Farm Machinery Homesteading Stories From Frank Ott Sr.

By Staff
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Photo courtesy of R. F. Somerville, British Columbia, Canada.
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Photo courtesy of Frank Ott, Sr., Clackamas, Oregon.
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Photo courtesy of Morris Titus, Pendleton, Indiana.
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Photo courtesy of Herb Ottaway, Wichita, Kansas.
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Photo courtesy of C. A. Harsch, Spokane 6, Washington.
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Frank Ott Sr. shares his homesteading stories in Oregon.

Received my first copy of Gas Engine Magazine and it sure
meets my approval as it is right up my alley. Although I had a few
tussels with steam power back in Wisconsin where I was born, Oct.
29, 1874, and a few in Oregon, where I moved to in 1890 (Portland)
with my parents. Such as helping on steam powered threshing rigs,
firing boiler and running stationary engine in a brewery in
Uniontown, Washington in the middle ’90’s. I also spent
some time with Nick Stiener running a portable steam powered wood
saw in Portland, Ore. In them days most homes in Portland used wood
for cooking and heating. It was piled on the curb in 4 foot lengths
to season out and in the fall and winter we, and several other
rigs, were busy every day sawing it into 12 to 16 inch lengths.

But more about my homesteading stories. I guess what got me started with gas engines was when I got
my first piece of land. I built a snug 10 by 16 cabin and a 10 by
16 chicken house and a 30 by 50 barn. As I had no water on the
place, I had to haul my water in barrels on a sled, so the next
thing, I thought, was dig a well.

There lived an old guy in the neighborhood who claimed to be a
whiz at witching wells and his fees were very reasonable (1 qt. of
Mona-gram). I engaged him. After about 2 hours of walking around
with a forked willow stick, and with a mysterious and professional
air, he says: ‘right here, young feller, you will get plenty of
water at 50 feet. So I goes to Portland (12 miles) and buys 50
feet of 3/4 inch rope. Then I starts digging (4 feet in diameter)
and when I get down about 8 feet I set up my windlass, get my
brother, Ed, to help whenever he has time to spare. Of course, when
we get down to the end of our 50 foot rope that old hole is still
dry as an old bone. Back to town for 100 feet of rope, also around
to implement dealers looking at windmills and pumps, as I figure if
that old well is going to be over 50 feet deep, it needs more than a
rope and bucket to get water out.

35 HP Waterloo Boy new in March of 1913 with a 27 foot
Aultman-Taylor Separator. Picture taken in outskirts of Portland,
Oregon as he was bringing home new separator in June1913.

Right then is when it started. (Fall of 1901) Fairbanks Mose and
Co. had one of those newfangled 2 HP Jack of all Trades pump
engines on display. The salesman started it up and boy, did it run
nice. Of course they had the exhaust pipe run outside about a foot
thick brick wall, so I did not know it sounded like a 22 cal. rifle
everytime it hit.

So old Prince and the spring wagon hauled home a nice shiney red
2 HP Jack of all Trades mounted on hardwood skids, complete with
walking beam, all ready to hook on to the pump, rod of the pump,
which I didn’t have money to buy yet.

Feeling quite important driving out of town with a new rig on my
wagon, I stopped at the Standard Oil Co., and bought a case (2-5
gal. tins) of gasoline and a 1 gal. of red engine oil. Next, a 2
mile out of my way trip to display my new contraption to my father.
Also engaged him and my brother, Ed, to come up and help me unload

The next morning early, here they came. After much arguing as to
how it should be done, we hitched old Prince to the wagon and
backed it up to a pile of fence posts. After skidding it off onto
the pile of posts, installing glass drip cylinder oiler, filling it
with oil and adjusting as per instruction book (6 to 8 drops per
minute), filling gas tank, activating gas pump, and other as per
instructions, (I was already the gas engine expert) the little Jack
of all Trades took off with a bang. So did old Prince, straight for
the stable door, him and part of the harness made it, but not the

Yep, you guessed it. At the end of that 100 feet rope and down in
solid rock, that well was just as dry as when I started. All was
not lost, however, as it was the permanent location of my outhouse
for the 7 years I lived on that place, and was a good selling point
when I sold, as I had the deepest hole under my privy of anybody in
Clackamas County. In fact, it took 50 years to fill it up and right
today there is a low spot in the ground where it was.

