Farm Horizons, August 2007

A young man preserves and demonstrates threshing history

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

A young man, who’s been partial to both antique steam and gas engine tractors since he can remember, is traveling to old-time farming shows and demonstrating his antique equipment.

Brian Patterson, 23, of rural Mayer is actively sharing his interest in farming practices of years past, as well as having the time of his life.

“A person can spend anywhere from $6,000 to $150,000 on a steam engine,” Patterson explained, “it just depends on how much money and work you want to put into it.”

“It’s hard to get a $20,000 loan for a good working steam engine, especially at my age, but it’s easy to get a vehicle loan for that amount,” he said. Regarding Patterson’s last machinery purchase, he said, “I was surprised the bank said it was a go!”

Working on steam engines and vintage equipment is enjoyable for Patterson, so much so that the amount of time or money he invests in such projects are worth it.

“How much is fun worth to a guy? I could spend that amount of money on a race car and it could be destroyed after three laps. With steam engines, that’s not going to happen and their values increase with time – if you take care of them,” Patterson said.

Some of Patterson’s equipment includes a 1907 Minneapolis Steam Engine, a 1927 John Deere D, a 1938 John Deere A, as well as a variety of implements and tools such as shellers, bur mills, a wooden “separator” or thresher, and just about any type of old machinery that catches his eye or interest.

Patterson started traveling to different antique farm shows in 1998 with his grandfather and friends. He would help them run their equipment at the shows and, today, will do the same if his equipment happens to be “down” for repairs.

“I run my friends’ boilers if mine are down, a guy can only do so much with what a guy’s got,” Patterson laughed.

“I started exhibiting my own equipment in 2001. I won the oldest tractor award two years ago in Watertown at the Rails to Trails Festival,” he said.

Just this year, he has already exhibited his equipment at events in Waverly, Watertown, Jordan, LeSeuer, and Forest City.

Patterson takes a lot of interest in the history of each piece of equipment he owns.

Before he purchased his steam engine, he traced ownership back to an eskimo in Alaska who actually used it for a short period of time.

“Before the steam engine made its way to Illinois, it spent some time of its life in Alaska. I found it on the Internet and went to Illinois to check it out before buying it,” Patterson said.

In fact, Patterson explained in great detail all the parameters that must be meticulously checked over before agreeing to purchase a steam engine. Things like ultrasounds to check the thickness of the boiler in 60 to 65 spots, and hydrotesting helped Patterson decide whether the steam engine was in good shape or not.

The steam engine weighs 13 tons, empty, and it took a semi and lowboy trailer to haul it home.

Patterson is a huge John Deere fan and his fondness towards his 1927 John Deere D is more than obvious. He knows all there is to know about its production, and the production of letter-series tractors, in general, of John Deeres.

“Streeter Ds” were made in the streets of Waterloo after the assembly line for letter-series tractors was shut down in 1953, he explained. John Deere then commenced production of its number-series tractors like John Deere 40s, 50s, 70, and 80s, he said.

“In 2001, I won a raffle for a John Deere H. At first I thought it was a prank call. I ended up trading it for a John Deere G – that was a mistake – then my grandpa called and told me about this John Deere D for sale. I bought it in Dec., 2002,” Patterson said.

Patterson is starting a new and additional hobby, as well. He is now making replacement water barrels for steam engines. “It’s an extensive process. They require a fully riveted seam – it’s a four man job,” he said.

“I’m just trying to do whatever I can. You either have a savings account or old tractors – but you can’t have both,” Patterson laughed.

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