OLD THRESHERS at 34

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The ''Engine of the Year'', an 18 horse under-mounted Avery, owned by Henry Oswald of Monmoth, Illinois.
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Billy Byrd of Madisonville, Kentucky, operating Milo Mathew's Nichols and Shepard Double engine.
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A rather unusual engine, a Westinghouse built in 1900 and owned by Marc Lamoreaux of Waterville, Kansas.
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Henry Oswald and Darlene Glidewell beside Darlene's quilt depicting Henry's ''Engine of the Year''.
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An Advance-Rumely making beautiful stack music pulling a sawmill on the back lot of the reunion grounds.

10022 Mornice Avenue, Tujunga, California 91042

They say that a criminal always returns to the scene of his
crime, and I had that feeling as I pulled into Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
last August for the big steam and gas engine reunion. Of course the
last time I was there I didn’t rob a bank or get put in jail
for kicking the town marshall’s dog, so I didn’t qualify
for the criminal part. But I just couldn’t resist coming back
again to look things over.

This whole thing started three years ago when I was back East on
vacation. Having a few days to spare I journeyed up to Mt. Pleasant
to take in the show. It was a wonderful experience in every way and
I enjoyed myself to the fullest. Saw a lot of equipment that was
used on the farms when I was a kid and met many of the people who
were exhibiting their machinery. One of the most colorful
characters there was Henry Oswald of Monmouth, Illinois. Henry, who
has an under-mounted Avery, would make a good addition to any
Chamber of Commerce welcoming committee. He took me under his wing
and made my visit more enjoyable than ever, showing me around the
place and introducing me to many of the men and their engines.

So last spring, the time of the year when a feller normally gets
itchy feet, I decided to come back and see the 34th running of the
Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers reunion. I wrote to Henry,
telling him of my plans and he was quick to answer back, giving me
the good news that his Avery had been chosen the ‘Engine of the
Year’ and suggested that I come back a few days early and see
the operation of getting the engines serviced and shined up for the
big show. So packing my gear in the old Jalopy, I left California
and headed for Mt. Pleasant.

Before I left home I contacted Edna Wright regarding a place to
stay. Edna handles the placing of visitors to the reunion who want
rooms in town, so she was my logical contact. She answered back
that she could put me up in her house as she had eight or more beds
available, thereby solving my sleeping problem. She has a card file
of all the sleeping rooms available in Mt. Pleasant and can put as
many as four hundred people to bed every night. Her husband,
Everett, runs the steam flea market out at the show, so between
them they contribute an awful lot to the success of the meet. I
found this to be true with most of the people I met in Mt.
Pleasant. Ready to do their part to keep the reunion alive and
flourishing, thereby preserving an operating history of farming as
it was many years ago.

I arrived on Sunday morning and on going out to the grounds,
found things pretty much as I remembered it from three years ago.
Steam engines lined up, the gas tractor section rapidly filling and
the gasoline section jumping with activity along with a lot of
popping and banging as the old one-lungers were being coaxed back
to life. All in all it looked as though a lot was about to
happen.

I found Henry standing with his thumbs in his bib overalls
admiring the old Avery. Seems he had enlisted the aid of a very
personable young man, Bill Allen, to be his understudy and Bill was
doing his best to prove that he was ‘gonna be an engineer some
day’. He had his paint brush out and was giving the old girl a
fresh coat of black paint, painting one side one day and the other
side the next. His excuse for not painting the whole engine all at
once was that the sun wasn’t right, but I think the fact that
there was a pretty girl or two strolling by might have also
influenced his thinking.

Henry was glad to see me, giving me a first hand tour of the
area and introducing me to a bunch of the old steam men. Some
weren’t there this time, the ranks do thin from year to year,
but most of the old gang that I had met three years ago were still
around.

Henry had gotten something in his eye the day before and he was
complaining of it hurting a bit. So Monday he was prevailed upon to
go to a doctor and have a patch put on it as a precaution against
infection. So during the show Henry had a bit of status as the only
one-eyed engineer in the business.

After three days of preparations, including minor repairs,
hydrostatic testing of the boilers, painting and general polishing
of brass, everything was ready to go. I had brought with me from
California a rather large whistle which had been salvaged from a
scrapped locomotive. Henry said, ‘Let’s put her on and see
if it will blow on 100 pounds of steam.’ So Bill got out his
biggest wrenches and we mounted it on top of the boiler, tied a
rope to the monkey tail, gave a yank and woke up the whole
neighborhood. Sounded real good and Henry was tickled pink and blew
it every chance he got.

These steam engines must, of course, operate under the rules of
the state regarding inspections and the amount of pressure to be
carried. With a lap seam boiler, which is what the Avery has,
pressure is limited to 100 pounds, while some of the other engines
have a butt strap type boiler and they can carry a higher pressure,
125 to 150 pounds, I believe. Safety is the watchword here, the
same as anywhere else where steam boilers are used and these
engines are subjected to the most rigid inspection before they are
allowed to be steamed up and certain restrictions must be placed on
them because of design, construction, age, etc. And rightly so, for
the safety of everyone concerned.

Model of an under-mounted Avery, built by the late Jack Earles
and exhibited by his nephew, Bill Keating of Wheeling,
Illinois.

Thursday morning the gates were thrown open and the crowd
started streaming in. I am told that a total of over 200,000 people
attended this event in the five days it ran. Coming from all over
the country, they arrive by car, train (Amtrak goes thru town),
airplane and I even saw some coming in on bicycles. A few horses
and buggies and even a spring wagon or two. Parking facilities were
provided for 3900 trailers, campers and motor homes and they were
completely filled. It is amazing the interest that is shown in a
reunion of this type.