 Here is Frank and his present log cabin home. This picture
taken in September 1965 and Frank is 92. (He certainly doesn’t
look his years — so I guess we can say he really is 92 years young.
— Anna Mae.)

After much ridicule and derogatory remarks from the neighbors
about that nutty Dutchman, me, buying a pumping engine before I had
a pump or any water to pump with it, I dug a 10 feet square cistern
about 8 feet deep and run my field drains into it. Later I dug
another one, and the two of them served my purpose, but a pitcher
pump was sufficient.

But as to my little Jack of all Trades, I had to find another
job for it. When we first came to Oregon we were too poor to buy
crushed oyster shell for our chickens, so we picked up a sack or
two of opened shells at a time from the oyster houses and it was
the job of the smaller children to break them up with a hammer on a
block of wood, so I got the idea of processing them through a
crusher and maybe I could make a few dollars selling them. After
much scrounging around the junk shops, I found a small contraption
with a revolving cylinder and concaves, similar to a small
threshing cylinder. It worked after a fashion, but the finished
product had to not be over a certain size or the chickens could not
eat them. So I had to run them over a shaker screen. I soon had a
surplus of oversized oyster shell and had to get some kind of
grinder to regrind the shell that were too big.

Tom Mahoneys threshing outfit, September 19, 1910 Threshing
headed wheat near Dorrance, Kansas.  It is a 42 by 70 Avery
Separator and an Avery 22 HP Undermounted.

Tom Mahoneys threshing outfit, September, 1908 threshing headed
wheat near Dorrance, Kansas.  It is a 42 by 70 Avery Separator
and 30 HP Undermounted. This is the first 30 H.P. Undermounted
that was built. Tanks in front of engine were for steam cylinder

About this time I was getting plenty of free professional advice
from the neighbors and quite a few uncomplimentary remarks behind
by back a-bout that nut who was fooling around with that gas engine
trying to grind oyster shells instead of tending to his farm or
digging out. his stumps in this good weather. Being a rugged and
stubborn type individual who would never admit defeat, and also
with very little money, I did some more looking around and finally
bought for $25 a used 8 inch burr Hero feed grinder to regrind my
oversize oyster shell. With a lot of hard work hauling out from
Portland the green shells, drying them, and running them through my
makeshift setup, I did all right. I had no trouble selling them and
the green shells were to be had for hauling them away. The little 2
HP worked fine for grinding shells, but when some of the neighbors
(mainly, I guess, to save themselves a longer trip to a regular
custom grist mill) brought me some of their grain to grind, I found
I didn’t have enough power to get much capacity with that 8 inch
burr Hero grinder.

So the little Jack of all Trades was traded in on a new (painted
green) 3 HP upright Fairbanks Morse. This one I mounted on a steel
wheel wagon with sliding table 28 inch blade wood-saw on the rear.
I had intended to buy a 4 HP but at that time they made only 2, 3,
and 6 HP in the vertical type engines. As I had only one big horse
of my own to pull my saw rig, I was afraid the 6 HP size would be
too heavy to move around.

I also built a new mill building, put in a line shaft so I could
pull my saw rig inside and belt it to the shaft pulley. I located
my little oyster shell crusher, screen shaker and feed grinder in
convenient locations so I could run either one of them at a

For the next three or four years I ground many tons of oyster
shells. Also did considerable feed grinding. The 3 HP, although not
enough, did pretty good on the feed grinder. It had ample power on
the saw rig and I had plenty of work with it sawing. I could saw
about 25 cords a day of 4 feet wood into 16 inch (2 cuts), but I
never did equal what that young whippersnapper son of mine did
1930. Sawed 12 cords of 12 inch (3 cuts) and 8 cords of 16 inch (2
cuts) in 3-1/2 hours with one helper putting it on the saw table
and off bearing first cut only. He used a 5 HP Hercules and a 32
inch saw.

The first year I had my saw rig I took a contract for 271/2 “Times New Roman” a cord sawing 500 cords for the Southern
Pacific Railroad. It was 4 feet wood cut once in the middle and lots
of handling but not much sawing.

