Box 74 Downs, Kansas 67437
As I enjoy the letters the old timers write in IRON-MEN ALBUM, I
thought I would try my luck either for it or the waste basket. Some
boys want a dog or a pony but it seems I was interested in nothing
but steam. When I heard the first steam thrasher, it was to thrash
for a neighbor and I wanted to go with Dad but he knew that I’d
be better off at home. As I heard him drive out of the yard, I
grabbed my overalls and caught him down the road, missed my
breakfast, so got home for breakfast at ten that night. The man
running the Huber did not look back and as the farmer had pulled in
behind him with the coal, he used both the wagon and the coal for
The Burlington railroad went only a block from the school and as
there were wooden shutters to keep the tramps out, the teacher kept
mine shut so I wouldn’t watch the engines go by. Her boyfriend
was a brakeman on No. 5 and she raised her window and waved at him
standing out on the vestibule. She got her man and I got to be an
engineer, so guess she knew what she was doing.
Dad let me stay home the day we shelled. Mr. Shore was alone and
as the ears were so big for a spring sheller, he showed me how to
operate the injector on the twelve horse Westing-house so he could
push feed them through. Don’t think many are living now who ran
a Westinghouse steamer.
Then I got a job hauling water and worked three days when the
boss wanted to go home since it had rained a little. He told me to
build a fire at eleven o’clock the next day and blow the
whistle at noon so they would know that we were to thrash. It was
one of those mornings when the smoke came out of the fire door and
ash pan on the Huber. A man came along and noticed the water was
dripping and shut the bottom valve (unknown to me) on the water
glass. I had asked the engineer how so much water got into the
glass the day before. He said that it was expansion and since the
glass was full, I knew it was the reason I didn’t get steam, so
I opened the blow-off. But, it was still to the top of the glass. I
had enough steam to whistle as he said, but let out some more
water. Then, when the mud came, I knew what I had done. I pulled
the fire and shut up everything tight. The only harm done was the
soft plug and since he had one on hand, we started to thrash at
A near neighbor moved away and didn’t want to take the
thrasher with him and wanted to sell it to me. I was 19 and had
just bought horses and implements to farm with. I said I
couldn’t buy it but he said to take it and send him $700.00
when I got the money. When I got started, another neighbor wanted
to sell me a nearly new Reeves No. 12 corn sheller the same way. I
would like to hear from any old timer who had a No. 12 Reeves as it
would shell sixty bushels a minute. The first job was on a 1000
acre farm and all the cribs were full of corn; when it rained, we
shelled. Wheat, oats and corn finished, I had the cash and sent it
When I was a kid, Dad read in the paper about the boy that was
thrown into the cylinder by the feeder man. We lived near Lincoln,
Nebraska at that time. Since I had experience with threshers, a man
named Ruth told me about it here at Downs, Kansas and said that he
had gone to school with the boy. Then I was in Osborne (Kans.) and
some old men were sitting by the bank. I asked if they had heard of
it (the accident) and one fellow jumped up and said he had been
there and seen it happen and had also gone to school with the boy.
He said if I would take him, he would show me the exact spot. He
said he saw them hang the feeder man to the straw carrier and they
burnt the machine up on the spot.
I had all I could do with the 16 hp TT Geiser grading roads,
thrashing and shelling, 14 silos to fill, then when the corn was
all shucked, I went to work in the Burlington shops at Have-lock
(Lincoln, Neb. now). The wages were not too good but the experience
was worth a lot in repairing my own machinery. There the
superintendent said to either stay in or stay out. The next winter
I worked in the roundhouse at Lincoln. I had worked two weeks and
George Shrank, who I worked with, got to be foreman. He told me I
was to be inspector. I said to give the job to a man who had been
there seven years but he said he had to have a man he could trust
so I had to do it. I found out what he meant several times.
