20 HP double cylinder Keck Gonnerman and a scale model of same built 1969-1975.
Route 1, Box 86-U, Brumley, Missouri 65017
It all began in the year of 1912 when my grandfather purchased a new 18 HP single cylinder side-mounted Buffalo Pitts. He purchased a grain separator at the same time and began his threshing career, in and around Bagnell, Missouri. My father said when they unloaded it off the flatcar there was a factory man with it to start them out on it.
In order to get to their home they had to cross the Osage River. This was accomplished by loading on a barge for the crossing, which almost swamped it, dad thought. This, not being a big wheat country, they would thresh about three months and build roads and run a sawmill the rest of the time. This was about par for the course for the next 15 years, at such time they purchased a 27-44 Twin City tractor which they threshed with until about 1937. My grandfather owned several engines during this time, but sold all but 'Old Buffalo' which he owned at his passing in 1939.
In the early 30s a friend of the family borrowed the engine and the sawmill to saw a tract of timber and in the process had a fatal heart attack while turning a log on the mill.
The old outfit set for some years and one day my father said 'Let's go get Old Buffalo,' to my brother and I. Needless to say, we were tickled pink to be in on this trip. We got the necessary buckets, funnel, wrenches etc. to make her ready for firing. We carried water for what seemed like an eternity before it came into sight in the glass, but at that point you could see progress even though small. Dad had laid the fire while we were carrying water and since it was showing in the glass, he touched the fire off and we finished filling to his satisfaction. To the best of my knowledge there wasn't a leak any place. By this time the water was beginning to boil and in a short time we could turn the blower on and the fire burned brighter and the steam began to raise faster and in a few minutes we had enough to fill the head tank and in a few minutes we were on our road home: the unheard of distance of six miles. This was on a Saturday and when night fell we were about half way home by a creek, so we took on water and got some big sticks of wood to bank the fire with and went home for a well earned supper.
The next morning we went back and kindled the fire; in a short time we were on our way home. While we were going along we would blow the whistle long and loud and several people heard it and came running to see the old engine running again and as I remember it, my mother had to set a dinner table for about 25 people that day. We went back and got the sawmill a little later and set it up and began sawing for ourselves and our neighbors.
My brother and I cared for the engine while dad did the sawing. I don't know why, but either we had plenty of water and not much steam or was it the other way around? Well, I don't know if any of you ever fired with green sycamore slabs or not but dad being a very conservative sawyer; there wasn't much left but sap. By this time the war clouds were gathering and Uncle Sam said I Want You, and I was almost glad to go to get out of firing the engine.
My brother and I were gone from 1940 to 1947 and in the meantime dad had gotten an old car engine for the power unit for the mill. He pulled 'Old Buffalo' off to the side and she set until the early 50s. One day a junk dealer came along and offered dad $50.00 for her and dad said the man will give $50.00 for her and I don't guess we will have any further use for her and I said he will give $100.00 and lets keep the whistle, gauge, pop alve and babbitt out of the bearings. Dad told the man what I said and needless to say he took him up on the deal.
It wasn't many years until we wished we had the engine back, but she was gone forever. I feel a little mad at this junk dealer until this day for coming along and offering a price for the engine, but if it hadn't been him I guess there would have been someone else.
We talked engines and steam for several years and in 1966 a friend of mine got me to go to Mt. Pleasant and after seeing that array of engines, the talking was no longer enough. In the spring of 1967, I heard of a number of engines at Columbia, Missouri, owned by H. H. Lawson. My brother and I went up and looked at them and a short time later I got this friend that got me to go to Mt. Pleasant to go with me and look at these engines. We made a trip or two and he bought a 22 HP single cylinder Keck Gonnerman and I bought a 20 HP double cylinder Keck-Gonnerman.
Now we had the job of getting them home and there was quite a bit involved as the one I got was overwidth and almost too high, but we made it home without any trouble and I fired mine up several times while it was still freezing weather. I began to think we needed some grain so we could have something to thresh so I prepared 10 acres of oats the first part of March. I looked at the old grain binder we had from years past and it was rotted down, so I went back to the man from whom I purchased the engine and got a 10' power binder and got it ready for harvest.
In June we got the oats bound and shocked, so we set a date for an oldtime threshing, did a little advertising, 'come and see if you like, no charge.' There was probably six or eight hundred people and now many people say we didn't know about it, so you will have to have it again. We have put the same ground into wheat and plan on doing it all over again. We had two large engines, one half-size Case and several small models. We had a Baker Fan which we finished making hours before the start of the show. We have another big engine, several gas engines and a number of old tractors which are all restored, also an old steam drill for next year.
My son got married in July just before the show and that is the fourth generation, so who knows, the fifth could be coming up.
Well, what do you know, 'Time slips away.' Ten years have come and gone since I wrote the first part of this article. As can happen the fifth generation has come along in fact three of them; two girls and a boy.
The threshing show has continued all these years and the 11th one was held July 23 and 24, 1977. We certainly don't have the largest show on earth and maybe not the smallest, but we have had lots of fun.
In 1969 I decided that I should build a half-scale model of the 20 HP double Keck-Gonnerman that I purchased in 1967. I started with the boiler first and made it a water bottom all riveted, 3/8' material. I fabricated the engines, with a few castings of brass. I cast the lugs on the wheels out of aluminum which skin up a little on these Missouri rocks, but the old cast ones did, too. I also have the whistle off 'Old Buffalo' on the model. It was a rewarding six years of past-time and I met and corresponded with some of the nicest people in obtaining governor, injectors, pop valve, etc. Namely, Clyde Comstock, Fred Brubaker and Paul Campbell.
The first time I showed the engine publicly was at an art and craft show at Riverview Baptist Church in March of 1975. In July I went to Paris, Missouri to the Mark Twain Old Threshers Show and I heartily recommend this show to anyone and especially model builders. In that year they had 38 models and that was a sight for sore eyes. There are many good shows, in fact I know of no bad ones. I try to make five or six each year and I enjoy every one of them for I go with that in mind. My boiler isn't a coded boiler and some states frown on that, but let me say this; I wouldn't want to operate an unsafe boiler for my own 'safety first,' then the others next.
I am an avid reader of the Iron Men Album and have been for a long time and I would say keep up the good work at any cost. The Album needs to be a daily, for I read it from cover to cover the day it comes or at the most the second day.
I am sending a picture of the large and small of it and if you have room on some page and want to print this, you may. Holding you in high esteem.