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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Fascinated with steam engines

By Barry Schrader.................................August 11, 2009

Maynard Petersen has missed only one Sycamore Steam Power Show in its 53-year history, because of a family trip overseas in 1970, and, God willing, he says he plans to be there again this year.
Petersen became fascinated with steam engines at the age of 12 when he got to watch a threshing crew at work on a nearby farm. By age 15 he had mastered the workings of the steam engine so well he got to operate the mammoth tractor for the next five years until they stopped harvesting the wheat, oats and barley that way.
Then, fortuitously, he and his father found out about an idle steam engine west of Burlington that had been used by a threshing operation there. They bought it, fired it up and drove it all the way home to their farm north of Hampshire.
“I remember it well because as we came down what is now Burlington Road a farmer passed us and drove into his son’s farm yard up ahead. He told them all to come out on the porch to see something they probably would never see again.” That was 1946, and today Petersen still owns that Minneapolis engine and keeps it in running condition and ready for the Sycamore show.

Maynard Petersen has missed only one Sycamore Steam Power Show in its 53-year history.

He also bought two other steam engines along the way, one in 1960 and another in 1964, and plans to have one of those running at the show again this year as well. It is not an easy task to get those steam-powered behemoths over the roads. It takes a tractor-trailer to haul them at considerable expense.
On their 120-acre family farm the Petersens used to plant 12 to 15 acres of oats and then the first Sunday it was ready to harvest would call up friends to take part in an old-time threshing bee. The women would bring out a stove, refrigerator and tables onto the lawn to prepare the meal and the men would shock up the oats. It became an event popular among the neighbors for years. In addition to his longtime propane gas business Petersen still has that farm, and his daughter Melanie and son-in-law Bill Howe live on the home place.
The 91-year-old steam power enthusiast also owns the largest of the threshers used at the show. It was originally owned by a farmer named Charles Coon who lived near “New Leb.” Petersen recalls Coon purchased it from a dealer J.I. Kiernan for only $44. Genoa natives might remember Kiernan’s son Larry who ran the soda fountain and grill on the Genoa main street for many years.
Show attendees will be able to watch Petersen along with his family members operating stone mills to grind corn and wheat into both kinds of flour. He explained that they use a 7-horsepower Lister engine made in England back in 1914 to run one grinder, while the other is powered by a 1926 Chevrolet engine mounted on a frame with wheels. The finished product is bagged up and sold fresh right there. When was the last time you saw flour being made and sold on the spot?
Another special attraction on Thursday and Friday this week will be artist and model builder Bob Myers displaying his latest creation in the building where the historical societies are located. He has built two trains using 15 types of wood to replicate the Gold Spike joining of the rails at Promontory Summit in Utah some 140 years ago.
The Steam Power Show runs Thursday through Sunday north of Sycamore off Plank Road on farmland owned by the late Taylor Marshall.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115