A Man of the Cloth

| July/August 2002

  • Rumely OilPull

  • Mike's scale Case

  • Case thresher

  • Rumely OilPull
  • Mike's scale Case
  • Case thresher

Mike Kolb at the wheel of his scale Rumely OilPull that he and his sons built from scratch. Mike cast the flywheel and fabricated the block, which used pistons and sleeves from a Case tractor.

Mike Kolb, affectionately known as Father Kolb, grew up in the 1920s surrounded by Advances, Fordsons and Rumelys. Perhaps as a teenager he worked on a threshing crew using a steam engine, a grain separator and a stationary baler. It is not hard to understand why Mike's love for antique iron grew as he matured.

Mike's first restoration project was motivated by necessity. In the 1940s, Mike tried his hand at farming. To save money, he restored a Case tractor that had been severely damaged by fire. Mike soon discovered that his true calling did not involve the soil, but rather the iron that tilled the soil. In response to this discovery, he opened his own shop repairing motors, machinery and everything in between.

In 1944 Father Kolb and his wife, Lois, affectionately known as Mother Superior, were married, and together they raised three sons and two daughters. As his sons grew up, Mike shared his love of antique iron with them. They spent many hours in the family-owned business, yet still found time to restore several show tractors. Among his restorations were a 1948 Allis-Chalmers B, an 8N Ford, a 1939 John Deere H, a 1949 Case Model S, a 1929 10-20 McCormick-Deering, a 1952 John Deere R and a 1939 Case CH high clearance tractor. Mike poured his heart and soul into one particular tractor - a 1920 10-20 Titan.

Although Mike loved to restore tractors, he also loved to create use-able tools from discarded junk. This skill resulted in the evolution of the Dynamite 365, of which his son, Mike Jr., says; 'Dad gave the tractor this pet name because it took a year to build it, and he often threatened to blow it up when it would not run.'

While admiring his latest creation, Father Kolb said, 'Ah, it is good; however, it needs a mate.' Thus, a 5/12-scale, fully operational 22-inch Case threshing machine was created. It was built exactly like the full-size models down to the smallest detail. 'A threshing machine is not authentic without belt power,' Father Kolb said, and thus, Mike and his sons set out to build an OilPull.

Scavenging parts from other full-sized equipment, they transformed a pile of scrap into a 1/2-scale Rumely OilPull. Mike used the pistons and sleeves from a Case tractor, a rear end from a compact car and a carburetor from a Jeep. Mike cast the flywheel and fabricated the engine block. Using love as his flux, he welded 80 lengths of conduit tubing into a cooking stack. When he was done, the OilPull ran and sounded just like the big ones. Labors of love also produced a 1/2-scale grain wagon and a 1/2-scale bundle wagon, the bundle wagon complete with wood hubs and spoke wheels banded together with iron.

But Mike's work was not quite complete. In 1986 the Pickett Gas and Steam Engine Club was born, and on Sept. 13 and 14 of that year Mike Kolb, Gomer Buehring and George Kafer exhibited 25 tractors and a few hit-and-miss engines in an endeavor to show the neighboring city slickers just how it was done in the 'good ole' days. They threshed grain, sawed logs and shared a lot of tales. Although they were exhausted by Sunday night, their hearts were filled with accomplishment and their minds were churning with ideas of how to make the next year's show even bigger and better.

More than a decade has passed since that first thresheree, and many changes have taken place. The Pickett Gas and Steam Engine Club has achieved its non-profit status, membership has increased to 140 families and that handful of tractor and engines exhibited at the thresheree has grown to include 250 exhibitors, six steam engines, 275 hit-and-miss engines, five OilPulls and approximately 300 tractors. Miniature exhibits include a 1/4-scale steam engine and sawmill, a 1/8-scale steam engine and stationary baler, a 1/3-scale Rumely OilPull, clover huller, and a threshing machine and grain wagon. Club members operate a sawmill, cider press, Baker fan, threshing machine, corn shredder, a sorghum press and a shingle mill. The show is still being held near Pickett, Wis., during the first full weekend after Labor Day.

Mike and Vivian Kolb, aka Father Kolb and Mother Superior, posing with Mike's scale Case at a show in the early 1990s. Fully operational and accurate down to the finest detail, Mike built this 5/12-scale, 22-inch thresher and the grain wagon that fronts it.

Mike feeds his Case thresher while Vivian looks on, his Rumely OilPull providing the necessary belt power.

Father Kolb's vocation to the club was never-ending. He spent hours prior to each show designing new crowd pleasers. One of his best was the kiddie train, which could wiggle and waggle throughout the rounds, creating delight for both the driver and his passengers. He used 55-gallon barrels, lawn mower wheels and love to create it. Father also created an eliminator for the kiddie tractor pull and a special adult tractor for the adult kids to ride in the pedal pull. During each show he was busy organizing the Parade of Power, helping with the horse pull or operating his miniature threshing machine. Occasionally, he took time out to taste a brat or chicken sandwich (grilled over a wood fire), satisfy his urge for corn-on-the-cob (freshly steamed by one of the exhibited steam engines) or indulged in some home-made pie and ice cream. Always busy, he still found time to attend the Saturday night hobo supper.

With his tummy full and his body aching, you would think sunset would give him a chance to slow down. Not so. At 7 p.m. he would join other members and exhibitors in a jam session. He played the drums, while others played the squeezebox and the spoons. During intermission, he would catch his breath long enough to watch the spark show.

On Sunday morning the grounds are quiet from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. so everyone can worship together, remembering deceased members and giving thanks for another successful thresheree. Strangely enough, Father Kolb never led that service, but he was always present. During the 1997 show, however, everyone bowed their heads to remember Father Kolb. Although his collections, creations and accomplishments live on, the body of Father Kolb was not immortal. And even though his weary body was laid to rest on March 1, 1997, he continues to be a part of each thresheree.

A newly appointed guardian angel looks down from heaven now, protecting every member, exhibitor and spectator attending the annual Pickett Gas and Steam Club Thresheree - a guardian angel affectionately referred to as Father Kolb.

Contact engine enthusiast Shirley Wahl at: 522 E. North St., Brandon, WI 53919.

He wasn 't a collector of souls; rather a collector of antiques.

He wasn 't a builder of churches; rather he built miniature farm machinery.

He wasn't a creator of mankind, rather a creator of a gas and steam club.

He wasn't even a man of the cloth, rather a man with a heart of gold.

Yet they called him Father Kolb.


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