Sunday, July 19, 2009

Old Tractors That Helped Built A Nation

While out riding yesterday enjoying the just spectacular weather we are having here in Iowa I ran across and antique tractor show and swap meet. Since I’m mechanically minded I just had to stop in and investigate. Every year at the Iowa State Fair I go up the hill and watch the steam engines chug and pop along being just fascinated that these hundred year old machines still run and do work. I was about to be treated to some really cool vintage iron work horses on this day. 07-18-09_1608 The first thing I seen after paying my fives backs was this massive machine working in the sawmill. Yes just like you use to seen while watching The Walton’s on Sunday evening there was a complete working sawmill. This 1903 model was just chugging away when I walked up to talk to the operator. Just as I’m asking the gentleman what year the ol’ girl was she reminded me that these are very dangerous machines. Just as the words left my mouth I heard this very loud CRACK like a buggy whip right next to my head as I was standing right next to the rear wheel. The big drive belt had started to come apart and was whipping around and every time it went over the drive pulley it CRACKED as it whipped the wheel. I few minutes and a sharp knife later it was back to work for the ol’ gal. When I told the operator what I did for a living he asked me how many hundred year old Mercedes are around. Laughing I told he “hell sometimes they don’t last ten years, let alone a hundred.” While they were loading a new log to saw up he shoved more wood in the boiler to stoke the fire. When I laughingly made the comment about burning up all of his production he just smiled and responded “seems counter productive doesn’t it?” This gal made thirteen horses on the draw bar and about fifty on the pulley. 07-18-09_1607 Of course any time you go to an event like this you are rewarded with great home cooked food. For the grand total of six bucks I enjoyed a monster wet maid rite hamburger and ice cold tea. Then later after exploring more of the grounds they held an old fashion corn on the cobble feed for free.

Have you ever wondered what is going on inside that mass of metal between you legs? Well wonder no more. Here is a little video showing you just how things move inside your trusty steed.

Tractors of every size and color were represented. While none could be considered fast and using single or double bottom plows would take long hard days to turn the dirt that today's machines can turn in just hours they none the less got the job done and helped feed the world. But I got to think using this David Bardley would not only take a long time but you would have a sore butt at the end of the day too!  07-18-09_1728  There was a couple of big sheds with some big stationary diesel engines used for generating electricity back in the day. These two stroke three and four cylinder engines were impressive. But it was when I strolled into the second shed my jaw hit the ground.150 Tons Just look at the size of this beast. This generator was used from the 1930s until the 1950s to power the Iowa State Prison in Fort Madison Iowa. It was coal fired at the time making 480 volts AC at 60hz, with a maximum speed of 120 RPM and weighs a mind boggling 150 tons! That is 300,000 back breaking pounds. The state tried for years to just give it away because it is only one of two known to have every been built in Burlington Iowa with the sister machine having been shipped to China back in the 1930s. Because of it’s size as you can imagine there weren’t many people lined up to haul her away. The engine had set so long that the engine was stuck so it would need rebuilt too. It took a team of ten old fellers to disassemble it and haul it half way across the state making eleven trips and big cranes to get her to her new home in Waukee Iowa. 07-18-09_1709 It took the team of ten men seven years working in their spare time to restore her back to all of her glory she once had. When the engine fired to life for the first time in fifty years back in 2001 one of the men exclaimed “the beast has awaken!” I was so bummed I didn’t get to see her run that day but she had in fact ran all day long to the delight I’m sure of anyone who happen to see this impressive machine chugging away. To say I was in awe looking and reading about this beautiful machine is a huge understatement. I stared at her for thirty minutes and just marveled at what it must of took not just to manufacture her but also the amount of work to deliver and assemble her back in the 1930s. Can you imagine shipping the other one half way around the world back then?

You can bet I will be back at this great event next year to see this great show again. This is by an far the best eleven bucks I’ve spent in a very long time. This has ignited my desire to go to The Old Threshers Reunion in a few months. I went there as a kid of about 14 so I think it’s time to go see this event again. It is one of the largest collection of steam engines and antique tractors in the nation too boot. Fun stuff!



Arizona Harley Dude said...

Impressive indeed as old mechanical devices are a reminder of where we come from. To look at them and think about how they were built and moved into place back then is a true marvel.

Dean "D-Day" said...

