from MY THRESHING AND SHELLING EXPERIENCES - Part Three
Boiler Explosions - The explosion article, Page 7, May-June 1960, Iron Man Album, reminds me of a similar explosion of an 18 H.P. return flue Minneapolis owned by Dan Cooper of Primghar, Iowa, in 1927. Fortunately, it happened during breakfast time with nobody around except a boy about 8 years old who was sitting on the engine tool box. He received a not seriously burned leg. My three machine men and myself viewed the wreck shortly afterward. To my knowledge, the cause was never established. The hired engineer claimed he had the usual 2 in. of water in the gauge. The big main flue buckled, the cast iron front was blown about 125 feet, and the grates went out the rear end. All this was a forceful reminder of my refusal to further operate the old (but prized by me) 18 H.P. Minneapolis return flue just 9 years prior, due to my suspicion about its boiler safety. My decision was ridiculed by some, however, it was wisely decided to junk it after another season's run. Iowa had no boiler law, so necessary to protect incompetent, irresponsible operators and the public.
The big threshing machine industry was nearing its pinnacle. They were now building gas and kerosene tractors to meet the keen competition by approximately 135 tractor manufacturers ranging from manufacturers like Fairbanks Morse, Holt, Kinnard Haines, Best, Big Four, Twin City, Finchbaugh, Lawson, Waterloo Boy, Heider, Parrett, etc., and on down to small ones building perhaps one dozen annually.
Under the auspices of the National Thresher and Tractor Mfgr's. Ass'n. most tractor manufacturers and virtually hundreds of accessory and motor manufacturers staged the Tractor and Plowing Fairs of 1915-16-17 in eight widely separated cities, starting in the south thence northward by special trains. The put up their tent city 7 miles west of Sioux Falls, S. Dakota, in 1915. Of course I went. I knew of and had seen pictures of leading makes, but seeing them perform was something else. In 1917, they made their last circuit (due to War I and economic conditions.) This time I 267 miles to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I stayed two days. The two years' progress was remarkable. Yet, there were design extremes from plain ridiculous to embodiment of the latest-such as hardened cut gears running in oil, drilled pressure oiled crank shafts, Hyatt, Timken and S. K. F. bearings, Borg and Beck clutches and Perfex copper radiators. The Parrett 12-25 - 3 plow tractor had all these. However, it was plainly apparent that this was ahead of average public concept and appreciation, especially so with its $1500 price tag. All this is now history. After the boom came the bust. Of those 150 or more tractor concerns, only a token of old familiar names still making tractors remain, namely; Case, Deere, Holt, Caterpillar, I. H. C., Minneapolis Moline, Massey Harris. Pardon if I have overlooked any. It always hurt to see one name after another go into oblivion.
My engineering memoirs would be incomplete if I failed to mention the American Thresherman Magazine (1898-1930) and give tribute to its editor, Bascom Clarke (Old Sile.) It was my favorite magazine in its day. It was as great as the era which it served so well. An era where thresher companies paid thousands of dollars in advance for advertising, the bread and butter to Old Sile. The subscription fee was a measly one dollar for 12 book size copies. Old Sile rose and waned with the big companies. By 1927, the subscription fee was 50cents. By September, 1928, it was one dollar for 5 years. Its size was diminishing. In the same issue, Old Sile pleaded with his 50,000 subscribers to get him 10,000 new ones by Thanksgiving. All this was no fault of Old Sile. He knew the machine game from A to Z and did much for the thresherman who would heed. I shall never forget Clarke's editorial remarks in the June, 1916, edition. Quote: We are a wasteful people. Among the most wasteful and extravagant is the thresherman, much as he dislikes to admit it. Once in a while you will find a frugal, careful thresherman running an engine ten or fifteen years old and who, perhaps, has threshing machinery which has paid for itself a dozen times. But, this has been the exception, not the rule. Where you find one thresherman who has zealously guarded his own interests in a businesslike manner, you will find ninety-nine who have run their outfits without counting costs. They have traded at a sacrifice on a new outfit to be up-to-date. Bright paint soon fades. You pay dearly when you trade before it has brought you a profit. Boys, is this not true? End quote. Feb. 1914 issue -Quote: Render the best of services and charge the best of prices. End quote.
In his memoirs 'Fifty years a Machine Man', he portrays so vividly the inner battles, the ups and downs Quoting the July 1928, issue as follows: if anybody is looking for gratitude in or from a machine man, they've another look coming. The machine man is the result of evolution. If he starts in tenderhearted, he soon hits the cobblestones of life and gradually his heart hardens. For without discarding sentiment he never gets very far. If there were no trying things to do - for instance, as the Swede in Minnesota called them, no 'cattle mortgages' to foreclose, no taking machines away after the customer had worked hard to pay a big part of the debt, no discouraging things like poor crops, sickness, accidents, and the thousand and one other 'ifs' to contend with, then the 'Chimes of Normandy' announcing the millennium and 'Peace on Earth Good Will to Men' in reality, might be looked for, but that is far off. The successful machine man is born. He does not grow up at random like the dog ran by moonlight. End quote.
I'm not sure I agree with 'Old Sile' on all. However, I never foreclosed mortgages, either. The custom shelling and thresherman's path wasn't exactly rosy either. You were on your own. You dealt with the same people again and again. You had to be reasonable and firm and as unassuming as possible. We had no thresherman's lien law. The landlord came first. The only law to protect threshermen against landlord's liens was to collect before moving machine. I overcame this touchy situation by having landlord sign agreement guaranteeing payment beforehand. Then the tenant could deliver enough grain to cover threshing bill. Considering the depression of the early thirties, when conditions were rough and taken advantage of by some, my collecting record was middling. In shelling 1,765,227 bushels of corn and threshing 1,232,914 bushels of grain, I lost a $109.00 threshing bill and one shelling bill. The $109.00 was a case of compassion. I accepted a note and lost. One shelling job was charity, a case where children were suffering. Another shelling bill was a slippery deal pulled by a banker.
On the morning of July 20, 1932, a banker from Ida Grove, about 40 miles from here, dressed to kill, drove in with an expensive car, introduced himself and inquired if I would shell his corn share located 5 miles from here. It was harvest time and I had two threshing rigs to go out, but I sent my 17 year old son. When he came back, he said, 'Dad, I believe you're hooked on this one. That banker had Ida Grove trucks. He, himself, left just before finishing. 'And so it was.
My lawyer informed me that the banker and his bank were broke. While driving through Ida Grove that fall I stopped to pay my respects. The banker was gone and had left many holding the bag. Occasionally, customers and help alike would tempt and feel you out. To eliminate this as far as possible, I carefully set rules and strived to keep them. I tried to avoid making final agreements with ring committees. I preferred a meeting and understanding with all customers where I tabulated kinds of crops, the number of acres, and agreement on prices. I made it clear that I would set with wind only and reset only by customer request. Saving straw was generally important. We established a regular quitting time and how much overtime we would work to finish a job. First bundlers off at night were first up in the morning. I recommended and asked for a ring boss and time keeper (usually an older grain hauler). My runs all paid current rate wages on man hour difference in threshing time. The latter four caused trouble if not agreed upon beforehand. Due to new customers and help, rules were reinstated annually. Even so, there were occasional attempts at stretching the seams a bit. For example, a good with-wind set was fine at the neighbors, however at home it was often 'Could you not set a little side wind to put straw stack so?' Although I never forgot my own interests within bounds, I always bent backwards to please a customer and help alike. Thirty-one years of service to the same gang is a long time. On the whole, it was, 'take a little, give a little,' and somehow we managed wonderfully.
The scythe of time is whittling at the ranks. One by one those boys are passing to their future rewards. I doff my hat and bow in respect to the old Cooperative Thresher Co. partners who made my seven short years of steam engineering possible and especially to my home-run gang which bore with me to the end of the threshing era. Those 38 years were wonderful and dear to my heart.
1945 - My son, Arnold, became my 50/50 farming partner. Now I could better manage my repair shop.
1953 - On Oct. 1, 1953, coronary thrombosis put me to bed for four months. Now I can't even steer the old Model B oil pull, not to mention cranking it, which formerly was easy for me.
1957 - My wife and partner departed from this mortal shore in August, 1957. Our marriage was blessed with six wonderful children, two boys and four daughters. And now, there are nineteen grandchildren. I live alone in forced retirement, waning with the era that I lived in. With few remaining to gab over old machine days, I relive yon years during winter's writing my life's memoirs, of which this is a chapter.
Psalm 90:10 - Our years are three score and ten: If by reason of strength they be foursome, yet is their strength labour and sorrow: for it is soon cut off and we fly away.
Matt. 24:13-14 - He that endureth unto the end shall be saved. This gospel shall be preached to all the world for a witness and then shall the end come.
P.S. - This latter Scripture is timely in today's developments. The gospel is being preached more and more, while means whereby man can destroy himself are feverishly pursued.
If I have succeeded in a small measure in recalling and reliving cherished memories of old timers, each in their own individual circumstantial lives, then I shall feel rewarded.