When Gas Engine Magazine Editor-in-Chief Richard Backus suggested I interview collector Jerry Toews, I jumped at the chance. I had heard about Jerry around the office, but had never met him or seen anything from his vast collection of engines and tractors. As soon as I?could, I hopped in my truck for the quick two-hour drive down to Goessel, Kan., to meet up with Jerry.
I haven't been in this business long and I don't come from a farming background, which I guess makes me a "gas engine virgin." I started this position at the end of last show season, so this was my first chance to be around tractors as large as these or surrounded by so many engines.
Each piece of equipment Jerry and his wife, Leann, own has its own unique quality and special feature, much like Jerry himself. Retired school teachers of over 30 and 20 years, respectively, he and Leann are into just about anything old. Although Leann's focus is more on mainstream antiques, she has left Jerry to play with his old iron.
Back in 1966, Jerry took his first teaching check to buy 12 antique clocks for $300, leaving just $50 to pay for his living expenses for the month. A portion of his second paycheck went towards buying a non-running 2 HP Nelson Bros. engine from a scrap yard for $10. That little Nelson Bros. engine is responsible for sparking Jerry's passion for engines, and for the next 25 years Jerry specialized in collecting both rare gas engines and Case steam engines. That is, until his good buddy Dennis Powers (Boone, Iowa) convinced him to buy his first prairie tractor in 1990 - a 1917 Aultman & Taylor 30-60. Since then, he has mostly concentrated his efforts on prairie tractors. Jerry's teaching abilities were evident as he ran me through darn near every piece of machinery there, educating me just a little bit on each one.
The Tractor Tour
I showed up at the Toews residence a few minutes before Jerry arrived home, so I began by peeking into the first of three outbuildings on the property. I was amazed at what I saw - there were five large prairie tractors and dozens of engines, all packed in their respective places. When Jerry showed up we discussed our game plan and decided to begin the interview at an additional outbuilding on the Wheat Heritage Engine & Threshing Co. show grounds, where he and Leann are actively involved in the Goessel, Kan., Threshing Days each year.
In this building were four more of their tractors running right down the center, surrounded by fellow club members' tractors also stored there. These four tractors include a 1914 30 HP (drawbar) Big Four made by the Gas Traction Co., a 1915 Flour City 40-70, a 1916 Russell Giant 30-60, of which only seven survive, and a 1915 Reeves 40, originally sold at the 1915 Wichita (Kan.) Thresher's Convention.
From there we went back to Jerry's place to look at his 1917 Avery 40-80, 1917 Twin City 40-65, circa-1915 Pioneer 30 (Gas Engine Magazine, March 2002), 1917 Minneapolis Farm Motor 35-70 and 1916 Rumely F 15-30. Jerry also just acquired a basket case of a 1911 Minneapolis Universal Farm Motor, built by the Northwest Thresher Co., Stillwater, Minn. The legendary Harold Ottaway (deceased) bought it from a Montana man and disassembled it for restoration sometime in the early 1950s. It changed hands two more times (in pieces) before Jerry bought it from Minneapolis tractor collector and antique tractor puller Curtis Rink.
Some Rare Engines
Once we finally made it through all the tractors, we moved on to Jerry's "stationary engine building," home to all his show engines. Also scattered around were old tin signs, wood-burning stoves, a plethora of miscellaneous parts, a few motorcycles - the list goes on and on. The first engine sitting there as I stepped foot in the door was an 1896 Jesse Walrath rotary valve engine, made by the Marinette Iron Works Mfg. Co. in Marinette, Wis. Believed to be the only one surviving, it was found in the basement of a Chicago bar many years ago, hooked to a dynamo to provide lighting. An Ohio collector by the name of Norm Anderson discovered the engine and hired Preston Foster to restore it. Jerry bought the engine from Norm in the mid-1980s when Norm sold many of his engines.
Moving on down the line I discovered my personal favorite, a Monitor half-breed. As Jerry tells it, "It was originally installed in 1867 on one of Pennsylvania's very early oil wells as a Monitor steam engine. It ran like that pumping oil until it was converted in 1893 by the Boardman Co. It continued pumping oil for many years on the same oil well, but I don't know when it was taken out of service." This engine is of a crosshead design and has a very neat box-bed base. What makes this engine so unique is that it is a 4-stroke instead of the typical 2-stroke configuration of most half-breeds.
Towards the back of the building sat an 8 HP Springfield with a very complex double sideshaft that runs the valve cams, fuel pump, fuel injection system and governor. The Springfield was new to me, but Jerry said they are "the hot engines to have right now because everyone loves to watch all the parts moving." Another interesting engine is their 1909 4-cylinder rotary valve Reynolds upright, acquired from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Rumor has it this 20 HP (est.) engine was used in one of Henry Ford's early race cars, but there is no documentation to prove this.
Jerry and Leann have many more engines in their collection, some very rare, like a 12 HP, 2-cylinder, inverted Master Workman or a 15 HP vertical Westinghouse on original trucks. There are literally dozens upon dozens of gas engines at the Toews' place, any one of which I'm sure any collector would love to own.
Just as I thought we'd about covered everything, Jerry took me over to the Mennonite Heritage Museum to show me the 1915 Holt 75 crawler he and Leann have on display there. The engine alone in this tractor weighs in at 5,000 pounds and has a 7-1/2-by-8-inch bore and stroke. It uses a vacuum tank to raise fuel, which is then gravity fed to a 2-1/2-inch Schebler carburetor. He claims to have plowed with a 12-bottom plow with this machine.
The one thing I will remember most about my trip to Goessel is how much Jerry taught me about the hobby and old iron in general. What is probably just the tip of the iceberg for most seasoned veterans was a mountain of information for me.
Make plans to attend the 32nd Annual Threshing Days in Goessel, Kan., Aug. 5-7. There, you will see all of Jerry and Leann's tractors and gas engines, as well as get a little education of your own.
Contact engine enthusiast Jerry Toews at: Box 131, Goessel, KS 67053; (620) 367-8257; firstname.lastname@example.org