Rt 1, Box 238 Rocky Comfort, Missouri 64861
I had thought I would never write anymore but when I read the
article by Ed Strack in Arizona, I thought I would try another
article. Although it is nothing unusual, it is from an ‘old
I was born in Anderson County, Kansas in 1897. Before my time my
father and a brother operated a small thresher that had hand feed
with slat stacker, powered by a horse power unit and I think it was
10 horses. I never did see this outfit but I have seen others like
My first experience was firing and operating a 16 HP N&S on
the sawmill at age 11. This engine was leased and Dad bought a 12
HP Case. We used this engine for several years and we really used
it as we not only threshed, but usually filled 12 to 15 silos.
Then, later in the fall, we went out with a four roll shredder and
would work this for several weeks. Then back to the sawmill for the
winter. 1914 was a bad crop year. Many threshers never went out,
including ours, but a Mr. Still did go out and I operated the
engine, a 15 HP Case. Threshing at that time was rough. We had to
spend many nights moving, and had to carry bridge planks to protect
the many little wood bridges. All these long hours and hard work
and when we did get a chance to sleep it may have been on the
ground, or if lucky, a barn or straw pile. But we forgot all about
this when we got to the dinner table.
There was a tornado east of town in the spring of 1916. It hit a
thresher, a Case steel separator, broke all the outside fittings
and twisted the frame. As ours was a wood separator in bad shape,
Dad bought this steel separator. With jacks, chains, bars and
sledge hammer, we got the frame back to original shape. We then
transferred the feeder, augers and weights from the old machine. I
babbitted the cylinder bearings on the separator (most bearings at
that time were babbitt) and we were ready for the field. 1916 was a
very hot season and we started early and threshed 45 days with very
few breaks and finished about the middle of August.
This Mr. Still also was finished with his run and decided to go
to Canada and invited me to go with him. This I did and we landed
in a relatively new area at Lougheed, Alberta in time for
I could not operate an engine but I did get a job firing a new
Sawyer Massey 17 HP with straw. I am glad I had this experience but
once is enough!
I could line the engine and get it in the belt easier than the
engineer so he usually had me do it.
I remember one day there was a rig in the field next to us, a 32
HP Reeves and a 42×70 Avery Yellow Fellow thresher. I remember it
for they threshed 160 acres of oats that day.
Life was really rugged, we had to sleep out someplace, maybe a
barn or a straw pile.
We finished late in the fall, then back to Kansas and the
Dad then bought an 18 HP Avery undermounted. We continued all
operations as before ’till 1920 and I needed a change.
This Mr. Still and his brother had an outfit out in the Oklahoma
strip, north of Boise City, a 20 HP Advance engine. I helped move
this rig overland to Perryton, Texas. I don’t know the miles,
but it took about a week. The senior Still hauled coal in sacks in
an old Overland car. In between times his brother Ed and I took
turns hauling water, and when coal started getting low we gathered
cow chips as so much of this area was still ranch land at that
When we reached Perryton I got a job for the season on a 22 HP
Gaar Scott D.C. and threshed 38 days.
I went back in 1921 and got a job on a 25 HP Geiser. Most of the
run was in the strip around old Gray Oklahoma. I never went back to
that area for I noticed a great increase in the number of combines
over the previous year.
In 1922, I went to Ness County, Kansas. I did not get an engine
but tended separator. In 1923 I threshed at home, and in the summer
of 19241 worked for the railroad, but always back to the sawmill
In 1925 I threshed around Dodge City, on another 20 HP Advance.
Space does not permit all the little details but when you walk a
mile in the morning to clean the flues, start a fire, have your
breakfast served on the engine by the roustabout after a night on
the hard ground, then thresh till sundown, with supper in the
cook’s shack, then try to get some sleep, well, this is what
our younger brothers are trying to keep alive.
In 1926 I operated a little rig in my home area, a 22′
separator and a 10-20 tractor. I then went to Montezuma, Kansas and
finished a run. This was a Reeves outfit, a 16 HP Reeves engine
double simple. This was my wife’s first and last experience
operating a cook shack and it was my last experience with a steam
traction engine. I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, attended
engineering school, and finally got a first class license. For a
while I worked with several Corliss engines, a Hamilton Uniflow,
operated in two diesel generating plants and for several seasons
worked in a large ice and cold storage plant. But none of these
gave me the sense of satisfaction that I had with the old steam
tractor. Perhaps it was the smell of oil, and the bark of the
I am glad these younger fellows are keeping this history alive.
It is too precious to lose. And my further advice is to always keep
the Lord in your work. If the sparrow does not fall without His
notice, I am sure that He will keep you in all things that are
honorable and I am sure that remembering this form of lifestyle is