carl Mehmke is quite a collector himself. Next to his home, on the wheat farm near the museum, he has a building that contains old iron seats, and old cars.
On the walls are about 220 cast iron seats; of these, 180 have completely different names. The rest are duplicates.
He also has two Studebakers, and a Ford Model T. There is also a 1912 Packard dump truck, which was used in the Butte mines.