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Old-time machines thresh away in Homer

By Staff | Sep 2, 2011

Don Hodgson, of Ogden, operates the 1902 Port Huron steam tractor on display at the West Central Region Cockshutt and Co-op Club’s 11th annual Threshing Bee at Homer. While keeping an eye on all the engine controls, he also has to watch the crew working on the threshing machine it’s powering in case they signal him to stop.

HOMER – Owners of modern tractors have it pretty easy.

Turn the key, start the engine … begin working.

Owners of tractors run by steam have a bit more to do.

Don Hodgson, of Ogden, who was operating a 1902 Port Huron steam engine at the West Central Region Cockshutt and Co-op Club Threshing Bee at Homer Aug. 27, said the process begins with filling the boiler with water, then getting a fire going in the firebox.

“You want to heat it up nice and easy,” he said.

Wendell Shellabarger, of Des Moines, stops to carefully look over and take a few photographs of a restored Minneapolis Moline tractor at the West Central Region Cockshutt and Co-Op Club 11th annual Threshing Bee at Homer. He has an identical tractor that he is working on at home.

While the steam is getting up to pressure, the operator walks around and checks every valve, pipe fitting and most importantly, the safety valve.

He’ll also need a full oil can.

“You lubricate every part that can move,” he said.

It’s far from a simple, quick operation.

“There’s a lot of work to it,” he said.

Marvin Beerends, of Prairie City, loads another fork of oats onto the feed belt of the circa 1915 vintage McCormick-Deering threshing machine being operated at the bee.

Even after three or four hours – when the machine is heated up and the boiler pressure is up to 100 pounds per square inch – the operator doesn’t just open the throttle wide and hightail it for the field.

There are two valves he has to remember to open on the cylinder to bleed out wet steam and water, then close again.

Then it can go to work.

On Saturday, club members had connected the steam tractors large flywheel to a circa 1915 vintage McCormick-Deering threshing machine. A wagon full of oats awaiting processing.

Delbert Telshaw, of Fort Dodge, was watching the crew work. Telshaw, 81, worked many a hot day with a similar machine on the family farm.

John Griffith, of Cambridge, stands atop the circa 1915 vintage McCormick-Deering threshing machine at it's many whirling gears, pulleys and belts, during the West Central Region Cockshutt and Co-Op Club 11th annual Threshing Bee at Homer Saturday morning.

“I was 14 years old when I started baling,” he said, “I did that till I was 19 when we went to a combine.”

His father, Walter, was a member of a threshing ring of eight other families. It was common then for a group to combine resources and share equipment. After the threshing was done, they would meet and settle the accounts.

His dad owned the steam tractor they used; before he was old enough to pitch grain into the thresher, he helped with another chore.

“I carried water for it,” he said.

Marvin Beerends, of Prairie City, was doing what Telshaw had done as a youth, pitching oat plants into the hungry threshing machine.

“This was before my time,” he said. “But it’s something you have to keep going.”

While he didn’t bring a tractor to display, he is working a 1949 Cockshutt 30 at home, performing what he calls a maintenance restoration.

“It’s allowed some dents and scratches,” he said. “I’ve got some; it deserves a few too.”

Visitors to the Threshing Bee also saw logs being turned into lumber in the sawmill. The machinery was originally owned by Cecil Widick. His son, Dewayne Widick, satnearby watching club members as they reduced a log to planks.

“We sawed a lot of lumber to pallets,” he said. “We also did a lot of custom cutting.”

Widick said he was enjoying watching the machinery running again. His role is now advisory.

“I do give them some little pointers,” he said.

While a steady stream of visitors make the journey to Homer to see the tractors, machinery, sawmill and cream separator, few drive their tractors, and home-built camping trailers, to the event.

Merle Hoppenworth, of Slater, along with a dozen friends who form a loose knit club called Hoppy’s World Tour, did.

His trailer looks like a barn complete with a silo. The silo contains a chemical toilet, the barn interior has bunks, air conditioning, ceiling fans, a microwave and several other comforts of home.

“We’re totally self contained,” he said.

The touring group began its trek in Gilbert, camped in Webster City and were visiting Homer on the way to their next stop in Boone.

Wendell Shellabarger, of Des Moines, found something to his liking at the bee – a fully restored Minneapolis Moline tractor exactly like the one he has at home.

“I want to see what it’s supposed to look like when I’m done,” he said.

Contact Hans Madsen at (515) 573-2141 or hmadsen@messengernews.net

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