Return of the Keck

It Took 45 Years, but Perseverance Paid in the Return of a 19 HP 1923 Keck-Gonnerman

| November/December 2003

My first love for a steam engine was occasioned in the summer of 1923 at St. Thomas, Mo., when my dad, Paul Groner, took me along to visit his twin brother, Pete Groner. It so happened they were going to thresh wheat this day, so here comes a big, black monster (or so it seemed to me) down the lane. It was young Pete Brant with his new 19 HP double-cylinder Keck, no. 1691, and a new separator. Watching him drive down the lane, I thought his engine was the greatest thing I had ever seen.

Time went by, and threshing with steam became a thing of the past. I had moved 80 miles east to Berger, Mo., and whenever I went back to St. Thomas I would see the engine, sitting along the road doing nothing. In 1950 I asked the second owner, Ed Schulte, if I could buy it. He, knowing I was in the scrap business, asked what I wanted to do with it. I told him I wanted to play with it and he said okay, but he also said if I wanted to scrap it I couldn't have it. That said, if I'd give $350 I could own it, so we made a deal.

I didn't know how to run it, but a friend, Herb Edler, taught me how. I had owned it about six months when a man came along wanting to buy it. He offered me a good profit, and since I knew of other engines I could buy for a lot less, I sold it.

After some time I felt remorse for having sold the Keck. I tried to buy it back, but it changed hands three times and eventually wound up at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, after Roy Larson acquired it in 1985. It became a regular at Mt. Pleasant, and in 1988 it was 'engine of the year' at the Mt. Pleasant Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.

My son, David, and Woodie Bogler and I went to the show at Mt. Pleasant one year. I introduced myself to Roy, told him I once owned the Keck, and asked if there might be a chance to buy it back. There wasn't. As long as he was alive, he said, he'd never sell it.

It so happened that in 1995 Roy had a heart attack and died. His widow, knowing I wanted to buy the Keck back, called me and said she'd sell it to me, but she wanted to have it in that year's parade at Mt. Pleasant in honor of Roy. I agreed and paid her for it. Some fellows from Colorado were at Mt. Pleasant that year, and they tried to buy it from me before I hauled it home, offering me a good profit on it. No sale.