WALT SPREEMAN REMEMBERS ...
204 East Melbourne Avenue Silver Spring, Maryland 20901
Reprinted by permission from The Heritage Eagle, quarterly publication of the International J.I. Case Heritage Foundation.
Foreword: Walter Spreeman was born on a family farm in Alberta in 1917. His dad was a thresherman who instilled in his son a love for Case engines and machines which has thrived for 70 years. Walt Spreeman remembers. He is a living and breathing product of western Canada's agricultural (& Case) heritage and has some vintage photos to prove it! by Walter Spreeman
The name 'CASE' has thrilled me since I was a little boy and sat on Dad's old 1908 25-75 engine while he threshed every fall. Engine No. 19924 and a 36-58 thresher did the job for him. Dad told me both this engine and the separator were in the Calgary Alberta Fair in 1908.
My Dad, Allan Spreeman, was born in 1882 in Ontario, Canada. He had a Robert Bell Steam Engine there which he used on the corn cutters they used to fill the 40-foot tall silos and also did threshing. It was all barn threshing in those days in Ontario. The shocks were hauled into the large barns and could be threshed any time all winter. The threshing machine was backed right into the barn and the straw carriers elevated the straw to a vacant part of the loft. The boys had to keep the straw away from the carrier and tramp it. What a hot, dusty job that was for young fellows! The men fed the machine and one was a band cutter. No automatic feeders or blowers in those days!
Dad went west in 1906. In Alberta, steam engineers needed a license so Dad had to write for his. He never got out of grade two in school as he had to work. His mother had died when he was four years old and his stepmother was pretty tough to live with (she had caused the death of her first husband by pouring hot water on him. He was sick and in bed for a few days and she got the idea that he was lazy and not sick. He was dead in two days).
Dad got his license, he told the inspector he had only gone as far as grade two. I still have the Class 3 engineer ticket.
Ed Weber, who farmed near Didsbury, Alberta, bought a new Case 25-75 steam engine (No. 19924) and a 36-58 threshing machine in the fall of 1908 and hired Dad as engineer. They burned straw that fall and Ed Weber was the fireman. I still have Dad's time books showing they threshed 84 days. It got down to 20 degrees below zero, so they had trouble keeping the ice out of the water tank used to haul water for the engine. The snow also rolled up on the engine drive wheels, so they had trouble moving.
Dad homesteaded in 1910 on land in eastern Alberta, but came west every fall to thresh. During the winter, he also ran the steam engine in the Rosebud flour mill, which Ed Weber's brother built.
However, by 1915 the homesteaders were getting a lot of land broken up and that year they had a lot of rain in the dry east country, so Dad and three other farmers bought Ed Weber's Case threshing outfit for $2,000.00 and had it shipped 200 miles east. They had a big run that fall and threshed into December. They called themselves 'The Big Four'! Sad to say, his three partners weren't mechanically minded. Dad had one of them go out in later years to steam the engine up but he didn't check the water level which was low because a valve had been damaged by frost and water had leaked out of the boiler. The crown sheet was damaged and a lot of stay bolts leaked, so no threshing was done that day or perhaps all week as they had to call a boilermaker out from town to repair it. He had come 17 miles one way, and remember this took place in the horse and buggy days.
1916 was another good year and my uncle, who was a good blacksmith, and my cousin came from Ontario to help with the fall run.
I was born in July 1917, and my first memories of harvesting were in 1921. By 1924, Dad had bought out one of the 'Big Four' shareholders and had a good run every day threshing for 10 to 12 neighbors. As I grew older, I'd always try to stay home from school when they threshed at our place and Dad even let me fire a bit. We burned coal in those years but, in 1924, they burned straw in the steamer. One evening after a wet spell, Dad and my brother and me got out to fire the engine so the water would be hot and wouldn't take so long for the fireman to get steam up in the morning. When firing with coal, steam can be kept overnight by banking the fire, but not with straw; so the fireman has to start early. In our area of Canada, even when the days were short in October and November, threshing started at 6:00 a.m., which was way before sunrise. They had been threshing with flax straw which is oily and burns with a terrific heat. The outfit was near home and, after a short time, Dad came out to see what we were doing and we had 75 pounds of steam and blew the whistle, which surprised my Dad. Pretty good for two seven and nine year olds!
