O. W. Bowen, known as Ora to his friends, is an original steam thresherman. He now makes his home at Woodman, Wisconsin and is 82 years old. He has travelled many miles tending the steamers. He has been a guest engineer at the Jumbro Valley Reunion since the first reunion in 1955.
His favorite engine is the Advance and when he came to the Budenski farm he sort of adopted the Advance 22. Maybe because the first time Robert Budenski became acquainted with Ora he was operating this very engine at Durward Steinmetz's near LaForge, Wisconsin. When Robert purchased the Advance he asked Mr. Bowen if he would like to operate it at the reunion. The answer must have been yes because on Friday before the reunion Mr. Bowen drove into the yard. I promised myself I would some day attempt to put an almost complete threshing history of O. W. Bowen down on paper. His first threshing experience started as many others had - as a band cutter. He then graduated to straw stacker.
However, the item that interested him most was the shiny new Peerless engine. It was in 1911 in Wisconsin that he decided some day he would operate an engine. Since they were stack threshing, his job went well into the winter and Wisconsin winters usually are miserable, but he did get to operate his new side mounted engine near the end of the season.
In 1907 he became a full time engineer on his own rig, a Star manufactured by the C. Aultman Co. of Canton, Ohio. The engine was a top mounted 12 H.P. and powered a 28 x 54 Case separator with 20 bar cylinder in keeping with the year. This separator was hand feed the first season. The second season a Garden City feeder was added. This rig operated a total of 3 seasons in Grant County near Lancaster, Finnimar, Mt. Ida and Mt. Hope and also Woodman. Woodman was very hilly country and with each move the unexpected happened. One particular hill was very steep. He started up the hill with the engine and separator with a team out front. They didn't go very far before it was obvious they would have to make the load lighter, so the loose concaves were removed and the stacker was taken off as it was a slat stacker and easy to remove. They got to the top of the hill with the engine but it took 8 horses to get the separator up. They threshed the setting up there then decided to go down on the other side of the hill which didn't look so steep and it wasn't as rocky. They started down and things went fine until the engine started to skid with the drivers locked in reverse. The engine skidded about 10 ft. and they were going down through the woods and brush when the upper drive wheel came in contact with a stump which was not too high but it was too steep to back up, so they went over the stump with the engine but had to grub the stump to get the separator across. When they got to the bottom of the hill the road was sand and they had to plank across that. They got to the next setting in a reasonable length of time. A few years later a black top was put in the very spot that Ora and the crew had trouble and Ora says that it is a very pleasant drive now.
From the hills of Wisconsin Ora could hear the echo of the tall wheat stories of North Dakota. He went to Dakota for the season of 1922 and from 1926 to 1934 he worked the engines in the wheat fields of North Dakota and operated many engines. Among there were the 22 H.P. Double Port Huron, a double Nichols & Sheppard. His favorite was a 35 H.P. Compound Advance. This big engine powered an equally big separator of the Avery line. It was a 44/64 and had all the proper equipment. It was located near the Canadian border in September shock threshing. On the 20th of September in 1926 it started raining and by 11 o'clock we had to stop as it was too wet. During the night the rain turned to snow and it got very cold. The horses were out in it and were covered with about a foot of snow. Some of the crew quit and the cook happened to be one of them. Ora took what he thought to be a temporary job as cook for 10 men while the weather was bad. It was 3 weeks before the weather cleared up and the crew went to threshing again. Only two of the original crew finished the season. They were O. W. Bowen and the tank man.
Mr. Bowen has experienced firing with straw, wood and coal. The North Dakota and Minnesota threshing was done with straw or coal and much of the Wisconsin threshing was done with wood or coal. In Iowa Mr. Bowen was guest engineer at the Davenport Reunion in 1954 where he operated a 12 H.P. Advance for Justian Hintigen of LaMoote, Iowa. In Illinois he had the honor of operating a Port Huron Compound 19-65 on a saw mill for several days. While in Minnesota Mr. Bowen operated a Minneapolis engine in 1924 threshing using straw to fire with. Since 1955 he has been an engineer at the Jumbro Valley Thresherman Reunion. He has owned a total of five in Wisconsin. They included two Advance 16 H.P. one Compound 21 Advance, one 18 Advance. Rumely and a 12 H.P. Star,
With this colorful career behind him, we sincerely hope O. W. Bowen enjoys many more years of this one time occupation that is now such a grand hobby. Good luck Ora. This was written by Marilyn Trelstad and printed in the Jumbro Valley Threshermen's booklet of 1959.