Reeves Company Steam Plow and Steam Traction Engine Come to the Midwest

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Vaclav Vacik taveled by train from Nebraska to Chicago in 1909 to purchase the Reeves 32 HP steam traction engine and the 12-bottom Reeves steam life plow.
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Don Lafler and the 1909 Reeves plow, serial number 328. The plow was operable when retired in 1918.
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Original postcard of Reeves 12-bottom plowing outfit, western Nebraska. Could this possibly be the Vacik and Soral plowing outfit?
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Don and Lorraine Lafler at the plow site, June 21, 2000.
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Don Lafler (right) hoists the front section of the Reeves plow onto the trailer while Fred Nolan (left) assists with the loading.
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John Soral, a Czech immigrant who had come to the U.S. in 1892, went into partnership with Vacik shortley after the equipment's arrival.
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A souvenir postcard from the 1908 Nebraska State Fair showing the Reeves steam lift plow in the field. The card is marked "No State Fair Stunt" at the bottom. Could this exhibition have prompted Vaclav Vacik to purchase his Reeves plowing outfit? 

Vaclav Vacik, a farmer from the area of Sunol, Neb., traveled by train to Chicago in 1909 to purchase a Reeves Company 32 HP steam traction engine and a 12-bottom Reeves Company steam plow. After the purchase of the steam traction engine and steam plow in Chicago, Vacik waited until the dealership could load the machinery and returned on the same train to the railroad siding at Sunol, Neb., where it was unloaded.

Shortly after the steam traction engine and steam plow arrived in Sunol, another local farmer went into partnership with Vacik. That man was John Soral, a Czech immigrant who had come to the U.S. in 1892, settling in the Czech settlement of Lodge Pole, just south of Sunol. His first house was built of sod; later, limestone was added. Local ads were immediately placed in The Lodge Pole Express newspaper, Lodge Pole, Neb.

By the turn of the 20th century, many attempts had been made to design and produce a plow that would turn the soil in a clean manner with the least usage of horsepower. Up to this point in time the subject of plowing was a common topic, often discussed by farmers and investors alike. The issue of plowing was so ingrained in the American dialogue that President Lincoln, while grappling with the formation of the Gettysburg Address and concerned he would fail in his message, is said to have remarked to an aide, “That speech won’t scour,” an expression referring to a plow whose blade will not come clean and do its job.

President Lincoln was also one of the first Americans to recognize the potential of steam leaving the rails and progressing to the realities of future farming opportunities. As America entered the 20th century, large farming operations were becoming more and more prevalent and the rush by manufacturers to design and manufacture larger plowing outfits was in full swing. The design of a more reliable plow that would penetrate the hardpan soil and remain uniform in the rolling terrain of some locales became an immediate challenge for the designers of the manufacturing firms. Farmers with foresight and a willingness to take the financial plunge began purchasing large steam plows for not only the tilling of their own land, but also land of others on a custom basis.

Western Nebraska was no exception. On Feb. 13, 1909: “V. Vacik has bought an up-to-date steam-plowing outfit and is prepared to accept contracts for work in that line. Those who want breaking done with moldboard plows instead of disks should see him about it.”

Vaclav Vacik , traveled by train from Nebraska to Chicago in 1909 to purchase the Reeves 32 HP steam traction engine and the 12-bottom Reeves steam lift plow.

On Feb. 20, 1909: “The Vacik steam plow was unloaded Wednesday and taken out to the farm. It is a 32-horsepower engine with 12 plows and is the biggest machine of its kind in the West.”

John Sorala Czech immigrant who had come to the U.S. in 1892, went into partnership with Vacik shortly after the equipment’s arrival.

On Feb. 20, 1909 and March 20, 1909: “Steam Plowing. We will have a steam-plowing outfit in time for doing spring work. If you want good work done with moldboard plows, give us your contract. Vacik & Soral, Lodge Pole, Nebr.”

On Aug. 21, 1909: “Vacik & Soral’s thresher was unloaded here Saturday and taken up the valley on the north side as far as Sunol where they will cross the creek and return on the south side. The machine is so heavy they were afraid to trust it on the bridges.” (Note: The large Reeves threshing machine weighed 11,802 pounds.)

With contracts signed, many acres of sod were turned for the settlers in the area. The Reeves threshing machine was moved from farm to farm during the harvest season and worked the local area until the snow flew. Soral’s nephew, Albert Hornicek, hauled water in the Reeves water wagon and Dan Dickinson was the engineer on the steam engine. In approximately 1918, the Reeves steam lift plow was moved to the Hornicek farm and parked on a pile of rocks. During the scrap-metal drives of World War II (in approximately 1943), the gangs and steam cylinders were removed for the war cause; the frame and wheels were left behind.

On Jan. 29, 1992, I received an inquiry concerning Reeves equipment from Lorraine Lafler of Sidney, Neb. We had a pleasant conversation by phone, and it was at that time I was first told about the Reeves plow. John Soral was Lorraine Lafler’s great uncle and, of course, the partner of Vaclav Vacik. In the course of our conversation I asked Lorraine if the plow might be for sale, and her reply was that her brother was sentimental about such things and she was doubtful he would want to sell it. We exchanged information on the Reeves Company and their equipment on March 11, 1992.

On June 16, 2000, I called Lorraine Lafler and told her that my wife and I were coming through her area, and I wondered if they still had the plow. Lorraine said that yes, they did have the plow, and if we would like to stop by and take a look at it we would be more than welcome to do so. On June 21, 2000 we arrived at Lorraine’s brother’s farm and were taken to a rocky hill where three large, steel plow wheels shimmered in the sun. As we left the car, Lorraine’s husband, Don Lafler, walked ahead with a steel rod, a precaution to discourage inquisitive rattlesnakes. When we reached the rocky hill, the majestic plow (serial number 328) was quite a sight to see. Its metal was smooth and basically rust-free owing to the dry air, and cactus had grown and entwined in the base of the wheels.

Although no longer complete, the plow was still impressive and unquestionably worth the time and effort of a restoration. Don and Lorraine said that they had discussed the selling of the plow before our arrival and were ready for it to go to a good home. After discussing price and agreeing on the purchase we concluded our visit, with fond memories of a great couple.

Time passed quickly and projects of importance came and went, and finally a hauling date of Nov. 16, 2001 was agreed upon. Upon arriving at the plow site my son, Rick, and I were very pleased and relieved to see Don with his boom truck ready to load the plow. We drove out the large, flexible hinge pins between the front and back section of the framework so we could make preparations for moving the large plow off the rocky hill. We got everything loaded in record time, and after an enjoyable afternoon with Don we started for home, taking along with us a wonderful historic and educational addition for the Col. Fulkerson Farm Museum in Jerseyville, Ill.

Now begins the search for missing gangs and steam cylinders. We have included photos along with this article and hope you will enjoy them.

Contact steam enthusiast Fred Nolan at 1510 N. State St., Jerseyville, IL 62052.

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