Woodman, Wisconsin

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.

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