In the fall of 1926, threshing started the first part of September, but after one day's threshing there was a snow storm which stopped all threshing. However, that was unusual in western Canada and the September snow always goes away and October quite often was (and still is) threshing month.
Allen Spreeman, my father, and Ed Weber, fireman in December 1908 with 25-75 engine No. 19924 and 36-58 thresher new that fall, when they had an 84-day threshing run at Didsbury, Alberta.
Ed Weber and my father watching me thresh during the fall of 1946, using the same 1908 36-58 thresher run by my 1922 65 Case Steamer.
The 1908 Case 25-75 pictured in 1916 after Dad bought the outfit from Ed Weber and shipped it to eastern Alberta, where he homesteaded in 1910. My cousin Chester and Uncle Simon are on the engine.
In 1926, Dad bought a barn 10 miles from the farm and moved it on four big wagons by the 25-75 Case. Here they are, headed for its new 'home.'
Same barn and engine, 10 years later when I was old enough to do some steaming ... grinding feed grain; I'm in the center with my brother firing (with straw)
In eastern Alberta, many of the farmers had homesteaded in the early days around 1910, getting land that really didn't cost anything if they would live on it for six months of the year. Many lived in sod shacks, but eventually hauled in lumber and built houses and good barns. Some, however, got discouraged and, because of dry years and poor crops, moved away, leaving their buildings. One of these, a farmer named Jim Buyers, who farmed 10 miles south of Dad's place, sold Dad a quarter section of land with buildings and all for $500.00. The big hip-roofed barn was nearly new, which was what Dad wanted, so, during the wet spell in the fall of 1926, Dad borrowed four of the heavy wagons some of the neighbors had for hauling grain and, on a Saturday morning, we drove the 10 miles south with the engine and five wagons, one being the coal wagon. What a pleasant Saturday it was. Dad never worked on Sunday, but, on Monday morning, he and several of the neighbors went to the barn, jacked it up with Dad's jack (a Case jack, by the way), loaded it on telephone poles they chained under the wagon axles and moved it four miles the first day. Sad to say, I was too young to help, so I had to go back to school, but I can still remember Tuesday when, getting out of country school, I saw the 30-foot-high red barn approaching our farm. We didn't waste much time getting home that day. They unloaded it onto blocks, took the wagons back to the owners and started threshing again the next morning.
1927 was a wet year with a heavy crop, but fall weather was bad and a lot of farmers didn't get their crops threshed until the spring. Dad finished his run except for one small farmer, whose crop he threshed in May 1928. I had a bad cold, so stayed home from school but that didn't keep me off the good old Case steamer.
Threshing days in the years 1946 through 1960, using my Acme sheaf loader and three 10 x 20 racks... I needed only seven men to thresh up to 300 bushels of wheat per hour and still used the 1908 36-58 thresher and the 1922 65 HP steamer.
Since many farmers had crops out all winter in 1927, they decided to buy their own threshing machines in the fall of 1928, since many of them now had gas tractors. So, that fall was Dad's last steam run. He even bought a gas tractor in 1928, and that's the year the dry and hungry 30's started.
How I longed for steam threshing in my teens. In the fall of 1938, we threshed our crop and the crops of three neighbors. This was grain all cut with a header which doesn't bind the grain. We left the dry country that year. My dad got $1,000.00 for all of his land with good buildings and that wasn't even cash. He took a car in trade. We moved to Olds, Alberta, near the town of Didsbury where Dad had come originally when he left Ontario. We rented one and a half sections of land, and I started threshing again but not with steam. The old 25-75 was finally dismantled. Dad gave the boiler to a religious campground to supply steam and hot water to the kitchen, so it had a good ending.
We made many trips from our old farm in eastern Alberta to our new place at Olds, even hauled the 36-58 threshing machine the 200 miles on our 1-ton truck. We always passed a farm on the way over which had a 65 Case steamer in the yard. It looked like new with the original paint still on it.
Simon Megli was the owner and he had quite a threshing run for many years; but, when World War II started, men to help with harvesting were getting scarce and combines took over much of the work. As a result, Megli hauled the engine west of Olds about 40 miles to the timber country and sawed lumber with it for several winters and eventually sold it to another lumberman, who sawed with it for another year or two. Then I heard it was for sale for $200.00. I wrote the owner a letter enclosing a check for $175.00 and he accepted it. I still have the cancelled check. This was in the fall of 1945; and we steamed the engine up, driving it home a distance of about 50 miles.
