We often wonder: Who threshed for your grandad?


In my last article I discussed some aspects of history as they relate to our hobby and its various activities.
But we often wonder: Who was the thresherman who worked the local area.

In my case, it was very easy because he was a well-known character and still quite active when I started going to local steam shows. What’s more, he lived with a family that I knew because I had the grandchildren as students in my classes. It wasn’t long before he took me up on an invitation to go to the old Tri-State show, the first of several such trips.

Family memories

When I first called him on the phone, he asked me who I was and I told him I was a Graham Grandson and he said, “Oh yes, I remember that place. They had a steep lane with a sand bar across about half way up and it was a bugger to get up with the Peerless.”

I knew about the sand because it used to wash down to the lower part of the lane and we gathered it up to replenish our sand box at Mrs. Ketterer’s back porch.

Photo archive

He told me many stories, some of which I can’t put in print, and also gave me some excellent photos of threshing sets.
Their quality was due to a friendship with Joe Steinfield who was the professional photographer for the local steel plant and had probably the best equipment available at the time.
(He also chewed Havana Blossom tobacco and spit in a can in the same drawer where the photos were kept, resulting in some extra spots on the pictures. He also spit out of the window of my light grey Chevy pickup so that after a trip I had to wash off the passenger door.)

 Threshing memories

I took him for a ride out through the hinterlands and he pointed out many farm lanes and said he had threshed for the farmer who lived there.
He also did lots of silo filling and corn husking and said that was his favorite time of the year as the cooler weather and the heat of the steam engine made a great combination.

We had Walt and Logan Wimer and another old timer out to the local hamburger joint one evening to talk about the old days and they counted some 67 silos they had set up a pipe to.
I have always regretted that I did not take better notes or carry a tape recorder.
Walt had a brother John, and they both appear in some of the pictures. John later got involved in well drilling and left the threshing and silo filling to Walt and his helpers. He also lost a thumb to a piece of well casing. Walt had smashed a knee about 1911 and had a stiff leg the rest of his 96 years.

Case thresher

One of the pictures shows Walt and John and John Wilson in front of the Wilson farm house in Franklin Township about 1910 with a Frick engine and Case thresher, waiting for the water wagon.

Walt’s favorite engine came to be Peerless and he said he owned five different engines of that make besides the Frick mentioned above and a Leader which he didn’t like nearly as well.
He also told me that when he bought the John Deere “D” about 1932, the work became just work while with steam there was some fun involved.

Walt McQuiston would have to be at the top of the list of a Thresherman’s Hall of Fame for Wayne Township, Lawrence County, Pa.

12 horse

I later found out the name of another thresherman who worked in Scott and Plain Grove townships in the northern part of the same county. He was John McMurray and his son, Charles McMurray, and his 12 horse Case founded the show which is now at Portersville, Pa.

John was known to be an on-the-ball thresherman who kept his equipment in shape and who was ready to put on the belt and go to work when he pulled into your farm yard.

His favorite

John’s favorite engine was the Twentieth Century double under-mounted style engine and he had two of them over the many years he worked with steam.

Fortunately, the younger one still exists in running order. Rev. Elmer Ritzman bought it in rather derelict condition about 1948 for the princely sum of $75. I’m not sure how he located it, but he was quite interested in engines in general and odd ones in particular as you may well know.
He hauled it to the shops of Arthur Young at Kinzers, Pa. for repairs.

Old Threshers Hall of Fame

Kinzers is of course the home of the well known Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Society and Mr. Young and his field full of engines had a lot to do with their start up.
He is definitely a candidate for a high rank among Old Threshers Hall of Fame members. He apparently saw the value of traction engines long before most others and as a machinery dealer, had trucks on the road took advantage of the close to junk prices to collect some 300 unused engines. Some were rare and have become very valuable pieces.

The Twentieth Century engine changed hands several more times and came back close to where it was sold new and we were able to enjoy it for some time.

Local threshers

Another local thresherman came to our attention through one of the pictures, that came into our possession. It shows Wilbur Durnell set up on the Bauder farm, just south of Portersville. As nearly as we can tell, the power is a Farquhar portable engine and the thresher is in the barn and hard to see.

When I got involved in the Fombell History Day activities, a number of pictures showed up, most of which were posed photo’s of the rig of Frank Steffler, of the Fombell area.
When the slide that I first saw was flashed up on the screen, I said, “There is a Peerless engine” and they immediately wanted to know how I could tell. It didn’t take much explanation of the distinguishing features of Peerless engines to convince them I knew what I was talking about.


In trying to find out who may have taken the pictures, I discovered another old-time photographer that I had not known about and his name was Bill Hoss, of Frisco, a suburb west of Fombell.
Those people who took good pictures back then also deserve a Hall of Fame of their own. They often go without acknowledgement and are left anonymous.

So back to the Hall of Fame idea in general. As I said or implied above, each locale where farming took place should be able to create a local Hall of Fame for Threshermen.
Nationally we should remember the founders of shows and magazines like Elmer Ritzman, Tom Smith, Raymond Laizure, Arthur Young, and his son Everett, Gilbert Enders, Vic Wintermantle, LeRoy Blaker and many more I can’t recall or have never heard of.

Local members

Also we might want to include some of our local members and heroes now deceased, like show founders and leaders like Charles McMurray, of Slippery Rock, Morgan Hill of Linesville, Pa., Dean and Clark Fullerton and son Glenn Fullerton of Burgettstown, Pa.

Leonard Stephens of Meadville, Pa.; Francis Young, of East Sparta, Ohio and Lyle Hoffmaster, of Bucyrus, Ohio just to mention a few I have known personally.
And we might need to include Henry Ford for his museum and many railroad men who preserved things. Earl Hamilton, of Lisbon, Ohio, did some of both and Clyde Lightfoot of Beaver Falls, Pa., had influence in many areas and was a first class machinist from the 1940s on when he finished his apprenticeship, and would help out anybody.

There is a club with many branches nationally, which is promoting a Hall of Fame of their own, but as I see it they are just a closed group sitting around patting each other on the back and not worthy of much acclaim. To each his own.
Keep steaming and having fun!


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