In the fall of 1903 I had a small stack of wheat and oats mixed
and threshed by the local thresherman. He had an 18 inch cylinder
Case agitator separator and a 6 HP Case portable steam engine. To
get more capacity, he ran with one row of concave teeth. I had to
let my chickens finish threshing it as he got the oats out, all
right, but left half of the wheat in the heads. As his work was of
about the same caliber wherever he threshed, my brother and I
decided to buy a threshing outfit of our own.

So the following year (1904), against the advice of a local
character with long red whiskers, who had come from Minnesota a few
years before and claimed to be an expert on threshing machines, “The J. I. Case, boys, is the only machine”, we bought a 23
inch cylinder Aultman-Taylor with hand feed, straw carrier, and half
bushel tally box measure. My brother, Ed, was to own the threshing
machine and I was to own the engine. I had intended to buy about a
8 HP steam traction engine, but could not find one in Portland at
that time, and by the time one would be obtainable, it would be too
late for the threshing season. At that time we were misinformed as
to the rating of HP between gas and steam. As the Fairbanks Morse
people told me their 8 HP gas engine would equal any 8 HP steam
engine. As they did not make a satisfactory gas traction engine at
that time, I settled for an 8 HP portable Fairbanks Morse gas

An early American Gas Tractor which I have built out of old
tractor parts. Operators are my grandchildren and myself.

This picture was taken in September, 1964 after the Midwest Old
Settlers and Threshers Reunion was over. From left to right are:
Dick Ries, Wilbur Ries, Glen Beals, James Fogwell, Howard. Boese,
Leland Ries, Rill Fogwell, Dwight Nelson and Don Hardin. Dick Ries
boys are in front of the Flour City Gas Engine.

This giant I.H.C., 20 HP gas engine was being moved from the
Jay Shockley Flour Mill, Arcola, Virginia, September, 1965 by the
new owner, Ernest J. (Kookie) Cornett. Mr. Cornett is a member of
the Shenandoah Steam Engine Association. My father and brother,
Joe, and a friend, Rush (Cannonball) Marshall were loading the
engine on my trailer. This engine was last operated in early 1940.
It is in excellent condition.

As we were setting up the rig for it’s first job of
threshing at Joe Mlady’s place, the old Minnesota J. I. Case
threshing expert, with much critical poking and prodding with his
cane and liberally spraying all the pulleys, belts, and sides of
the separator with tobacco juice, predicted a dark and gloomy
picture of what was going to take place when we were going to try
to thresh with anything but a J. I. Case. After about 15 minutes of
threshing, the raddle, which carried the straw from back of the
cylinder up onto the straw rack, choked up. On this machine, it
consisted of 2 belts with wooden slats riveted on. On the later
machines it was made of 2 chains with slats across. Being rank
green horns, we couldn’t find the trouble right away and the
old J. I. Case expert was of no help except to tell us “Boys,
if it was a J. I. Case I could tell you right away how to fix
it”. He was probably a good old guy and had volunteered his
services to see that we got properly started, in fact, he got to be
quite a nuisance as he appeared on the job every day with his old
horse and buggy even when we got 4 or 5 miles from home. He would
sponge his meals off the people we worked for plus a liberal supply
of oats for his horse.

That little 8 HP did pretty good for it’s size but did not
have enough power to get much capacity. In fact, as I look back on
it today. I cannot see how we got anything done at all with that
little engine. But as we were doing satisfactory work and the
farmers soon saw the improvement of gas power over horsepower or
steam with no horses to furnish or wood to get ready, we were
snowed under with work. After about a week of threshing and with no
end of work in sight, I decided to get a bigger engine. I made
arrangements with the Fairbanks Morse people over the phone to have
a 10 HP engine ready and I would get it on a Sunday, as I did not
want to waste any time on a weekday. Sunday morning early I hitched
my team on the 8 HP and took it back to Portland. As we were
threshing 4 miles east of home at that time, it made a long day
with a 30 mile round trip. As they were not open that day they had
the new one out on the street as per arrangements. They had
neglected to put a brake on it and the team had a hard time holding
it back downhill. But I got back with it about dark. Monday morning
I pulled it in place and we got ready to thresh.

The Fordson Tractor was taken on what is part of the Fort
Findlay Shopping Center. I was demonstrating this tractor and
Oliver turning under a heavy growth of alfalfa sod while Mr.
Thomas, the salesman, made the sale.