That fall I couldn't get good steam coal, so I used the tractor for threshing but, in the fall of 1946, I got part of a carload of coal and we threshed for 24 days. That year I also got an Acme shock loader (or 'stook loader,' as we say in Canada). The loader was designed to be pulled by four horses; but I put a tractor on it, mounted it on rubber and built three 10 x 20 racks, so that I could thresh up to 300 bushels of wheat per hour with only seven men, including myself. I ran the engine and looked after the thresher all by myself. Case machines are so simple and trouble-free this can be done by one person.
I had a book printed many years earlier on steam engines giving accounts of all steam traction engines. The remarks on the Case engine has never left my memory because the words were so true 'These are the simplest engines made and are the easiest for the novice to run; and they are made of the best materials throughout.'
The fall of 1958, while going down a steep hill to a neighbor's little field to thresh for him, the rear wheel of the thresher went into a depression and. because I was going at an angle, the good old 36-58 1908 thresher rolled over. Well, I soon got the steamer unhooked, turned it around and pulled the machine back up on its wheels. The thresher wasn't hurt that much, but one shaft was bent and I called it quits for that fall.
The next fall, our crop was badly damaged by hail but, in 1960, I found a dandy late model 40-62 Case threshing machine for sale and bought it. I used this machine until my threshing days came to a sudden stop in 1971. Since I had been a pilot during World War II, I kept on doing some flying. I had a nice Bonanza plane and a landing strip on the farm. I did some spraying, flying one neighbor's spray plane; but one afternoon after not getting enough sleep, I hit a power line crossing a field, and that was the end of the plane and nearly of me. I was smashed up externally and internally, and the doctor told my wife that he didn't think I'd make it. I lost my memory for a month and was in a wheelchair for a year; but my memory returned and my love for Case steam engines and equipment continues as strong as ever. The 65 Case is in good hands Glen Crandall of Ponoka, Alberta bought it from me and also has my dandy Case thresher stored in his shed.
I've stepped up from handling a 65 Case to the famous
110's, driving those owned by Kenneth Kelley (in Pawnee,
Oklahoma) and Joe Richardson (in Orofino, Idaho). Both of these
110's came from Alberta, Canada, and are beauties. In the late
40's and early 50's the engine Kenneth Kelley now has sawed
lumber not too far from where I got my 65. What a beautiful sound
to hear the Case 110 'talk' when the log hit the sawit
could be heard for miles on those clear, cold winter days when
temperatures were down to 30 degrees below zero.
Western Canada certainly was 'Case Steam Engine Country.' After getting discharged from the Canadian Air Force, I ran an ad for steam engines in the Western Producer, a weekly farm paper printed in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I received around 25 replies. All but two or three were from owners of Case engines who had quit steam threshing years before.
Not many Canadian engines were cut up for scrap during the war. The 110's went to sawmills in northern Saskachewan (where the Smolik Brothers got theirs) and to the timber country in western and northern Alberta (where Joe Richardson's 110 came from). Many also were shipped to British Columbia after the steam threshing and plowing era came to an end. There, three Case 110's were founds ad to say, without wheels and traction parts in the Salmon Arm Area. They were all of the latest model of 110's built in 1913. I located a dandy 80 Case in the same area, although its traction parts were missing except for one wheel. The other wheel is out in the lake, placed there to anchor a cable at the mill site.
The latest and best engines have been found in Canada because some of its regions were among the last in North America to be settled and the demand for engines continued there until the 1920's. My 65 was built in 1922, but it sold new in 1925. A 110 Case I'd love to own was built in 1912 but sold new in 1917, the year I was born.
Western Canada certainly owes a lot of its progress to the J.I. Case Company of Racine, Wisconsin. One man who broke up thousands of acres in southern Alberta owned five 110's.
As a boy and even at my age today, the name 'Case' causes my heart to beat faster whenever I see it written or even spoken. We Case fans are a close knit 'family' with very good reasons for it to be so. May the J.I. Case Heritage Foundation continue to expand as did the original company.
(Note: Walter Spreeman travels quite a lot between Alberta and California, since he has family in both places. If you want to write to him, mail can be sent c/o 828-D South Rancho, Santa Fe Road, San Marcos, California 92069.)