The night inspector OK’ed a passenger engine just as I got
to work in the AM. I stopped the engineer from taking it out with
the saddle broken from one corner to the other which could have
made a bad spill. An engineer on No. 43 was bringing his engine
back to the house, stopped and began to work me over for not
reporting a cracked cylinder head. I told him it was just a leaky
cylinder cock. I reported it but they didn’t get it fixed on
the high pressure cylinder. He asked how many cylinders I thought a
locomotive had and I said the old ones had two but the new compound
had four. I told him to oil the inside guides or he would burn the
engine up. He offered me two cigars if I told no one. I didn’t.
He had been over there so long. .but OK now.
Soon Shrank told me to get some parts at the storeroom and put
them in the cab of No. 43 engine and stay with them until I gave
them to the roundhouse foreman and then to help him out. The day
foreman sent for me and told me I was to work days which I would
have rather done. That night, as I looked for a room, the mechanic
I worked with grabbed me as 43 was waiting to take us to Broken Bow
(Neb.) since an engine was broken down there. I told him I was too
tired to go but he was bigger than me so I had to go. When we got
back the next day, I had been 96 hours without sleep. I had a close
call, I was so sleepy. I paid no attention as they had left the
train east of town to get water and coal and made a run for the
hill west. I stepped down from our engine cab in front of the
oncoming train. The engineer reported me killed when he got to
Alliance (Neb.). I still don’t know what saved me.
Another close call happened the next year. Havelock and Lincoln
were on prohibition that year. Some Greeks were working to build
the new shops there, took a hand car and went to Greenwood to get
beer. I was walking on the track to go to Church and they asked me
to ride and help pump. The one facing east said a train was coming.
Another said it was a freight since it was throwing smoke so high.
I thought it was too. A Greek jumped on the brake and said too
close, too close. Some were tipping the handcar to the right and
some left. I hollered this way and we just made it by a second. It
was a special train. A man in Chicago offered $15,000 to get
himself to Denver before his ailing son died there. If our car
would have been hit, there sure would have been some talk among
officials. The C B & Q bought a lot of the biggest locomotives
made at that time (1906) and since I only weighed 110 lbs. I was
rejected as a fireman. I gave up railroading.
I pulled an elevator grader til time to thrash. Then after I had
finished my regular run, I got another 14,000 bu. job. The clutch
pinion dogs were worn out so badly, I couldn’t go for-word,
just back up. I started to Lincoln to trade and had a steep hill to
go down. I thought the brake would hold but it took fire so had a
runaway. Guess I was doing about 10 miles an hour. I had a two
wheel tender which made steering worse but by good luck, I hit the
center of the bridge. I got a new Geiser, a real good engine.
A man was repairing my old TT to take out to thrash the next
summer. I asked the agent if he cared if I told the man the TT had
to have a new cross head and piston rod. He said he could tighten
it up to hold. I said ‘Well, I’ve told you.’ He got it
home and thrashed two hours when the piston cylinder head and hold
the cylinder went up to see how the separator was doing.
In 1912 the wheat looked like a failure around Lincoln. The
advance feeder wasted wheat, so I ordered a Garden City, as there
was such poor prospects. I asked them to cancel the order. He said
he wouldn’t and for me to get on my motorcycle and go to
Fairbury. He had pulled a machine out of there. The neighbors were
wild since they had no one to do their threshing. They had 50 bu.
wheat and the machine gone since the owner had died. I stopped at
the Sneider place just before I got to Fairbury. They had 500 acres
of good wheat and wouldn’t let me go. They got the whole
neighborhood for me to thresh. The oldest boy would tend the
separator and they furnished the tank team and boy to keep me
I went back to get the machine and got up at 2 AM, fired up and
drove the nine miles to Lincoln and got loaded on a car. I was
tired and laid down on a baggage truck. Two big cops came and asked
what I was doing there. I said that I was waiting for my train to
pick me up. They said there was no train at that time of night. I
told them the agent said there was. They said they knew better and
said that I was going with them, so I went. They asked where I was
going and I said to Fairbury to thrash grain. One said ‘Is that
your machine on the car?’ and I told them I had just finished
loading it. They asked why I didn’t tell them. I said that it
was too hot for me to go back into the Depot. Then the rains came
at Lincoln. The wheat came out and made 15 bu. It was so wet that
they had to stack it so I did all of my old run when I got back. It
made a big year for me after all.