This engine was shown at the 1965 Pioneer Gas Engine Association
Reunion. It is a 16 H.P. Lazier Gas or Gasoline Engine, made in
Buffalo, N.Y. It is owned by Kenneth Roloff of Marilla, N.Y., shown
at the right in the picture. On the left is Ronald Unverdorben,
also of Marilla. This engine was bought from Henry Thauer of
Gardenville, N.Y., a man of 81 years, in 1964. The engine was
purchased for a sawmill in 1910 for about $250.00, and used in the
mill until a few years ago when they went to other power. Then it
was taken out of the mill and used to buzz wood and other odd jobs
around his small farm. It was kept in a barn, covered and well
oiled, in perfect running condition, until Mr. Roloff bought

That 10 HP, although only rated 2 HP larger, was a lot bigger
engine than the 8 HP, and when the crew gathered around to admire
it, they said “Boy, it’s a regular Bull Giant”. When we
started threshing where the 8 HP had left off, it sure made a
difference, as now in dry grain we could thresh at full capacity.
When we finished up that fall, we had put in about 50 days of
threshing and I suppose we felt pretty smart about our new venture.
But we had made one decision and we acted on it immediately. No. 1
was to put on a windstacker, as some of our jobs were fairly large
sets of 4 to 6 large stacks. Stacking that much straw required too
much labor, as the straw carrier on our machine did not have the
stacker extension attachment on it. I also realized I would need
more power as they told us it would require an additional 5 HP for
a windstacker.

So, in Oct. of that same year, I bought a new 15 HP Fairbanks
Morse portable engine. Although I traded in the 10 HP on the new
one, I made arrangements so I could use it on the feed grinder
until the following spring. I bought a new 8 inch Hero grinder and
set it up in my brother-in-law’s barn in the Damascus district,
which was about 5 miles east of where I lived. I used the 10 HP on
this mill and used the 15 HP on my old mill, which was identical to
the new one. I set this outfit up in a rented barn which was down
on the main road, and much easier for my customers to get to.

Monday and Tuesday was grinding day in the Damascus district:
Friday and Saturday in the Sunnyside district. Sometimes it was
late at night, finishing up with lantern light, and then driving
home with horse and buggy. But I was a single man them days and
plenty tough, with no one to have to account to for what I did.

Our first year of running a threshing outfit, we had figured on
doing only a limited amount of threshing and had not made any
provisions for getting our engine fuel (distilate). A neighbor
lady, Theresi Mlady, volunteered to haul our fuel out from
Portland. She would drive in one day a week and get 2 drums of
distillate and what oil we needed, and the next day would bring it
on from her home to where we were working. Sometimes as far as 7 or
8 miles. She just had a single horse rig and it must have been
quite a struggle, as she had a 4 year old boy and a baby girl to
take care of. The baby was in a basket at her feet and the little
boy riding with her on the seat. She had another son born in 1906
and both her boys, in later years, worked for me for several years
as part of my threshing crew. Also, her husband, Joe, worked for us
the first couple of years we started threshing. Old Joe, young Joe,
Bill, and Hilda have all passed on, but Mrs. Mlady is still with us
and vividly remembers the days when she was part of the crew and
hauled our fuel. In fact, she and 1 are the only ones left of that
original crew.

The one thing we missed with them one lunger gas engines was a
whistle. So, that winter, I decided to remedy that fault. I took a
heavy 50 gal. distillate drum, mounted it on a platform back of the
15 HP, fitted on a pressure gauge, brass whistle, and piped it up
to a plug in the combustion chamber of the cylinder. I had a check
valve and shut off valve in the pipe between the tank and engine,
and when I had about 75 lbs. pressure, I could shut it off. It
worked fine for awhile, until one morning after I had been grinding
for awhile, I went back there to check my pressure. It was just
about up to where I was going to close the valve, but instead I
turned the needle valve down a little on the carburetor, which I
always did after the engine had warmed up. But I guess I turned it
down a little too lean, as the next time the engine hit, it
backfired. That oil drum exploded at the same time. It blowed a
hole in the back of that barn you could drive a team through. It
blew the muffler off the engine, which was as big as a nail keg and
went out past the front of the engine, through the open barn door
and clear across the road. Outside of a few pieces of galvanized
steel from the drum in my face, which are still there to this day,
loss of hearing in one ear, I suffered no ill effects and was back
at work within 2 or 3 days. I did not realize at the time that I
was putting the same explosive mixture in that drum as was in the
combustion chamber of the engine cylinder So no more of that monkey

I had to neglect my oyster shell grinding that winter, as
between grinding feed and wood sawing, I was pretty busy.

Line up of tractors at Pioneer Museum Wetaskiwin, Alberta,

Here, is a picture of my 1929 John Deere GP and 1920 Fordson
tractor which I have added to my collection of mostly gasoline
engines. In the picture are Morris, Charlie, Hiram and Jane

Here is a picture of the world’s only 6 cylinder motorcycle.
It was hand made by Herb Ottaway. The engine was made from two 4
cylinder Indian motors cut and welded back to six. Crank and cams
machined from solid billets of steel, producing better than 80 H.
P. Top speed estimated at 130 M.P.H. Machine has Harley Davidson
front forks, wheels, fenders and seat. Equipment includes radio,
speedometer, ammeter, tachometer, hours meter, manifold pressure
gauge and oil temperature and pressure gauge. Motorcycle operates
very smooth at all speeds.

Here is a picture of our 30-60 Oil Pull which is in good running
order but the radiator is bad. We have to find some radiation
sections. We have ten sections and need eighteen more to restore
the radiator. If anyone knows where I can get them please let me
hear from you.

In 1907 I married and in 1908 I sold my original place and
bought the place where I had set up my 15 HP and feed grinder. It
was the same place I blew the back of the barn out with my monkey
doodle whistle experimenting. There I built a new mill building,
installed new feed grinding machinery, also a roller mill seed
grain cleaner. Also bought and installed a new Wilson bone and
oyster shell crusher and finishing mill. These I still have
although my oldest son operated them in a different location in the
late ’20s and early ’30s. My late and younger brother, Ed,
and I ran that 15 HP and 23 inch Aultman-Taylor up to and through
the season of 1912. In the spring of 1913 I bought a 35 HP Waterloo
Roy gas traction engine, and in June of the same year, I bought my
brother’s interest in the old 23 inch and traded it in on a new
27 inch cylinder Aultman-Taylor separator. fully equipped with
gearless wind-stacker, Garden City self feeder and Peoria

Has anybody ever heard of or seen a Waterloo Boy of that
description? It had a 4 cylinder cross-mounted motor, about 6 inch
bore, and fairly short stroke of about 6 or 7 inches. It also had 3
speeds forward and would go about 31/2 or 4 miles per hour in high
gear, which was an advantage when moving the separator on dirt
roads, which is all we had at that time. It proved to be a fairly
good machine for threshing and running a rock crusher, where I used
it in April and May of 1913. In fact, that old Waterloo Boy crushed
the first rock that was ever put on the roads in this district.
It’s biggest fault was the oiling system on the motor which I
changed a couple of years later.

From left to right are a 2 H.P., and 1/2 H.P. New Holland Gas
engines. These engines were made in New Holland by the New Holland
Machine Company. They were patented in 1903 and about 17,000
engines were made. These New Holland Engines arc my favorite gas

The year 1918, I bought a 12-25 Fairbanks Morse 2 cylinder gas
tractor. It looked like a little steam traction engine with. the
motor mounted on top of the boiler, which was used for cooling
water instead of radiator. The Fairbanks Morse people claimed it
would run up to a 28 inch cylinder separator, which I soon found out
it would not do, so used it only to run the grist mill the first
year. So the old Waterloo Boy had to go back to work that year.

The next year I sold my 27 inch Ault-man-Taylor and bought a
20-32 inch Aultman-Taylor, which the little Fairbanks Morse handled
fine. The old Waterloo Boy I kept and used once in awhile if I had
a breakdown with my other tractor. Even used it on a saw mill part
time, then like a fool I sold it for scrap during the second World
War. It was still in good shape and if I would have kept it, it
would probably have been one of a kind today.

About 1922 I traded in the little 20-32 inch Aultman-Taylor on a
24 inch cylinder A. B. Farquar separator which the little Fairbanks
Morse handled pretty good. A couple of years later as
Aultman-Taylor was going out of business, I bought a new 36 HP
Aultman-Taylor gas traction. I bought it for less than the regular
price, as they were selling out their complete stock. It proved to
be a good machine and plenty of power for that little 24 inch

So about 1926 I bought a new 30 inch cylinder A. B. Farquar
separator. The 24 inch machine was a lot better separator than that
30 inch It was a good machine for wheat, but on trashy oats or
barley, not so hot.