I love going to see these old engines. The popping and chugging that they do is quaint in a way that takes you back to a simpler time. Thanx for sharing these!

mq01 said...

very cool. it looks and sounds like a fun time!!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Fasthair:

I have been among the missing recently, owing to a 7-day motorcycle run down to and around Tennessee. It took more out of me than I expected. Plus, my laptop blew up on this run and had to be replaced on the fly so to speak. I believe I owe you a response to an inquiry.

I'll get to it tonight.

I loved this blog episide. No man can fail to be delighted nby heavy machinery, and steam is always special.

Fondest regards,
Jack "reep" Toad
Twisted Roads

fasthair said...

Mr. AHD and Mr. Dean: They truly are hard to walk by and not just wonder in amazement at these huge machines. Like I said every year at our state fair I just set there and smile and giggle inside knowing how old there are and the fact they can still run and work. Of course they take work to keep them in working order but try and find anything that old that doesn't and still works as well as these simple old machines.

Ms. M: It was very cool!!! Simple things in a time when things aren't so simple makes for very fun relaxing time.

Mr. Jack: I knew you were on your BMW adventure so I knew you would be out of touch for a bit. Sucks to hear about the PC. I hate PC troubles. I can't think of anything I asked. Another shot of rum maybe?


irondad said...

I had a friend in his late 80's. He remembered sitting on a tractor in North Dakota as a lad and watching the sky darken during the dust bowl days. Walter loved old tractors. I never paid much attention, really. Walter used to ride motorcycles, too. One day I took him for a ride about a half hour north of here. The destination was the annual tractor and steam engine festival in Brooks.

Walter's enthusiasm for the old machinery rubbed off on me. To Walter these were the machines he grew up working on. To me they became a way to bring life back to a tired old man's eyes. We bonded over old tractors for many years before he died.

That's the key, I think. To really get to know the individual personalites of the old machines. I learned much of that from Walter as he told me about his farming life. He'd spent seat time on some of the very models we were looking at. Between old tractors, barn raisings, and farm food, we're losing something valuable as these things pass away. It saddens me. It's good to see that people are still keeping these values around.

Sorry to hijack your post. I guess you touched a part of me that needed expressing. I miss Walter a lot.

Miss FJR said...

Thank you so much Fasthair for making this posting! You obviously had an unforgetable day attending this event!

After being born and raised, and spending the vast majority of my adult life in Iowa, you have touched a cord deep within me. Your vivid descriptions and the fine stories shared by other has brought forth wondrous times from the past. My grandfather was THE most important man in my life as I grew up and everything about this reminds me of him. I genuinely loved and adored him, as did so many others until the day he died. He would have greatly enjoyed this event!

Again, many thanks for the sweet memories... I think we could all use a break from today's life a bit more often...

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Man did I see a lot of vintage stuff on RAGBRAI last week. Awesome pics and vids man and you always tell great stories and I learn a lot.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Fast Hair:

I got the story wrong... There was a note from another Harley rider and I got confused.

By the way, did you know that steam locomotives had a kind of gear shifter? It was called the "Johnson Bar." Invented by a guy named "Johnson," this device shortened or lengthened the piston stroke depending on the momentum of the train. For example, on a flat plane traveling at 60mph, the engineer could shorten the stroke of the steam pistons, conserving steam, while not slowing the overall speed of the engine. On a hill, he could lengthen the stroke -- through the Johnson bar -- to give it more power.

Steamn was a very sophisticated means of power, with a lot of options and applications. But as a rule, it's a guy thing.

Fondest regards,
Jack "reep" Toad
Twisted Roads

KT Did said...

I grew up watching steam engines at Christmastime and gadgets. My Grandfather was a marine engineer and we always saw this stuff. It facinated my father and it was a yearly ritual to pull the old steam engine out. Funny, how I never got into wrenching though. Its great to see this post. How colorful they are too!

Anonymous said...

seeing these old machines running is impressive. i have had the opportunity to crawl inside and help rebuild these old boilers and traction engines. it's a crying shame people today cannot know just how strong these men were to perform their work. its hard for us even with modern tools but to do so with the primitive stuff makes it more unbelieveable.

RazorsEdge2112 said...

Old Threshers Reunion. MANY memories there... What a time and what a place. Go to the bottom to see my bike in front of the main entrance.

Love that place.