Ellis Keystone’s Horse-powered Tread Mill

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   The Ellis Keystone Single Horse Powered

Tread Mill


Brian Wayne Wells

As Published in the November/December 2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The horse was domesticated by early man in about 4000 to 3000 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). (Encyclopedia Britannica [University of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois] Volume 5, p. 970.) Naturally, at first, the horse was ridden by man. However, around 2500 B.C.E. the chariot was developed. This was the beginning of the use of horses as a source of “draft” power. Draft power was converted for use in agriculture shortly after that time. From that time up to the middle of the twentieth century, the horse was in widespread use in agricultural fields around the world. Draft power provided by animals was a real step forward for agriculture technology and at first, draft horse power served all the needs of the farmer. However, as agriculture became more mechanized, stationary machines were developed to ease labor for mankind.   A different form of power was needed for these station stationary machines. At first, the power for stationary machines was provided by waterfalls or by the wind. However, these power sources depended too much on the whims of nature to be totally reliable as a consistent source of power for stationary machines. At some time in the past, farmers found that a tread mill could be used to capture animal power as a source of “brake” horsepower for stationary machines. The unit of measurement of force of strength necessary to operate these new stationary machines became known as “horsepower” based on the average pulling power of an average draft horse. Typically, the average draft horse was considered as having the “tractive” power to pull 1/8 of its weight for 20 miles traveling at 2.5 miles per hour. (Ronald Stokes Barlow, 300 Years of Farm Implements [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 2003] p. 24.) Thus, a typical 1,500 pound draft horse could develop 33,000 foot pounds per minute which became defined as one horsepower (hp.). By changing the nature of the power of the average horse from tractive pulling power to a stationary source of power, the treadmill actually improved on the horse’s ability. A 1000 pound horse on a treadmill inclined at a rate of 1 to 4 (an incline of one inch up for every four inches of length) could develop 1.33 hp. A 1600 pound horse on the same tread mill could develop 2.13 hp. (Ibid.) With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, there was an increased need for stationary power sources not only in agriculture but also in industry. The use of the treadmill was improved in design and efficiency. By 1830 the tread mill had become a very practical source of real power for the farm. Single horse treadmills were used on the farm for such tasks as butter churning, grinding feed for livestock, sawing wood and cutting fodder. The single horse treadmill could supply power at a rate of 32 to 36 revolutions per minute (r.p.m.) on the reel shaft. This speed could then be geared up to 96 to 108 r.p.m. on the main shaft and the attached band wheel. (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1997] pp. 211 and 213.)

The stationary grain thresher/separator is one of the labor saving machines developed for agriculture which required brake style power. Development of the thresher started with simple, hand-fed machines to threshing machines with “apron” separating units which could thresh from 35 to 60 bushels per day. (Ibid., p. 336.) These early hand fed threshing machines generally used a single horse or two horse treadmill as a power source. Indeed, the treadmill was so closely associated with hand threshing machines that the horse tread mills were often sold together with threshers as a package deal. Such was the case with the Ellis-Keystone Company of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The Ellis Keystone Company began as the brainchild of John Ellis from the small community of Ellis Woods, Pennsylvania in Chester County. John was first and foremost an inventor who was thrust into operating his own business. Sometime before 1876, John was engaged in attempting to develop a small hand-fed thresher which would be called the “Champion Grain Thresher.” In 1876, the company was chartered and a factory was built at the corner of Cross and Keim Streets in Pottsville, Pennsylvania for the mass production of the hand-fed thresher and the treadmill. He obtained a patent from the United States Government for part of his new hand-fed thresher on July 1, 1878. He obtained another patent for a different feature of the little thresher on July 25, 1880 and yet a third patent was obtained in October of 1884. Notice of these patents was stenciled onto every thresher made by the Ellis Keystone Company.      

Of course by 1876, threshers were a well established part of North American agriculture. The first thresher/separator in the United States was developed by Hiram A. and John Pitts of Winthrop Maine in 1830.   (Ibid., 397.) Shortly after that, many companies jumped into the business of manufacturing laborsaving thresher/separators. In 1858, the Nichols and Shepard Company of Battle Creek, Michigan, developed the “Vibrator” thresher/separator. (C. H. Wendel, Oliver, Hart-Parr [Motorbooks International Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] p. 92.) The Vibrator was the first thresher/separator to employ “vibrating” or “shaking” straw racks. This was a great development in separating technology for the thresher/separator industry. Soon all thresher/separator manufacturers were adding their own version of shaking straw racks to their thresher/separators. Other improvements in thresher/separator technology would follow. However, as these new improvements were added to thresher/separator design, there was an ever increasing need for more horsepower to operate these new thresher/separators. Soon the increasing need for more horsepower outstripped the abilities of the single horse or even two horse treadmills. They could no longer supply the increased horsepower needed for these new threshers.

A new horse powered unit called the “sweep-style horsepower” or “sweep power” was developed to allow more horses to be employed in a convenient manner to power heavier belt powered machines. (The sweep power is intended as the subject for an article in the next issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) However, even the sweep power was limited as a source of power which was unable to keep up with the continuing improvements in thresher technology which required even more power. Thus, thresher manufacturers were forced to turn to another source of stationary power to be matched to their modern threshers. This was steam power which came into popular usage in the decades following the Civil War in the United States.

