BILL HEY AND 1910 PEERLESS . . . a wheat-threshing team of early-day Kansas
Once the work master of 28 men, a 1910 Peerless steam engine has become a lesson in history for children visiting the World Food Fair.
The 50-year-old engine, owned by Bill Hey of Baldwin, is attached to a 'not-so-old' thresher and is a center of interest to fair visitors.
It has the old-fashioned charm of a pot-bellied stove, the voice of a wildcat and the speed of a tortoise.
It took at least 28 men to keep the steam engine, thresher and a binder operating in early days of mechanized farming. Hey explained.
'We'd cut the wheat with the binder, shock it up in the field and haul it to the thresher in wagons. We had to have about eight bundle wagons with drivers, four drivers to haul the grain away after it was threshed, two men on the stack, two to measure, an engineer for the steam engine, and a water boy.
'Now one man does it all on a combine.'
The thresher that Hey has on display at the fairgrounds is a McCormick Deering.
'I sold it new to a fella' about 32 years ago,' he recalled.
Hey said he began working with machinery when he was about 10 years old.
'And I'll be 73 in August.'
How many bushels could he thresh with his steam powered equipment?
'I threshed 15 bushels a minute once on a bet,' he said, 'But don't you tell that. They'll think I'm bragging.'
He and a brother, Mike Hey of Wellsville, did threshing together for about 20 years. They bought their first steam engine in Kansas City and drove it over dirt and wood block roads to Baldwin.
They did custom work with the engine and used it to thresh their own wheat.
'Sometimes we went as far as 20 miles out to thresh wheat,' Hey explained.
Custom cutters today travel from Texas to Canada during the harvest season.
During winter months, Hey used his steam engines to power saws for cutting wood or to pull road graders.
He said many lumber mills still use the old steam engines for power.
'You can run a steam engine for about 15cents a day, 'Hey said.' Of course you have to have a man to add fuel and keep the steam up.'
The Peerless engine at the fair -grounds is equipped with eight whistles, one of which is dubbed 'the wildcat.'
'One whistle was used to signal the water boy; another was for the grain haulers.
'The wildcat whistle that's more or less for fun,' Hey chuckled.
And his young visitors at the fair find it fun, too. They crowd around the puffing engine, climb into its cab and play non-melodious tunes upon the whistles.
Hey owns a machinery company in Baldwin, but his two sons have operated it for him since he retired.
He has entered into the centennial spirit by growing sideburns and a moustache and will take his steam engine and thresher to Lyndon for the July 4th celebration there. ,
Asked what was the Peerless engine's top speed, Hey said:
'It will travel l to 4 miles per hour, but I can get a little more out of it.'
Hey has other antique machinery such as a Hart Paar tractor about 50 years old. That was the first successful oil tractor, 'and there are only about three others in the United States today,' he said.
'And you'd have to go a long way to find another steam engine older than this,' Hey said of his Peerless. He knows of a similar one in Pennsylvania.