In 1916, I traded the outfit for a 30-60 Aultman-Taylor and went
to Chappell, Neb., bought a half-section of land and broke sod with
the A.T. The salesman came out to sell me a separator but I wanted
to quit thrashing since I was now married and my wife didn’t
want any more of it. When it rained, the crew and ranch help made
85 men to cook for. The salesman came down in price and I told him
to come back the next day and I would let him know. Since we would
have 600 acres the next year and I got a nice run northeast, I said
that we would take it. I got it home and one of the neighbors said
that Nispel was bringing in a big machine and they were all letting
him do theirs, so had no run.
A neighbor from the south came on Sunday PM and asked where I
was going to thrash. I told him how it was and he asked if I would
thrash for him. I told him to be ready in the morning if he could.
The separator was a 33-56. He got ten racks and lots of help from
east and south and the next job was on the highest spot. When they
saw the straw flying, they just kept coming. Nispel’s men
celebrated the last night before prohibition and thrashed a few
loads of oats so the farmers could plow if it rained. Thrashed two
loads of wheat and threw a rod through the case of the Flower City.
Nispel wouldn’t spend $1500 to fix it.
The neighbors came to see if I would still thrash for them. I
said I would but that it would be six weeks or more. They asked if
I had another job after Olie’s since I had just moved out
there. I said I didn’t know the farmers but Nordel had lived
there all of his life and he ought to know them. I showed him my
book and he said that I would be thrashing until the snow falls. I
had all of his old run and Swanson’s too. They asked me if they
stacked, if I would thrash for them. And since it was during the
first World War, I couldn’t get a separator man and I had to
run it alone. The only season that I ever thrashed over 100,000
bushels! The morning that I pulled in, all I could see was the top
of the elevator above the snow.
About the last steamer I ran was an NC 18 engine on a 16 boiler.
They wanted me to pull the separator with the Aultman-Taylor but it
was near Thanksgiving time and I would have to drain the radiator.
I asked what they had been pulling it with and they said the
Nichols and Shephard wouldn’t pull it. I went over and saw it
was in top shape. I said I would make it pull a 32 x 56 Huber. The
trouble was that the teeth were more than half gone. The Turkey Red
Straw was covered with rust that you could make into a rope. I
reversed of the cylinder teeth while I fired up in the morning.
That helped a lot. I was running after dark and choked the
cylinder. The separator man said he cleaned it out. He said for me
to start. When I did, he said to stop again. I asked what was wrong
now and he answered that the separator didn’t start. So you can
tell how hard it was for the separator to pull in that hard
I often think how well THE IRON MEN is named when I think of the
Graves at Chappell (Neb.) pulling 12 bottoms, 2 disks and 2 drills
with their 110 Case with a man walking ahead with a lantern to
allow the operator to see the furrow since it was during a bad snow
We made a mistake when we junked an undermounted 65 hp Star
engine in the second world war. My twin boys and son-in-law farm
several thousand acres and run eleven combines during harvest.
Although I am 85 years young this summer, I still make a spare.
I have been retired since 1950 and attend the reunions each
year. I have been superintendent and taught Sunday School for 65
years and still have a class. I have a pretty gold engraved watch
they presented me when I was placed on the honor roll after thirty
years as elder in the Downs Christian Church. The young men I grew
up with said Bill would die a young man working so hard. But, I am
the only one left, happy but I miss my old pals.
The longest funeral I ever heard of took place a week ago; my
hired girl went to it and hasn’t got back yet.