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A Man of the Cloth

Author Photo
By Staff

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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.

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines