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DeLaVerne engine brings history to life

Staff writer

Jim Wiens of Goessel calls himself a stickler for punishment when it comes to involvement with Threshing Days and the work associated with planning and participating in the three-day Mennonite history celebration in Goessel each year. But there is no doubt that he loves to talk about his favorite engine on the grounds of Mennonite Heritage Agriculture and Engine Museum.

“Every year I am so tired after this,” Wiens said. “I know I met myself at least five times coming in and out of the shed.”

Wiens, a member of the Wheat Heritage Engine and Threshing Company since the early 70s, said he had been at every display there since hauling equipment in to the first show.

“I like the camaraderie of all this,” he said. “I guess a lot my interest has to do with the fact that if no one preserves this history, it is lost forever.”

Wiens has a special interest in a DeLaVerne engine that has been a centerpiece at Threshing Days since the mid-1980s.

“This one is a favorite of mine, and probably the most cooperative engine in the building,” he said. “It has a nice personality.”

The 200 horsepower DeLaVerne engine, which according to Wiens runs on anything oily, came from a cattle farm somewhere between Arkansas City and Winfield.

“As far as I know, it is the only make and model of its sort known to exist,” Wiens said. “It’s a rare and valuable piece of history.”

Wiens said he and other engine club members made the machine go using French fry oil, motor oil, and watered down diesel. Prior to coming to Goessel, the DeLaVerne was used in an alfalfa-pelleting mill after 25 years or more of service in the oilfields of northern Arizona.

“These types of engines were very vital to civilization at one time,” he said. “They provided power to electrical plants, cable car systems, and in the oil fields.”

Wiens said all the engines in the museum’s engine club shed were run at various times of the year, but Threshing Days was a good time for visitors to see them at their best.

“This DeLaVerne has a 99 percent chance of starting and running reliably,” he said. “Now, that big black one in the corner … not so friendly. It could be running just fine, but 10 minutes later won’t start for nothing.”

Visitors to Goessel’s Threshing Days celebration last weekend joined Wiens in the engine club shed, sharing stories and memories, and reliving history through the smell of diesel, the constant throb of the engines.

“It wasn’t as hot as some years,” Wiens said. “I would say we had about the same number of people as last year. A lot of them are repeat visitors, sometimes I can pick out a few new ones in the crowd.”

Wiens and his wife, Connie, enjoy spending time at engine shows together. At Goessel’s Threshing Days, Connie displayed her dad’s (Alfred Schmidt) two-bottom plow.

“I helped my dad farm with this one,” Connie said. “My grandson drove it in the parade, and my great-grandkids like to play on it.”

For them, and many others involved with Threshing Days, history is not dead, it just needs a little oil every now and then.

Last modified Aug. 9, 2012

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