My 1902 Peerless

| May/June 1979

5001 Shiland Drive, Greensboro, North Carolina 27406

In the spring of 1902 the hardworking farm family of Mr. Arelius Vest of White Gate, Virginia purchased a 6 horsepower 'Peerless portable steam engine. It was pulled with oxen over the rough country back roads of southwest Virginia for over a decade threshing in the summer and cutting cord wood in the fall. The territory ranged from Mechanicsburg to Eggleston and at times shortcuts were taken through Big Walker's Creek during dry summer droughts.

The family also had an undertaking business which was self-contained from making their own custom-made caskets to the other necessities of the business. During the hard winter months the engine was put in one end of a large two-story shop and used to pull several woodworking machines connected by line-shafts and flat belts. Intricate special molding was cut by hand and at times special bevel blades were ground for hand planes. The end product seemed to have design, luster and a quality just not found in production work of today.

There are many, many stories that go along with this old engine when it was in its 'hay' day. Here are two that come to mind that were told by one of the sons, Mr. Bob Vest, now 78 years old.

This photo was taken in 1910 on a threshing site on Big Walker Mountain at White Gate, Virginia. The engine was only 8 years old and the old mechanical water pump was still in service. Years later the engine was equipped with a Penberthy injector.

One fall, Mr. A Vest pulled his engine, with oxen, about four miles to my grandfather's farm, Mr. W. T. Miller, to saw hard wood for the winter. The engine was set, leveled and the saw was hand sharpened and belted. The oxen were put in a lot back of the barn and fed and the Vest men folk chose to ride horses home for the night. Bob recalls the whole family being awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a loud disturbance outside their home. After checking, both oxen were back home. To retrack their journey it was found that they had laid down three rail fences (using their horns), opened at least one gate, crossed Big Walker Creek (during high water) at least twice, and climbed a narrow winding mountain trail to return home the same day.