In 1928 I traded in the old 24 inch Farquar and the 18-36
Aultman-Taylor on a new 25-40 Rumley Oil Pull, which I still have
today. At the same time my oldest son bought a 20-30 Oil Pull and a
22-36 inch Case separator, as we had enough work at that time for
two outfits. He was not satisfied with the straw rack in that
little Case separator. He always crowded it as he had plenty of
power. So he threw the original rack away and built a completely
new rack of his own design, which was a big improvement over the
original rack. He ran that outfit until 1941, at which time he
traded the separator in on a combine harvester, which was the
beginning of the end.

In 1930 I bought a new 28 inch McCormic Deeing separator, which I
still have and was used last in 1962 for about 3 days of clover
threshing. This last outfit I ran was probably the best and most
practical as to separator and engine of any of my other machines.
It was used for over 20 years on runs of from 40 to 50 days, down
to a week, and now it, like me, just sits and rests.

I also used that Oil Pull on a sawmill and planer for a number
of years and it has had very few repairs. Just exhaust valves about
once a year.

Well, I guess I am about back where I started from, back living
in a 10-16 log cabin, nobody to have to account to for what I do
(my wife passed away Sept. 21, 1923). I still drive my old Model A
Ford, which I bought now in 1931, and go wherever I want to go.
This cabin I have now is a little more modern than my first one, as
it has running water, lights, and I don’t have to go out and
sit over that 100 foot dry well to do my morning chores. I also
don’t have to look very far to see reminders of what I did
through my more productive days. I still have my 3 HP Fairbanks
Morse which I bought 64 years ago. Although not used anymore, it is
still in good running condition. Also my Oil Pull and 28 inch
McCormic Deering are still patiently waiting to be called upon if
they should ever be needed.

This is a twin Cylinder Maytag Washing Machine engine. It was
brought in and given me by a man living near Ad, Kansas. I took it
to a friend of mine who has a shop for such engines, and we soon
had it running like new. I have it mounted on a four caster
platform and expect to give it something to do by mounting an air
compressor with it to operate.

My oldest son (I have 3 sons) is a kind of a nut on old steam
and gas rigs. He has a 20 HP Case steam traction engine in his
sawmill, a 14 horse Advance Compound, 10 HP Advance simple, and a
nice little 10 HP Buffalo Pitts which I used this fall to saw up my
winter’s wood supply. I still do my cooking with wood. When a
fellow gets older and doesn’t do much outside work, he has to
keep a fire going all day in this winter weather.

I also see about 12 or 15 old gas engines of various sizes from
11/2 to 10 HP sitting around here on my son’s place. Plus a 20
HP Titan traction engine, 1 cylinder hit and miss type, also a 8-16
Mogul hopper cooled, 1 cylinder. They all seem to be in good
running shape and he starts one of them up now and then.

If you can use any or all of this ramblings on in GEM you are
more than welcome to do so. Am enclosing picture of my Waterloo Boy
and 27 inch Aultman-Taylor taken in June of 1913 as I was bringing
it out from Portland, Ore. when the separator was brand new. At the
time of that picture. I was 38 years old.

After reading some of the stories about threshing in the Iron
Men Album by some of the old time thresher-man from the Midwest,
they, no doubt would have taken a dim view of equipment used and
the type of threshing we did in this district. As I look back in my
old records I see most of my jobs ran from as small as 100 bushel
with the average 600 or 700 bushel. The job of three or four
thousand bushel was quite rare, although we had a few.

The last holdout from the combine always had from two to three
thousand bushels and he tried to make it an even 50 years that I
threshed for him, but 1960 was the last year, as he got so crippled
with arthritis he could not harness his team for the binder. He
used the same binder all those 49 years.

I am now 92 years old and maybe I’ll write up some of my
remembrances of incidents amusing and otherwise of my days of
woodsawing and threshing with them different types of early day gas
engines of thou think they would be suitable for GEM. Also enclosed
is picture of me and what I do most of now and my log cabin

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