In the January/February 1999 IMA, we published a center
spread photograph from an unidentified negative in our files,
asking if anyone could tell us about it. We soon heard from Junior
H. Gerken, 481 – 1800 St., Humboldt, Kansas 66478, who knew this
about it was his! Mr. Gerken also provided a wealth of information
about the wonderfully-documented photo, which has hung on the wall
of the Gerken home since about the time he was born (he’s now
past 78 years), and a copy of which, along with a richly detailed
description (excerpted below), has been displayed for several years
in the local museum at Humboldt.
Harvest Time August 1919
Threshing time in Allen County was a big and gala event. The
threshing crew would move in, and they would stay until the job had
This picture was taken the last week of August 1919, on the
Henrichs estate farm, just southeast of Humboldt, where the Orange
Michael family, who raised this crop, lived for 17 years. Orange
and his sons Oren, Fay and Bill had rented farm ground all around
them and it was planted in wheat.
The threshing machine, a Nichols and Shepard 32×52 Red River
Special, and the steam engine, a 20 HP Buffalo Pitts, were owned by
the Gerken brothers, L.F. Gerken and H.C. Gerken. The Gerkens
harvested 3,826 bushels of wheat and 1,497 bushels of oats.
It was necessary to change the setting of the engine and
threshing machine several times because of the direction of the
wind. At the left side of the picture in the horse and buggy are
William Michael and Leona (Michael) Lassman. Helen (Michael)
Poll-man is on the horse hitched to the buggy. These three hauled
water for the field crew. The water for the threshing crew was kept
in the wooden barrel on the sled just at the right of the engine.
Next, on the box wagon, is Bert Matlock.
The next wagon in the foreground is the water wagon which hauled
the water for the steam engine. H.C. Gerken, the engineman, is
seated on the left coal bunker, and Fred Hottenstein, who hauled
the water for the engine, is seated on the right coal bunker. Fay
Michael is leaning against the belt wheel of the engine, and Martin
Mueller is standing in the belt wheel. Oren Michael is sitting on
top of the right drive wheel of the engine. William Burtch is
standing near the front wheel of the engine with a fork in his
hand. Two unidentified neighbors are behind him.
The man standing at the right of the barrel is one of the Achter
brothers. The next man is ‘Pokey’ Stewart. The man next to
him with the fork in his hand is Edward Stewart. The next five men
are Ted Johnson, Hiram Nourse, Frank Matlock, Henry Sare (with the
fork in his hand), and Virgil Nance.
L.F. Gerken, the separator man, is standing on the feeder of the
separator, just in front of the middle straw stack. To the right of
the threshing machine is the bundle wagon with Florian
Orange Michael and Charles A. Hess are standing in front of a
4-cyl-inder Buick which belonged to Charles A. Hess. Sitting in the
front seat of the Oakland touring car is Hazel (Michael) Frederick.
Mrs. Orange Michael and Josephine (Michael) Mueller are in the back
seat. These three women served as cooks for the crew.
As of June 1998 there are no living members of this group. The
original picture was taken by a panoramic camera mounted on a flat
trailer by Gibson Studio, Iola, Kansas.
Mr. Gerken also provided some additional information. The 20 HP
Buffalo Pitts side mounted single cylinder engine was built with an
over size Canadian type boiler with 2 inch inside diameter flues,
as compared to most 20 HP engines with 2 inch i.d. flues. His
father used to say the engine really fired easy, and handled the
load of the Nichols and Shepard 32×52 separator with ease. The
separator in the photo shows a Ruth feeder. It replaced the
Universal feeder that was on the separator when it was purchased
new in 1918. Both these feeders were not entirely satisfactory. The
Gerken brothers both knew how a threshing cylinder should be
properly fed from their experience at hand feeding before self
feeders were used. So in 1920 they purchased a Garden City feeder,
which did an excellent job of feeding through the years. You can
see the Garden City feeder in the color photos on the back cover of
the November/December 1990 issue of IMA.
Gerken notes that this is exactly the way the unit, which also
has a Simplex grain weigher, looks today after 81 years.