Every day at noon the ‘Whistle blow’ takes place over in
the steam section. On signal from the director, every engineer
pulls the whistle cord and a very discordant but beautiful sound
fills the air. And when I say it fills the air, it does just that.
Remember how the blast of the threshing machine whistle used to
make you jump out of your britches. Well, multiply that by fifty or
sixty and you get an idea of what the whistle blow sounds like.
Just about as pretty a sound as you ever heard.

After the whistle blow is the Cavalcade of Power. This consists
of a parade around the track past the grandstand of anything that
will move, starting with the horse-drawn vehicles, the old cars,
then the tractors, then miniature engines, and lastly, the full
size engines. I was fortunate in hitching a ride on the big 40
horse Avery with Leon Force at the controls on one of the parades
and it was quite an experience. To say it was noisy is putting it
rather mildly. A mallet locomotive going thru Moffat tunnel
wouldn’t make more racket. I think Leon did it on purpose just
for my benefit.

Meeting and talking to the people there was almost as
interesting as seeing all the machinery. There was E. G. Dugan, for
instance. Mr. Dugan is 86 years old, owns a return flue Avery, and
has been here every year for 34 years. He has seen the reunion grow
from the first get together under a shade tree with six men and two
engines to its present size. Then there are Wes and Darlene
Glidewell, of whom we will have a bit more to say later. And we
mustn’t forget Billy Byrd, the L & N Railroad engineer, who
came along with his friend, Sid Lovings, from Madisonville,
Kentucky just to be part of the show. Billy owns a Nichols and
Shepard traction engine and has already gained a bit of fame by
appearing on a TV show a couple of months ago. Henry had told me
that Billy had promised to be there so we kept looking for him and
sure enough about Wednesday or Thursday he and Sid showed up,
raring to go. Milo Mathews had a Nichols and Shepard on the line so
he pleaded with Billy to run his engine. With characteristic
Kentucky humility, Billy twisted and turned, digging his toe into
the ground, but after a suitable interval of time, he agreed to
take the engine. You’d better believe old Billy wouldn’t
have had it any other way. A fine man on a fine engine.

Of course most of the men there with engines were older men, but
also there were a number of younger guys who are learning the ropes
and doing a fine job of it. I have already mentioned Henry’s
helper, Bill Allen, and so I think I should say a word or two about
another fine young man named Kim Graham. Kim is from West Branch,
Iowa and is the proud owner of a homemade engine, built with a Case
boiler and some sort of a 40 horse engine under-mounted and the
whole thing on rubber. Looks like a plumber’s nightmare, but it
runs and Kim is mighty proud of it. Kim has one other love that I
know of and that is steam calliopes. He has built several and can
play them as good as he builds them. Sure gave the show an old time
flavor to hear the calliope music drifting across the grounds.

A bunch of ‘The good old Boys’ in the shade of the old
Avery. Top row, left to right: Bill Allen, Henry Oswald, Sid
Loving, Billy Byrd, Gene Morris. Bottom row, left to right:
Henry’s son-in-law and daughter Max and Barbara Biddle, Jay
Sigafoose.

Kim also showed his prowess as an engineer one evening. Bill
Allen had been running the old Avery around the grounds and having
some fun and as he brought her back to her stall he let the fire
die down and the steam pressure drop. But miscalculated a bit and
by the time he got to the stall, he found he didn’t have enough
pressure to back up a slight grade. He was about to give up when
Kim happened along and said, ‘Let me have her, I’ll put her
in’. He pulled forward a few feet, threw her in reverse and
poured the coal to her. The old Avery gave a jump backwards, up the
little grade she went and into the stall, right on target. Bill
shook his head, closed his mouth and walked away, figuring, I
guess, that he learned something today.

And last but by no means least there was Lyle Hoffmaster and his
two lovely daughters, Ann and Joyce with their 16 HP Reeves. The
engine is a beauty and is shined up like a new one, and was made
doubly attractive by one or both girls operating it. They are truly
wonderful girls, both are in college and are studying to be
pharmacists. Lyle may very well be proud of them. I made it a point
to get all three of them, plus the engine, in a nice picture, but
unfortunately my camera balked and I drew a blank. Perhaps it was
Lyle that broke the camera, but I think I just ran out of film.

One day Henry said he had a surprise to show me. He took me over
to a beautiful motor home and introduced me to a wonderful couple,
Wes and Darlene Glidewell of Dixon, Iowa. Wes is a model builder
and has an exhibit of steam models in one of the museum buildings
while Darlene had made a beautiful quilt especially for the meet
with a picture of Henry’s engine embroidered on it. This was a
real thrill for Henry and rightly so because it was truly a
wonderful piece of work. Darlene has committed herself to making
one of these masterpieces every year, honoring the engine of the
year. Another example of the selfless dedication of those wonderful
people to the betterment of the show.

As a final tribute to Henry and his engine, Bill Keating of
Wheeling, Illinois brought over and displayed a model of an
under-mounted Avery similar to Henry’s engine. This model was
built in 1978 by Bill’s uncle Jack Earles, who was a steam man
and a model builder all his life but passed away last February at
the age of 84 years. He has left us, but his handiwork lives on to
give pleasure to those who take time to care.

Finally, Saturday night came and it was time to go. I would have
stayed the remaining two days but I had made previous commitments
in Kentucky where I had grown up, and had promised to be there for
a couple of reunions of my own. So with great reluctance I bade
good by to the old gang, wound up the clock spring on the old
jalopy, and headed out of town, secure in the knowledge that no
matter what, we’re gonna have a reunion again next year, and
the next, and the next. With guys like Milo Mathews, Neil McClure,
Gene Morris, Billy Byrd, Bill Allen and Henry, you just can’t
miss.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment