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.
1915-16-17 – National Tractor Demonstration Circuits-
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
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.
1917 – American Thresherman Magazine
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
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.
38 Years A Custom Man
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
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.