Farm Collector

Past & Present: Traction Engines and Threshers Roundup Includes a Return-Flue Case


Charles Provencher Jr., P.O. Box 81589, Cleveland, OH 44181; (724) 654-6066, has some interesting questions this issue.

Charles writes:

I am writing to comment about Harris Photo #1 (Steam Traction, Fall 2007, page 8). This photo shows a traction engine powering a threshing machine by means of a PTO device instead of a belt. It might be of interest to know that in the book This was Wheat Farming by Kirby Brumfield, published in 1968, there is also a photo (page 95) showing a traction engine powering a thresher by a PTO rod, not a belt. The caption states the photo (no date given) was taken in Pendleton, Ore., and the engine is a Case return-flue, not mentioning if it was a straw burner. To my 80-year-old eyeballs, there are similarities in the two engines. Perhaps some young, sharp-eyed staffer should do a comparison and give their opinion. The results might help identify the engine shown in the magazine.

In the “110 HP Case” article by Bill Vossler (Steam Traction, Fall 2007, page 18), it was stated that good firing technique was to put “black on black.” Did the author really mean to say that? When I first learned to fire boilers in September 1949, I was always told to put “black on white.” That is put the fresh coal on the hot spots on the grate to prevent them from becoming too thin. So, I am wondering if I correctly understand the author’s meaning, not to criticize, just to comment.

I still fire, but now, not for pay, just hobby fun.

Editor’s note: One of our sharp-eyed staffers took your advice, Charles. Yes, the engine in the photo from the book This was Wheat Farming looks to be the same engine in the photo submitted by Paul Harris for identification. Your 80-year-old eyeballs and knowledge is what we depend on to help and teach our readers, since readers like you have been there and done it. Thanks for your help.

As for the question on firing with coal, the actual quote Charles refers to reads, “They watched and opened the door, and looked in and tossed the fuel in right on top of the dark spots. They had a bed of coal and an efficient fire, and I’m willing to say they would use half the fuel, or less, than what is used today.” This brings up an interesting question about firing techniques – readers?


Emma Turnage, P.O. Box 373, Nevis, MN 56467, shares with us a bit on her grandfather’s threshing outfit. Emma writes:

Long before northwest Ohio became the founder of threshing associations such as the National Thresher’s Assn., there were men who in their communities formed their own threshing associations. One that I know about was the Swancreek Threshing Assn. Swancreek was in the Monclova area in Lucas County, Ohio. My grandfather Henry Nachtrab belonged to this association. Henry was born and raised in Monclova and worked on his father’s, Joseph A. Nachtrab, threshing crew in the area when he was growing up.

The members of the Swancreek Threshing Assn. – from 1910 until the late 1940s – were Andrew Shoemaker, Aaron Mollenkopf, John Strayer, Fred Kiefer, Frank Dennis, J. Kiefer, Walter Strayer, Roscoe Ziegler, George Fuller, William Fuller and Henry Nachtrab. Henry had the threshing outfit and had to provide the men for the jobs. He had a crew of six to eight men each year, which over the years included an uncle, Henry Hartman, and two sons, Howard and Lawrence.

Henry paid his crew $2 per a day and received his payment from the association members 30 days after the threshing on their farms. Threshing prices started with wheat at 3-1/2 cents, oats 2-1/2 cents, clover $1 and corn at 3 cents per a bushel. Shredding fodder was $2 per an hour and seed hulling 75 cents per a bushel. These prices went up a couple of cents over the years.

During the threshing years, Henry used a 16 HP Nichols & Shepard steam engine; a 20 HP Russell steam engine, no. 1246; and a 30-60 Russell gas tractor, no. 1572. Henry’s other equipment was a 36-56 Nichols & Shepard separator, no. F25837; a 33-56 Baker separator, no. 11988; a Peerless separator; a Universal feeder, no. 6977; a Birdsell feeder; a Hart B&B weigher; a Farmer’s Friend and Birdsell windstacker; a McCormick shredder; a Rosenthal ensilage cutter; and a Birdsell clover huller. Henry had the equipment insured each year for fire, wind, lightning and tornado damage with the Ohio Threshermen’s Mutual Insurance Assn. of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1912, Henry built a 40-by-40-foot shop on his farm to store and maintenance his threshing equipment. His older brother Stephen would come to his farm to help, so Henry would have the threshing equipment ready by the next threshing season. The south wall of the shop had a built-in 40-foot cabinet for Henry’s tools, and it had a blacksmithing area and a wood stove for heat.

The Swancreek Threshing Assn. ended like many of the threshing crews of its time with the gas tractor and combine. Like Leroy Blaker, who started with his sawmill and threshing, wanted to continue the tradition of threshing for people with a reunion to come and enjoy the power of steam. Many of the members went to reunions to remember a time past. My grandfather, Henry Nachtrab, was one of those men who became a lifelong member of the National Thresher’s Assn. until his death in 1970. Thus only missing the first reunion.


Sam Powell, 1810 Vine St., Eau Claire, WI 54703 (e-mail:, was interested in finding out more information on his upright steam engine. Sam writes:

This upright steam engine belonged to my dad, who purchased it in 1975 from a man in Shelbyville, Mo., which he paid cash for. Dad was told this engine was used to power a carousel merry-go-round, which he used it to saw wood with the buzz saw. It is a 6 HP with approximately 5-3/4-by-8-inch bore and stroke. The nameplate reads “Built by Geo J. Fritz, St. Louis, Mo.” If anyone could supply any information on this steam engine that would be great.


Winners have been named for prize drawings held by Steam Traction and sister publications Farm Collector and Gas Engine Magazine at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2007, at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

– Dan Sutera, Muscatine, Iowa; 1/16-scale model John Deere 70 tractor from Nixon Auctioneers

– Mike Murray, Woodstock, Ill.; 1/16-scale model Allis-Chalmers WD45 tractor from Nixon Auctioneers

– Mike Henry, Barnhart, Mo., and Donald Mueller, St. Louis, Mo.; 11-piece tap socket set from Dick Rulon

– Fred Haier, Lawtans, N.Y.; 1/16-scale model Oliver 77 diesel tractor from SpecCast Toys

– Charles Robbins, Warrensburg, Mo.; 1/25-scale model International Harvester TD-24 crawler with cable blade from SpecCast Toys

– Warren Wise, Hiawatha, Iowa; 1/16-scale model John Deere M widefront tractor with plow from SpecCast Toys

– Bud Zerzanek, Crossville, Ala.; Passin’ Gas Productions T-shirt from Passin’ Gas Productions

– Melody Kleffman, Bethany, Mo.; Don E. Bodager, Crawfordsville, Ind.; David VanNess, Burlington, Iowa; Richard Hembrough, Jacksonville, Ill.; and Andy Robinson, Lapeer, Mich.; two jars corncob spread from Krogh’s Family Farms

– Angel Jacobs, New London, Iowa; six cans of Strong Arm Spray from Strong Arm Spray

– Ken Anderson, Allerton, Iowa; gift certificate for one pair overalls from Klein Brothers.

If you have a comment, question or reminiscence for Past and Present, please send it along to: Steam Traction, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265; e-mail:

  • Published on Aug 25, 2009
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