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Iowa couple treat tractor shows like ‘family reunion’
Every day during the Rock River Thresheree in Edgerton, Wis., over Labor Day weekend there would be a parade of power – and one of the highlights of this lineup of steam engines and tractors was a chance to see what antique equipment made it to this 56th annual show.

Minneapolis-Moline and all of its associates were the selected brand, and one engine that was historic belonged to Jerrod Ruble. He and his wife, Eileen, brought his 1893 Return Flue Minneapolis stationary traction engine.

Made by the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co., Jerrod said, “This is the oldest known Minneapolis Return Flue engine known to exist. I bought this at a sale in 2005 in Montgomery, Minnesota; I had to put a new boiler it in, it was part of the fun.”

To put a new boiler in a steam-operated machine built before 1900 required a bit of experience. Jerrod said he has been working with steam since he was a boy. “My dad had a sawmill and ran it with a Case steam engine all summer. My brothers and I ran it; I started working with it around (age) 10.”

Jerrod hails from Hanlon, Iowa, and stores his 20-some steam engines in Forest City. “I have the earliest and the latest Minneapolis Return Flue engines known to exist,” he said. “The latest is a 1913 and it was the last one off the assembly line. They made these until 1913, and the first one was made in 1890.”
The Minneapolis Return Flue is not a tractor, but a steam traction engine that Jerrod explained “moves under its own power.”

 Preparing a machine of this size to run in a parade is a time-consuming task: “It takes about two hours to get ready to roll.”
Although the engine was originally built to be powered by straw, Jerrod converted it to run by wood. “A lot of early engines were built to run by straw because it was the only reliable fuel source on the prairie,” he explained. “It was built for belt work, not plowing.”
The machine would have been used to run a threshing machine or a sawmill like Jerrod’s family had. It is a beautiful thing, with its fancy canopy and stenciled lines. “They took pride in their engines. They even pinstriped them to look pretty,” he said.

Once Jerrod obtained the engine it took him four years to restore it. This computer engineer added that now it is done, “I can enjoy it!”
This is a family hobby. Jerrod and Eileen come to shows together and he said, “She’s got a model steam engine and a 30-60 Hart Parr tractor. She helps out a lot on them. She even has a one-third-scale Garr Scott engine.”

Eileen grew up on a farm and remembers her father’s Massey 44 special. “My Hart Parr is being worked on right now,” she said. “I got into the hobby through my husband.”

“She didn’t know that part of her wedding vows would include cleaning flues and polishing brass,” Jerrod said, laughing.
For the family that shares this hobby, shows like the Rock River Thresheree are joyous events. Eileen summed it up: “We always call these family reunions. You see people you met from auctions and shows. My favorite thing about this hobby is talking to the people, and I like the equipment.”

Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.