THE BIG CHANGE-OVER FROM STEAM TO GAS ENGINES AND SMALL THRESHERS

1 / 3
Sawing on the John McGee farm in Coshocton County by the McCoy Bros. in 1890 with their Scheidler Engine.
2 / 3
3 / 3

Box 822, Watertown, South Dakota

The year was 1914, and I was running a 25-75 Case Engine, and a
40 x 62 Separator in North Dakota, and over in another field, I saw
my first small Gas Tractor and small size Separator (a Belle City)
I.H.C. and I don’t recall the Tractor make, but it resembled a
Mowing Machine with some tanks and a one cylinder Gas Engine. The
Separator looked like an oversized fanning mill with a straw
carrier attached to it.

This outfit put in 6 weeks on a 40 acre field, and then called
our outfit in to finish 600 acres for him, and I thought that was
one farmer who would not be in the threshing business the following
year. I was mistaken though, for the next year he bought a brand
new tractor and a Carger Separator with Feeder, Wind Stacker, and
Weigher attached. Two of his neighbors also bought new small Gas
Outfits. In 1924 all but three of the farmers we had threshed for
in 1914 had their own Gas outfits, and the Big Steam Outfits in
that section were doomed, and many of the old Farmer Threshermen
could not afford to pull his outfit out for custom work.

In some cases the Thresherman sold part interest in his Steam
Outfit to 4 or 5 of his neighbors to keep the little machines out
until he had partly worn out his big $5,000.00 machine, but this
didn’t work out very well, for all the partners wanted their
own job done first. The next year would see each with a new small
machine and tractor.

Sawing on the John McGee farm in Coshocton County by the McCoy
Bros. in 1890 with their Scheidler engine. (Just a different
location than pictured above.) Mr. T. R. McCoy started firing on
his father’s Russell engine at age 13. Later he spent 13 years
on the freighters on the Great Lakes as fireman and then got his
stationary licenses which he is still working under. Mr. McCoy
found these pictures (shown on this page and preceding page) after
his father’s death and thought we might be able to use
them.

These tractors were not the Modern 2-4 and 6 Cylinder types that
were developed later, and the farmers found this out and paid
plenty for their experience. Many of the old Threshermen cut down
from the Big Steamers and bought some of 20-40 and 30-60 Gas and
Kerosene type tractors, and the Machine Companies went after these
threshermen to buy the 32 x 52 and 36 x 56 size threshers. They
bought thousands of them, and never wore out any of them, because
the Combine came to replace them.

Steam Engines, that were good for another 10 or 15 years and
easily worth $1000.00 were sold for junk for fifty to a hundred
dollars. I saw 11 good steam engines loaded for junk one summer at
Berlin, North Dakota. The old machines were left in fence corners
for the turkeys to roost on and the cook cars were used for chicken
brooders and kids’ playhouses. I have wondered many times who
took the loss on those (lemon tractors) that were made in the start
of the change-over from steam to gas. I am sure the Machine
Companies couldn’t have stood up under that load and I suppose
it was put into the new way of threshing and paid for by the
farmers who wanted to thresh.

It would take many millions to pay the old threshermen for the
machines they were forced by circumstances to throw in the scrap
heap. The money invested in the small type Separators, when they
changed to the combines would make quite a large stack, but we must
look up and he progressive and ‘hang’ the cost. And now the
people are all getting crazy about the Old Steamers, but I am
wondering if they haven’t been crazy for some time and are just
coming ‘down to earth’ again.

One of E. G. Rosen’s engines that has been used in the
successful threshing bees from 1957 to 1959. The engine is of about
a 1913 or 1914 vintage. A 25 hp twin cylinder or Double Nichols
& Shepard and a 36′ x 60′ Huber separator with Garden
City Wing feeder — these were the conventional sizes in this part
of Minnesota in their day. The twin cylinder attracts much
attention as most of the engines used around here were of the
single cylinder type. They usually ranged in sizes from 18 to 30
hp. The combine has not taken over completely. There is still a
sizeable amount of what little small grain there is raised in this
community separated by the old threshing machines!

Of all the old steam threshing machine companies, the J. I. Case
Company seems to be the only one that survived the change from
steam to gas power, and they still manufacture a complete line of
Combines, Harvesters and Farm Machines. All the other old companies
have been affiliated or taken into the Allis Chalmers Corporation,
Oliver Machine Company, Minneapolis Machine Co. and International
Harvester Co., Advance Rumely, Gaar-Scott, Aultman-Taylor, Avery,
Minneapolis, Russell, Buffalo-Pitts, Nichols & Shepard, Port
Huron, Reeves and Co., Huber, Peerless, Northwest, Baker, Wood
Brothers. These famous names and machines are what the old timers
organizations are trying to resurrect and bring back for the
younger generation to see, and know how things got done in the good
old days before they were born.

I think a History of Harvesting and Threshing would be a
splendid addition to any Library, either private or public schools
and etc. And now that the change-over has been completed, and paid
for, let us look into the future for the next change-over to
Electric and Atomic Power for the farm machines and I predict it
will come before the start of the next century. If an Atomic
Battery can move a submarine, it can run any machine, so keep your
eyes and ears open, folks, for the Atomic Power Age is closer than
you think –and I hope I am alive to see it come to pass.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment