O. W. Bowen, known as Ori to his friends, is an original Steam Thresher man. Although he now makes his home at Woodman, Wisconsin, he has traveled many miles tending the 'steamers'. Ori has been a guest engineer at the Zumbro Valley Reunion since the first reunion in 1955. His favorite line is the Advance, and when he comes to the Budenski farm he sort of adopts the Advance 22. Maybe because the first time Robert Budenski became acquainted with Ori he was operating this very engine at Durward Steinmetz near LaFarge, Wis. When Robert purchased the Advance he asked Mr. Bowen if he would like to operate it at the reunion. The answer must have been yes, because on Friday before the reunion Mr. Bowen drove into the yard. Mr. Bowen has many interesting stories to tell. I promised myself I would someday attempt to put an almost complete threshing history of O. W. Bowen down on paper.
His first threshing experience started as many others had, as a band cutter. He then graduated to straw stacker. But the item that interested him most was the shiny new Peerless engine. It was in 1901 in the state of Wisconsin that he decided some day he would operate an engine. Since they were stack threshing, his job went well into the winter, and Wisconsin winters usually are miserable. But he did get to operate his new side-mounted engine near the end of the season.
In 1907 he became a full time engineer on his own rig, a Star manufactured by the C. Aultman Co. of Canton, Ohio. The engine was a top mounted 12 hp and powered a 28 x 54 separator with a 20 bar cylinder, in keeping with the year. This separator was hand fed the first season. The second season a Garden City straight feeder was added. This rig operated a total of 3 seasons in Grant County near the Little Green River.
This was very hilly country. With each move the unexpected happened. One particular hill was very steep. He started up the hill with the engine and separator with a team out front. They did not get far before it was obvious they would have to make the load lighter. So the Loose concaves were removed and the stacker taken off as it was a slat stacker and easy to take off. They got to the top of the hill with the engine but it took eight horses to get the separator up the hill. The other side of the hill did not look so steep so they started down. Things went fine until the engine started to skid with the drivers locked in reverse, the engine skidded about ten feet. They were going down through the woods and brush and the upper drive wheel came into contact with a stump and it was too steep to backup so they ran over the stump and then had to grub the stump to get the separator across. When they got to the bottom of the hill the road was sand and they had to plank across that. They got to the next setting in a reasonable length of time.
A few years later a new blacktop was put in the very spot that Ori and the crew had trouble in and Ori says that it is a very pleasant drive now.
From the hills of Wisconsin Ori could hear the echo of the tall wheat stories of North Dakota. Ori went to Dakota for the season of 1922. Then from 1926 to 1934 O. W. Bowen worked the engines in the wheat fields of North Dakota. He operated many engines. Among them were the 22 Double Port Huron, a 22 Double Nichols and Shepard. His favorite was a 35 hp Compound Advance. This big engine powered an equally big separator of the Avery line. It was a 44/64. It had all the proper equipment and was located near the Canadian border in September shock-threshing. On the 20th of September in 1926 it started raining and snowing. Some of the crew quit and the cook happened to be one of them. So Ori took what he thought to be a temporary job as cook for ten men while the weather was bad. It was three weeks before the weather cleared up and the crew went to threshing again. Only two of the original crew finished the season. They were O. W. Bowen and the tank-man.
Mr. Bowen has experienced firing with straw, wood, and coal. The North Dakota threshing was done with straw and coal. Much of the Wisconsin threshing was done with wood or coal. Mr. Bowen operated steam engines in five states - Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.
In Iowa, Mr. Bowen was guest engineer at the Davenport Reunion in 1954 where he operated a 12 hp Advance for Justin Hintigen of LaMotte, Iowa.
In Illinois Mr. Bowen had the honor of operating a Port Huron Compound 19-65 hp at a reunion.
While in Minnesota, Mr. Bowen operated a Minneapolis engine in 1924 threshing, using straw to fire with. Since 1955 he has been an engineer at the Zumbro Valley Thresherman's Reunion.
He has owned a total of five engines in Wisconsin. They included two Advances of 16 hp; one 21 Compound Advance, one 18 Advance Rumely and a 12 hp Star.
With this colorful career behind him, we sincerely hope O. W. Bowen enjoys many more years of this one time occupation which is now a grand hobby. Good luck, Ori.
This was written by Marilyn Trelstad and printed in the Zumbro Valley
Threshermen's Booklet of 1959.