Tour of Toews

By Staff
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Jerry Toews stands with his 1878 1/2 HP slide valve Crossley Otto.
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The Toews’ own the only known 1896 Jesse Walrath rotary valve engine.
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Originally built in the early teens as an alternative to purchasing a manufactured tractor, this kit was sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. and uses a 7 HP Economy engine. This tractor is as original as they come.
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This single-cylinder Rumely OilPull 15-30 features two forward and one reverse gear, as well as low-tension ignition with igniter, battery, coil and magneto.
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The radiator on Jerry’s 1917 Avery 40-80 uses 616(!) 1/2-inch copper tubes to aid in cooling, all of which he tediously replaced himself.
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This Monitor half-breed is extraordinary due to its 4-stroke design. Also note the attractive box-bed base.
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The “guts” of Jerry’s 8 HP Springfield.
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A partial view of the storage building where the Toews’ collection of stationary engines are stored.

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.

Beginnings

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; jtoews@mtelco.net

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines