(The following write up was sent to us by an unnamed member of
the Pioneer Engineers Club of Indiana -I wrote the Newspaper The
Muncie Star and they very generously gave us their permission to
use this article in our magazine. Thank you, Larry Shorbe, City
Editor for your answer and permission.)
By MARTIN BIEMER
RUSHVILLE (AP) The sign said, ‘All Boilers Safety
Inspected.’ It was reassuring.
Treading the ground of the hollow were hissing, creaking,
well-worn steam engines, the machines which did America’s heavy
farm work until a quarter century ago.
The occasion was the 20th annual reunion of the Pioneer Engineer
Club of Indiana. Each summer the club stages an old-time threshing
exhibition typical of dozens throughout the nation.
WISPS OF SMOKE and the soft
‘chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff’ of the engines drifted up from
the hollow. The air was filled with the hot smell of wood and coal
smoke, lubricating oil and boiler compound.
In the middle of the hollow, the scent of fresh sawdust mingled
with the smell of machinery. One of the old engines was driving an
old portable sawmill. The men heaved logs and cut lumber as they
did several decades ago, but this was for fun.
Nearby, another engine was driving a. huge, paddle-wheel type
fan, merely to put a load on the machine so the spectators could
hear it ‘talk’ through its smoke stack.
‘We love to hear an engine talk,’ said Ray Jones,
Sunman, president of the club the last 11 years. ‘It’s
music to our ears.’
There were 19 big engines in all, including a steam roller. The
club spent $3,000 to haul the heavy machines from their owners’
farms to the exhibition site.
Here and there among the big engines were the miniatures
one-eighth to one-half-size models built by men who love steam but
haven’t the space or the money for the old-timers.
The highlight of the day was the parade, when all the engines
strutted their stuff.
BERMAN WARNER of R.R. 1, Anderson, offered a
ride on one of the biggest engines there, his 1920 Minneapolis
24-horsepower unit. Warner worked on such an engine 40 years
James Helsley, Middletown, a thresherman and farmer most of his
life, served as Warner’s fireman and assistant engineer.
Warner steered the 14-ton giant, constantly cranking the
cast-boo wheel back and forth. Helsley handled the throttle, clutch
and reverse lever.
The engine moved away smoothly and quickly reached crusing speed
of about two miles per hour. Steel-tired wheels flattened bumps in
the soil. Vibration from the huge gears driving the wheels made the
entire machine hum. Heat of the sun beat down from above, and the
heat of the engine seeped up from below.
Each engine paused while an announcer introduced it and its
‘Blow your whistle,’ he commanded.
Warner jerked the whistle chain down all the way. The shriek
vibrated the leaves on nearby trees. Children and adults held their
ears. Toddlers broke into tears.
After the parade came the threshing demonstration. Paul Alyea,
Greenfield, lined up his Indiana-built Keck-Gonner-man engine and
separator. A dozen helpers pitched the cut grain onto the chute
leading into the separator, and the threshed grain and straw were
blown out separate chutes.
CARL McCLOUD, 76, Amo, set up a similar
demonstration with his’ half-size model engine and separator.
Young boys pitched the cut grain, and a miniature straw stack grew
behind the machine.
Paul Cole of R.R. 1, Morristown, was another of the model engine
exhibitors. As a boy, he worked as a fireman on his father’s
1917 Baker engine. It took him seven years to build a model.
Why did he build it?
‘I’ve always been fascinated with Steam,’ he
What happens to the engines when the generation of old-time
thresherman fades away?
‘A few younger men are entering the club,’ he said.
‘But whether there’ll be enough to keep us going . . .
Well, us eld men are a little skeptical.’
But McCloud had a different idea.
‘I used to think we’d play out,’ he said. ‘But I
don’t know, now. This is a lot bigger than it was when we got
A dentist and an undertaker have joined the club and have
purchased restored engines from old-time threshermen. The young
faces watching the engines couldn’t be less fascinated than the
ones of yore. And quite a few teenagers were operating their