Route 2, Box 325B, Linn, Missouri 65051
It’s a long way from Tucumcari, New Mexico to southern
Nebraska. On today’s road system it’s about 500 miles. My
maternal grandfather John W. Cole took his Case steam engine and
threshing crew overland following the harvest season north in 1915.
He purchased his threshing outfit from J. I. Case Threshing Machine
Company at Amarillo, Texas in June of 1914. Grandfather mortgaged
his homestead in southwestern Quay
County, New Mexico, to obtain the funds to buy the outfit. He
probably threshed around the Tucumcari-Amarillo area in 1914.
In search of work he took the threshing machine north, as the
harvest season began in 1915. The paper trail shows he worked
around Liberal, Kansas, for awhile. The end of the season found him
at Stamford, Nebraska. At Stamford he worked in construction,
having previous carpenter and contracting experience in Texas.
John W. Cole, on the motorcycle, with his threshing crew. The
picture was taken in 1916 at Atwood, Kansas. Harley-Davidson had
been making motorcycles for six years when this picture was taken.
Is it a Harley? What model Case steam engine is it?
My grandmother stayed on the New Mexico homestead with the
children, watching after the livestock. He sent word for her to
join him in Nebraska. She sold the cattle and traveled by team and
wagon from Tucumcari to Stamford. The wagon had a canvas top and my
mother told how grandmother would roll up the sides of the canvas
to get a breeze through the wagon for the children. My mother was
six years old at the time. She told how the wagon bed was two
boards high. She and her twin sister were just tall enough to see
over the top board.
This grand old picture of an unidentified threshing crew was
found in my father’s things. I’m guessing it was taken on
land formally owned by my grandfather, John M. Ryan, near Goodland
in Sherman County, Kansas. The lesson here is, mark those pictures
for posterity! Write on the back, names, dates and place.
In 1917 the family purchased a house at St. Francis in Cheyenne
County, Kansas, and my grandfather Cole worked on the construction
of a Catholic church at Herndon, Kansas.
He traded his threshing rig for an interest in a blacksmith and
machine shop in St. Francis about 1918. A July, 1919, news item in
the St. Francis Herald says that: ‘Misters Cole and Johnson
recently made a trip to Omaha and made a lot of purchases for the
shop. You can go quite a ways before you find another machine shop
with so much heavy, expensive machinery.’
A patent application drawing of the Cole subsurface weeder. It
was the prototype of the large machines in use in the dry land
farming areas today.
The family version, told over the years, is that John W. Cole
traded his homestead in New Mexico for the threshing rig. A
research of the Quay County records shows that the J. I. Case
Company foreclosed on the homestead after a default in payment.
Such are the fortunes of the entrepreneur.
More by coincidence than by design, forty six years later, I
followed the same harvest route as my grandfather. I began at
Vernon, Texas, in May of 1961, on the Waggoner Ranch with Norman
Hamm’s Hammtown combine caravan and progressed north through
the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and across Kansas and Nebraska.
We finished the season on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South
Dakota. An interesting observation is that my grandfather used a
motorcycle to travel ahead and set up threshing jobs. Hammtown
sometimes used a light plane to travel ahead and contract work for
their ten-combine outfit.
The June 1918 issue of The American Thresherman and Farm
Power, in the correspondence section, notes that threshing
machines were abundant in southern Nebraska. That may have
influenced grandfather’s decision to trade his threshing
outfit. It’s interesting to note that the same issue quoted
per-bushel threshing prices at four cents for oats, wheat five to
six cents and rye seven cents.
John Cole went on to make several inventions in his machine
shop. Most notable was a dry-land tillage tool that incorporated
sharpened V-shaped sweeps to cut vegetation off just below the
surface of the soil leaving the residue on top as a mulch to
conserve valuable moisture. He took his machine to Chicago and sold
his patent to a Canadian manufacturer. Those city fellows were just
too sharp for the Tennessee mountain boy and he realized very
little profit for his invention. Modern variations of the machine
are in use today all over the western section of the United
Other inventions included a device to allow automobile
headlights to turn with the front wheels. Fender recessed
headlights soon made that device obsolete. He invented a chain
hoist lift to raise autos for servicing. It too, lost out to the
fast, simple, hydraulic lift we know today.
One story treasured by the family over the years, tells of
grandfather Cole’s meeting with famed airman Charles
I followed my grandfather Cole’s 1915 harvest route with the
Hammtown Harvest Crew in 1961. The picture was taken near Perryton,
Lindbergh was flying out of a barn on the wheat farm of
‘Banty’ Rogers near Bird City, Kansas, in the early 1920s.
He crash landed his plane in the vicinity of Beechers Island,
Colorado. The plane nosed over and broke the wooden propeller. In
his book We, Lindbergh tells that breaking the prop in this manner
was a fairly common occurrence.
The first subsurface weeder and summerfal-low machine built in
Cole’s shop was demonstrated on the Mike Pontius farm in
Sherman County, Kansas.
Lindbergh took the broken prop off and caught a ride into St.
Francis on a farmer’s truck. Grandfather took down a piece of
seasoned ash, and he and Lindbergh fashioned a new prop using the
broken one as a pattern.
I recently asked my Uncle Art Cole, of Exeter, California, about
it. Art verifies the story, saying he was a youngster at the time.
He remembers riding back to the airplane in Grandfather’s old
Dodge touring car with the prop and the skinny young airman. He
notes that he didn’t realize that it was Lindbergh until years
Grandfather Cole sold his blacksmith and machine shop in the
1930s. He dabbled in raising wheat and prospected in Arizona. He
returned to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to live out his