“Restoring a steam engine is a bigger task than refurbishing a tractor or pickup.”
Just ask Austin Chapman and his partner in profession and hobby Caleb Kearney.
But, there’s no denying all of the hard work, time and even high cost becomes worthwhile when they drove their restored 1914 Rumley steam engine from the farm near Oskaloosa to the Heart of America Antique Steam Engine & Model Association threshing bee grounds at McLouth.
It was a slow drive at 1½-miles-an-hour, yet the normal 10-minute, 7½-mile jaunt that took about five hours Saturday afternoon, Sept 14, was a smiling venture for the enthusiast steam engine restoration team.
As would be expected, their big powerful machine, pulling a trailer loaded with family and friends, drew big smiles, giant waves, honks, even “High Fives” and “thumbs up” from passerby, and those who stopped to just watch and admire, as the rig moved slowly along.
“This is the way steam engines were always moved from field to field, when they were the mode of power for farm harvests in the early part the last century,” emphasized Chapman, as he cheerfully reminisced his lifelong attraction for old machinery.
“I grew up watching the threshing bees and the antique machinery working at McLouth and other such events. I’ve always had a passion for steam engines,” contended Chapman, longtime member now serving as president of that group sponsoring their 56th annual threshing bee this weekend.
The McLouth Threshing Bee is scheduled Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20-21-22, with threshing daily, at 10 o’clock in the morning, and again at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, along with a complete lineup of other activities.
Already, the restored antique Rumley has been fired up to make sure everything is in operating order, since its tedious, meticulous renovation involving many more workers than just its owners.
The old-now-almost-like-new steam-powered engine this weekend will again power the threshing machine, also owned by Chapman and Kearney.
“It’ll be the first time the steam engine has operated at the McLouth Threshing Been since 2001, but we got the 1923 Altman-Taylor separator out, and used it some at last year’s ’bee,” Chapman said.
Both machines were purchased from Gary Royer, who had owned them with his father, Harold Royer, since 1966, and have been stored, used and displayed at McLouth, from that time.
“After Harold passed away, Gary decided he’d sell them. So, we bought the machines last year, and have been working hard to bring the steam engine back to life,” Chapman contended.
“Sometimes, we just about wondered if all of the work and expenses were worth it. We’ve restored trucks and tractors, but a steam engine is completely different. Parts are usually available for trucks and tractors; we had to make everything for the engine,” Chapman related.
“It was certainly a labor of love, or we wouldn’t have kept after it,” admitted Chapman, who lives on the Jefferson County farm where he was raised.
“I sold out the farm machinery three years ago, rent out the land and keep busy with KNA Digging in a partnership with Caleb,” Chapman noted.
Renovating the firebox, boiler and flue was the most expensive part of the Rumley project. “We had to have a shop at Odessa, Missouri, do that for us, and it took about five months,” explained Chapman.
“There are strict regulations governing the fireboxes and boilers, which is the reason some steam engines on display are not allowed to operate,” Chapman noted.
After getting the power source reconditioned, “We built and replaced the other parts that were inoperable; cleaned and painted the engine, and just got it done last week,” Chapman reflected.
Hesitant to reveal the total expenses in the project, Chapman again credited, “I’m uncertain exactly how many, but there were a lot of people who helped us out. There’d probably be 100 or more hours of our own work, and that of volunteers in this engine.”
Initial investment was not that steep, Chapman confessed, but the restoration was another story, he said, while mentally tallying out-of-pocket dollars spent on the relic Rumley. “I suppose we have $40,000 in it,” he cautiously divulged.
That’s a lot in most people’s pocketbooks, but the steam engine is more valuable than what the pair have it, that is of course not figuring what their and volunteer laborious talents are worth.
“I’ve seen steam engines sell for $80,000, to more than $100,000. This one could safely be valued at $70,000, I’d say,” Chapman speculated.
Welcoming everyone to McLouth this weekend to see his “pride-and-joy” in action, Chapman explained that Caterpillars. sanctioned under both the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club (ACMOC) and Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA), along with all other makes, are to be featured at the “bee” this year.
“This is a working dirt moving show, but all tractors, trucks and equipment are welcome. There will be a special antique and working truck display,” Chapman said.
In additional, a flea market is scheduled all three days, along with an operating rock crusher and saw mill, as well as corn picking and shelling.
Special events include a tractor drive at 9 o’clock Saturday morning, an antique and classic tractor pull at 1 o’clock, with a drive-in car show and pedal tractor pull getting underway at 5 o’clock.
“The antique tractor pull is for tractors from 1959 and older. Classes are planned for 3,500-to-7,500-pound tractors, with divisions to include stock, modified stock, open steel, out-of-field and agriculture tractors,” Chapman clarified.
There is a garden tractor pull planned at 1 o’clock, Sunday afternoon.
“Admission is free to all activities, and overnight camping is welcome. But, seating is limited, so bring your lawn chairs,” Chapman advised.
Details are available at www.mclouththreshingbee.com, or on Facebook.