R.R. #1, Box 69, Minonk, Illinois 61 760
This article is based on an interview with Fred Badten by
Mary Oltman on September 3, 1990 at the Central States
Whenever the Central States Threshermen of Pontiac, Illinois
hold their annual reunion, you can be sure Fred Badten of Dyer,
Indiana will be there. Fred has been a member of the association
since 1951 and hasn’t missed a show in 40 years.
Fred moved to the Midwest in 1937. His interest in threshing and
steam engines dates back to his youth in Aberdene, South Dakota. It
was a big event to thresh in those days.
Fred’s job was to drive the grain wagons with the horses,
then later on he pitched bundles. ‘As soon as you could lift a
fork’ was the age when you graduated to pitching bundles,
generally around 13-15 years old. He was responsible for everything
on the rack as well as caring for the horses. It was a sad time
when threshing day came to an end, especially since there would be
school the next day.
Fred’s interest in steam engines peaked just as steam was
going out. He knew the only way he’d ever have an engine
himself was to make one, and so, in 1956, that’s just what Fred
did. The result was one of the finest examples of model steam
engines around and we’re lucky at Pontiac to have had
Fred’s model Case engine on display every year since it was
The model took 3,000 hours and three years to build. ‘I
enjoyed every bit of time I spent on it,’ Fred said. It’s a
2′ scale model of a 65 HP 1915 Case. The engine has been at
Pontiac for 32 years. It was on display at Chicago’s Museum of
Science and Industry as well as being featured on Channel 2 News on
television. (The museum wanted to keep the engine, but Fred
wouldn’t agree to that!)
When asked how he came to be at the Pontiac show, Fred said he
was listening to the news on WLS Radio one day and the news was
featuring the steam show in downtown Pontiac. Fred heard the
whistles in the background and thought ‘That’s for me! They
still have steam engines!’ The next day he drove to the show.
What a surprise!
He stayed the entire day, and the next day he drove back and
stayed a few more days. ‘It’s been fun ever since. The best
people come to steam shows,’ says Fred. ‘I’ve never
missed a single day since I started coming-even the rainy
As for the future, ‘Steam shows will keep getting bigger and
better. Quite a few young people are taking an interest in the show
and the equipment now.’ This is especially true of Fred’s
son, Chris. Chris has been coming to Pontiac since he was five, and
like his dad, he’s never missed a day.
Fred will celebrate his 77th birthday on September 26, 1991.
Although he’s retired from his tool and die business, he’s
got plenty to keep him busy. When he’s not in the Dog House
Coffee Shop, he’s in his machine shop in Dyer, Indiana building
a 1′ scale model of the 1895 steam locomotive that broke the
world’s speed record in 1889.
Fred chuckles as he recalls the story of the event. The engineer
was a man by the name of Hogan from Ireland. He had the task one
day of escorting several railroad dignitaries on a 50-mile run. The
railroad officials wanted to see just how fast the engine would
run, so Hogan showed them-112 MPH! When the train stopped, the
railroad big shots were scared to death!
Good luck, Fred, on your new steam locomotive model. We will
look forward to seeing you, your model Case and your new locomotive
at Pontiac Threshermen’s Reunion in the year to come. We’re
glad you’ve been a longtime part of the Pontiac show!