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Stories of Steam Thrashin'

Donald C. Thoma Reminisces about Ohio Threshermen

| May 2005

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    Opposite page: Donald C. Thoma.
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    Right and below: Webster Kirby’s crew threshing with Webster’s double-cylinder Rumely and Rumely thresher at the James Parlett farm south of Ridgeville, Ohio, circa 1912.
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    Above: A 1903 Warren (Ohio) County atlas noted “prominant thresherman” James Sweney, and included a picture not only of his farm, but also of a Gaar-Scott traction engine.
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    Left: A Case engine and threshing rig were highlighted in the same 1903 atlas, posed in front of A.B. Sides’ warehouse. Threshing was a key industry in Warren County.

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It isn't every day that you get to visit with a neighbor who remembers steam threshing. And when Donald C. Thoma dropped by to see my Case steamer, I knew it was going to be a good day.

Born in 1921, Donald farms near Ridgeville, Ohio, and lives in the house built by Martin Keever, an early settler who figured prominently in Ohio history. Part of Donald's home is the brick house Martin built in 1809, the birth year of Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe. The rest of Donald's house was completed in 1836. To walk through one of the three front doors is to step back into history.

Donald has nine children. After his first wife, Margaret, passed away, he married Ruth, who has four children of her own. Donald has the easy-going nature that comes with big families.

Indeed, big families run in Donald's family: His great grandfather, James Parlett, had 15 children by two wives. James was born in 1810. In his early 20s, he walked all the way to Ohio from Fredericksburg, Va. Donald's father had six brothers and six sisters, his father-in-law (one of 12) had seven children, and his mother-in-law was one of 12.


Steam-powered agriculture also runs in Donald's family. One of James' boys, Washington, had a Case steam engine and thresher. Washington's brother Dave, Donald's grandfather, most likely fired the Case "because he was good with boilers - a good fireman," Donald recalled. "He also was the one to fire the kettles at butchering time." Donald's father, Charlie Thoma, owned half interest in a 28-inch Wood Bros. Hummingbird separator. The other owner was Wilbur Hutt. Charlie and Wilbur threshed on Turtle Creek and around Ridgeville. They used a 30 Hart-Parr to pull the thresher.

"James Sweney had a Huber without a canopy," Donald remembered as we spoke. "He said each time his son Howard fired it, the sparks went down Howard's neck. On one occasion, it was getting dark, but the crew wanted to finish. So they threshed two more loads before going to have supper on the screened porch. Howard was eating when he heard a plop plop. He looked up, and there was a hen looking down at him. He said you had to watch where you put your plate."


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