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Friday, 25 August 2017 09:13

Cranking up their engines

Written by  Dennis Hines
Ron DeGraff is a historian for Fairbanks-Morse, a company that manufactures engines. Some of those old engines, as well as dozens of antique tractors and other equipment will be on display during the four-day Rock River Thresheree. Ron DeGraff is a historian for Fairbanks-Morse, a company that manufactures engines. Some of those old engines, as well as dozens of antique tractors and other equipment will be on display during the four-day Rock River Thresheree. Terry Mayer/staff

EDGERTON — The Rock River Thresheree reunion will feature a variety of stories about antique equipment, but perhaps none more interesting than two engines that the Fairbanks-Morse Company manufactured in 1935.

The thresheree will be held Friday through Monday, Sept. 1 through Sept. 4, at Thresherman’s Park south of Edgerton.

It will feature two CV-6 gasoline engines that were aboard the Navy’s USS Enterprise during World War II. Both engines were transported from New York in time for the 61st annual celebration.

“Even the Navy will tell you that (the USS Enterprise) was the most highly decorated ship that has been in the U.S. Navy,” said Ron DeGraff, Fairbanks-Morse historian. “We have now brought (the engines) back to the Beloit area about 82 years later. They were World War II veterans 82 years ago. So for a few of us, that’s a pretty big issue. They were in pre-production. They weren’t even manufacturing them.”

DeGraff said the CV-6s are “pretty darn rare.”

“They are the only two that exist in the world,” DeGraff said. “We like to advertise it as such, because maybe there will be some Navy veterans stopping by. We would like to make one of these run. Fairbanks-Morse made them in 1935, but they weren’t put in production so we don’t have any spare parts for them.”

DeGraff said the thresheree board has been trying to get its hands on the two engines for several years and paid about $1,300 to have them transported, with some help from Fairbanks-Morse, the featured engine for the thresheree.

“Fairbanks-Morse donated some money, and that was used to help pay for this project,” DeGraff said.

A gas engine that was used at a power plant in Alaska also will be displayed. It was brought to Thresherman’s Park about six years ago to be repaired and repainted.

The thresheree will include large gas engines that were used to power area municipalities.

“It was a step up from the days when you had these hit-or-miss gasoline engines,” DeGraff said. “The cities and towns started generating power, then the next phase was the power grids. (Gasoline engines) were just an interim step, and there are still a lot of these (engines) out there. It’s amazing how many of them are still on stand-by service. If (municipalities) get off the grid or the grid goes down or something, these still get used.”

DeGraff said several exhibitors will be displaying smaller gasoline engines, and engine collectors from throughout the country attend the event.

“Most of the smaller gas engines are owned by individuals, and they bring them up and display them at the show,” DeGraff said. “The other day, a guy called me and said he and his dad are coming from Virginia. If they want to come from Virginia, we will welcome them.”

DeGraff has been manager of the gas engines since 2004. He said he enjoys working with them and being a part of the event.

“The biggest thing I have to do is lay out the display area and put in the stakes and ropes, so when everybody brings their engines in they got a place to show them,” said DeGraff, who owns several gasoline engines that he often displays at the thresheree.

“My mother said I was born with a wrench,” DeGraff said. “From lawnmowers to go-karts, I’ve always had gas engines. I think I got pretty much everything I need (in my collection). After awhile, you start running out of space.”

DeGraff mostly worked with gas engines during his 34-year career at Fairbanks-Morse, which allowed him to travel overseas.

“I’ve been to Peru and Venezuela,” he said. “I’ve been to offshore locations in the Gulf (of Mexico),” DeGraff said. “I’ve traveled around and done a lot. I still do history programs for Fairbanks-Morse. I would have to say that I have had a remarkable career in the fact that I have a hobby that became a part of my work.”

Meanwhile, Allis-Chalmers will be the featured equipment company during Labor Day weekend.

“Most of it will be tractors, but there will be other types of equipment,” said Todd Ligman, president and director of the thresheree board. “Allis-Chalmers was a major manufacturer back in the day. They manufactured several types of equipment, especially tractors.”

Board member Guy Fay co-wrote a book about Allis-Chalmers tractors called “Original Allis-Chalmers: 1933-1957” in the late 1980s.

“The book is not so much about the company itself but more about the tractors they built when the tractors were popular,” Fay said. “I mostly wrote about the tractors that the company produced from the 1930s to the 1950s.”

Fay said he wanted to do the book because of his interest in antique tractors.

“I was a farm kid, and I’ve always been interested in antique tractors,” Fay said. “I thought it was an opportunity to do research about tractors.”

Fay said most of the Allis-Chalmers equipment at the thresheree belongs to nearby collectors.

“A lot of it will be local stuff, but I’m sure we will have some stuff from out of state,” he said. “I don’t know what everyone will bring. It’s up to them.”

Fay said people are allowed to submit items throughout the event.

“People are starting to bring stuff now,” Fay said. “People can bring stuff at 8 a.m. the day of the show. Some people even come in late and drive their tractors in. We get stuff all four days of the show.”

Fay has been a board member since 1992 and usually runs the Sorghum Mill, but this year he mostly will be involved with the antique car and truck show. Fay said the thresheree helps him stay in touch with his agricultural roots.

“I’m from the area and grew up on a farm,” Fay said. “(The thresheree) helps me keep up with the history of the area. I’m not farming anymore, but it’s a way for me to keep up with the farming industry. That’s what I like about the thresheree.”

The thresheree board selects different companies each year to be featured.

“It’s on a rotating list of ‘well, we haven’t done this company in awhile,’ or we do what we call ‘orphans and oddballs,’” DeGraff said. “Orphans and oddballs are usually a mix of tractor or engine manufacturers that made equipment for a few years, but they’re no longer a company, and that’s how they become orphans. You may have an engine, but you don’t have a company. There’s a whole list of categories that we bounce around and say, ‘what have we got and what haven’t we got?’”

The thresheree will include activities such as the Parade of Power at 2 p.m. daily, flea market, craft show, antique car and truck show, live music, food vendors and train rides on the Rock River Cannonball. The event also will offer blacksmithing, carving, broom making, corn shelling, grain threshing and steam engine plowing demonstrations.

Ligman said about 2,000 people attend the thresheree each year.

“The biggest part is people come with their families,” Ligman said. “There’s a lot for families to do. We have the flea market and the train rides, live music and food. It’s nice for families to come out for the day.”



At a glance:

What: 61st annual Rock River Thresheree

When: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 1 through Sept. 4; gates open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Thresherman’s Park, 51 E. Cox Road, Edgerton; just off U.S. Highway 51 and County Highway M between Edgerton and Janesville

Admission: $8 for those age 13 and older, free for those 12 and younger; Senior Citizens Day on Sept. 1, $6

Attractions: Sawmills, shingle and sorghum mills, threshing, pile driver, blacksmith shop, steam train rides, kids’ pedal pull, Museum of Ag & Industry, steam engines, car and truck show, military displays, craftsman demonstrations, tractors and gas engines

Other highlights: daily Parade of Power at 2 p.m.; Allis-Chalmers featured equipment and Fairbanks-Morse featured engine; flea market and craft show (exhibitors welcome); free parking and shuttle service

FYI: Call 608-868-2814 for general information and 608-728-3407 about the flea market. Visit for more details.



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