by Judy Williams
Keeping farming history alive is a family affair for the Grosshans/Kunzleman family of Gregory. Three generations of family proudly care for their 120-year-old Russell steam engine.
Early history has the farmer depending on the strength and durability of humans and animals such as horses, oxen, and mules. This changed with the invention of the steam engine, which increased the efficiency of working the land. Steam power could pull more, perform faster belt work, and move at speeds of 3 mph.
But the steam engine came with problems. Bridges that had been made to hold a single horse and wagon now had to support the crossing of a 12,000-pound steam engine. Some bridges collapsed. Safety issues arose also. If an engine ran low on water, it would explode.
Wilford Bunyea of Plymouth, Mich., uncle of Doreen (Titus) Grosshans, owned a prized steam engine. For years her husband, Keith Grosshans, had tried to purchase it. Bunyea, knowing the engine would stay in the family with someone who would restore and care for his prized possession, gave it to Keith in 1985. It became a treasured gift.
Keith, a member of the Michigan Steam Engine & Thresher Club headquartered in Mason and the National Thresher Association at Wauseon, Ohio, devoted months to restoring the engine to its original glory. And his hard work paid off. The engine won “Best of Show” at the Wauseon, Ohio National Threshers Show in 1992.
Fast forward 20 + years to 2015, and the engine needed work again. Keith smiled broadly as he recalled, “We still kept the restoration as a family affair. We all discussed and agreed upon what needed to be done. My son Brian got to do the work. Everyone helped out with moral support and expenses.”
Brian Grosshans spent two-and-a-half years taking the engine completely apart. He cleaned and sand blasted, he painted and brought the engine to better than new condition. The red, cast iron front portion of the tractor could not be repaired, so the family found someone to remake that piece out of steel. They managed to reattach the original front door.
Today the working engine chugga-chugs in its original glory with the exception of a new smoke box, piping, water and coal bunkers. According to state law, steam engines must be inspected every three years.
The Grosshans/Kunzleman family is famous for their steam engine dinners. When asked how they cook with a steam engine, Keith laughed. “You just run a hose from the engine to a 55-gallon drum with two shelves.”
Daughter Beth Kunzelman continued, ‘You put in all of your hard vegetables like carrots, onions, potatoes for 15 minutes and then add your meats for another 15 minutes. In a half hour you can cook enough food to feed 100 people.”
“Austyn, Samantha, Brook, and Kayden, the third generation of Grosshans/Kunzelmans, are learning how to drive and care for the family’s steam engine,” Keith stated with pride. “The tradition continues.”
Those who would like to see the engine up close may view it on display at the tractor show September 27 and 28 at the Stockbridge American Legion Post.