THIRD GENERATION OF STEAM
John R. DeGraffenreid
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
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.
FOURTH COMING UP
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
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
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.