Highland View Farm, Cochranville, Pennsylvania
It was at the Farm Show in Harrisisburg, Pa., in January 1949 that my friend Arthur T. Young of Kinzers, Pa., showed me a copy of the Farm Album Magazine. This was the first I knew that there was a publication such as this. As I looked over its pages the more the long ago began to stir within me, that urge to pull the throttle, the response of the steam going into the cylinder, the monster of steel began to move. Well, it all seemed to come back to me. The more I read the more interesting it got, and the more I dug up my own happy experience with the steam engine.
It was while at home with my father on the farm, near Atglen, Pa., I had my first experience. Father did some threshing for the neighboring farmers, first with the Andes thresher built at Mechanicsburg, (Leola) Pa., a portable engine, but soon got a Peerless which I dared to run sometimes. Well, that's all it took to get me started. Then later, he purchased a used Birdsell and gave me charge of it. To me, that Birdsell was all anyone could wish for, threshing, baling, sawing wood for the neighbors. It was a thrill for me that I have never gotten over.
In the meantime I worked some in the winter months for Fisher and Sellers, Gap, Pa., where they operated an up-to-that-day machine shop. The experience that I got there I never regretted but as time went on I read about the great wheat belts of Kansas and the Northwest and got the urge within me that I wanted to see some of these large threshing outfits that you read about in the Northwest and new frontier country where wheat just grew and grew, acres of it. So some of us young fellows talked about taking a trip out west to see for ourselves.
On February 20, 1954, three of us decided to make the venture. It was David Kauffman, David Hertzler of Morgantown, and myself. They left a few days before I did. I left Lancaster on the Pittsburgh express on the 20th of Feb., 1904. About noon Kauffman boarded the same train at Huntingdon. Our first stop was Orrville, Ohio. We stayed around there about a week then stopped for a few days at Millersburg and at West Liberty, then took the train again to Goshen, Indiana. After a visit to the College we arrived in Chicago, Illinois, on March 21st. We hunted up a Hershey Leaman, formerly of Paradise, Lancaster County, Pa., who now had charge and was Superintendent of the Mennonite Home Mission where we stayed a few days. But he wanted us to see some of the town, so he mustered Abram Eby, also a Lancaster County chap to take us around. He took us to the Stock Yards and slaughter house where we saw meat going into cans at a tremendous rate, or at least we thought so. Other places were the Masonic Temple with its 19 stories, the Montgomery Ward Building with its tower up 305 feet. It was a little hard on the neck looking up but we made it. Then Marshall Field's fine store, and he also showed us where the Iroquois Theatre burned, taking a number of lives, and also did not miss showing us where the J. I. Case headquarters were with the famous steam engine. Well, we also had to see the public library and go through under the river by way of a tunnel then a trip on the rapid transit with its famous loop. The art museum held some wonders for us and we finally wound up at the Pacific Garden Mission and back to Hershey Leamans for the night.
Left Chicago for Kalano, Iowa, on the 23rd. Got there but I was dead broke, no money. Soon found a job on Sam Miller's sawmill, operated by a large steam engine, but I did not have the job as engineer but off-bearer. I stood it for about six weeks or till I had a little money, and we learned that threshing was starting in Oklahoma. And anyway I thought I knew all there was to know tugging away at the heavy green slabs. So on the 14th of April, Hertzler and I left Iowa for Kansas. Kauffman had left about a week previous. Stopped for a night with John Stoltzfus family at Olathe, Kansas, whose brother Gideon was a Bishop in the Millwood Church at home, near Gap, Pa. From there we left next day for Newton, then Hesston, Kansas. There we met up with Kauffman at the home of Chris Hertzler, formerly of Morgantown, and a relative of the one in our group. Wheat was coloring there fast but not ready to cut.
To pass the time we took a hand at digging telephone pole holes where the company was erecting its rural telephone lines, but because of the gumbo, we did not last long at that, at ten cents a hole. Then I soon got a job with Jacob White of near Truesdale, shocking wheat, and such wheat as it was, stood tall as man and jack rabbits running everywhere, but try to catch one. Well, while here anxious for work, it rained nearly every day. Then to pass the time Mr. White had us help him cut cockle burrs out of his corn field. Wading through water with pants rolled up to the knees, and learning that harvesting was on in Nebraska, we took the train August 1st, for Shikley, Neb. While from the train on the way we saw much wheat being cut and threshing going on. We arrived at Shickley where I met my cousin Joe Mast and immediately next day started hauling wheat to the thresher with his team. (By the way, I forgot to say that while in Kansas we did some visiting with Dave Schertz formerly from Morgantown, our home community. He had two threshing outfits. Naturally we had to inspect the outfits and give the tractors a quick once over). But we did not stay long in Nebraska. We were anxious to get to the Dakotas, hoping for a job of our liking.
August we left Schikley for points north, going by the way of Omaha, Sioux City, Salem, Huron, Oakes, where the train which was a mixed one with freight cars and a few passenger coaches with slat seats stopped long enough for us to get off and inspect a few great big gas tractors, the first we ever saw. Next stop was Jamestown then on to Leeds on the Great Northern Railroad. All along this route, hoboes, as they called them were hiking a ride. The train crew would stop occasionally and chase them off but by the time they would get started again many of them were on again going north to the harvest fields. All this was exciting, especially so when the brakeman left his revolver fall and the train had to back until they found it. From Leeds we went to York where we tried to get a place in a hotel but there was no room anywhere. They were having a dance or something going on. We explained our desperate situation to the livery man who was kind enough to allow us to sleep in his hay loft, agreeing that he would drive us out in the country the next morning. Well, morning came at last but there was plenty of whooping and noise about nearly all night.