The Case Company introduced their first portable steam engine in 1869. (Ibid., p. 179.) The Advance-Rumely Thresher Company introduced their first steam engine as a power source for their threshers in 1872. (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1988] p. 18.) Despite their continued efforts, all through the 1860s, to improve the design and efficiency of their own sweep power in order to keep up with the power demands of modern large threshers, the Nichols and Shepard Company finally introduced their first steam engine in 1876. (C. H. Wendel, Oliver, Hart-Parr p. 92.)

In the face of this trend toward larger, more power-demanding threshers, John Ellis remained fixed on the concept of producing his small hand-fed “Champion” grain thresher made without the modern “agitating” or “vibrating” straw racks. The reason for keeping the thresher small and simple was that John Ellis felt that there was a niche in the market even in 1879 that his small thresher and accompanying treadmill could fill. Like many other companies, the impact of the economic crisis called the Panic of 1893 was severe. That year the Ellis Keystone Company was sold to James H. Morris and William M. Bunting.

The trend toward large threshers had generally closed the possibility of individual farmers owning there own threshers which would be used on their own farms. The price of the thresher and the accompanying mechanical power source was so large that individual farmers could not afford to purchase and operate these threshers and steam engines exclusively for use on their own farms. This was especially true for small farmers. Generally, across the Midwest, individual farmers would band together in a “ring” to purchase a thresher and a portable steam engine. The members of the “threshing ring” would then co-operate each threshing season to harvest the wheat and oats on each other’s farms as the thresher and steam engine was moved from farm to farm. In the alternative, one farmer in the neighborhood might make the huge investment of purchasing a thresher and steam engine and then perform “custom threshing” for the farmers in his neighborhood. Custom threshing meant that the individual farmers would pay the owner/operator of the thresher an agreed amount for every bushel of grain threshed on his farm. However, even with a custom thresher in the neighborhood, the individual farmers needed to join together to provide the manpower, horses and wagons that were needed to get the threshing done on each farm every summer. (This type of custom threshing is described in the article called “Navy Bean Farming in Michigan” contained in the January/February 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine on page 34.)

The operation of the threshing ring every summer gave rise to colorful traditions and memories surrounding steam engine operated threshers, neighborhood comradeship and the food of a typical threshing day in the Midwest. However, one of the main problems of threshing in a ring is that each farmer had to wait his turn for the thresher to arrive on his farm. The farmer, himself, could not thresh his grain when the grain on his farm was ready.   One of the main advantages of a small thresher and a treadmill was that the price of this outfit was within the economic reach of small farmers. Such an outfit could be used exclusively on the farmers own small farm. The small farmer could then thresh his grains when he wanted to thresh rather than “waiting on the whole neighborhood.” The Keystone Ellis treadmill and companion small hand-fed Champion Grain Thresher was designed precisely for this type of small farmer.

One such a farming operation was the farm of Phillip and Olivia (Charbonneau) Savord of Hermansville, Michigan. Phillip had been living in Trois-Rivieres (Three Rivers) in the province of Quebec, Canada, in 1890 when he met and married Olivia Charbonneau. Founded in 1634, Trois-Rivieres is one of the earliest settlements in the new world. (J. Bartlett Brebner, Canada: A Modern History [University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1970] p. 35.) Located on the St. Lawrence River midway between Montreal and Quebec City, the largely French speaking settlement was situated at the mouth of the St. Maurice River, where that river emptied into the St. Lawrence River. As the vast virgin forests of Quebec were harvested, the logs passed through the harbor of Trois-Rivieres for destinations in Europe and the eastern United States. The falls on the lower end of the St. Maurice River were conducive for powering saw mills. So the processing of the logs into lumber began in Trois-Rivieres. Pine and other soft wood logs were floated down the St. Maurice River to the saw mills. In 1870, use of wood pulp rather than cloth rags became the major ingredient in making paper. (Encyclopedia Britannica [London, 1977] Volume 13, p. 966.) Hence, the lumbering industry of Quebec turned to production of logs for this new lucrative market. Once again, logs arriving at the mouth of the St. Maurice were placed immediately on ships for transport to Europe and the United States for grinding and processing into pulp for paper. However, once again, the ample supplies of water power available in Trois-Rivieres, led the pulp processing industries to develop local processing facilities. This trend toward the local grinding and processing of pulp wood grew tremendously following the development of the sulfate process of reducing wood to pulp in 1887. By the end of the 1880s, Trois-Rivieres had become the center of Canada’s pulp industry. (Brebner, p. 317).

However, the soft woods of the area were not inexhaustible. By 1894, almost all of the first grade pine in Quebec had disappeared. (Ibid.) The logging industry moved westward across the North American Continent. With this westward movement, went the workers who worked in the lumber camps and sawmills. One of these outward bound emigrants was Phillip and Olivia Savord. They now had a son, Tom, who had been born in 1892. The young family moved westward and settled in the lumbering area of the “Upper Peninsula” of Michigan, settling in the town of Menominee, Michigan. The State of Michigan consists of two parts—the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.   The Upper Peninsula is actually located on the same land mass with the State of Wisconsin. Menominee was a saw milling town located on the shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Penninsula. The town was situated on the north side of the Menominee River. The Menominee River served as the boundary between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. So the town of Menominee was just barely into the State of Michigan. Just across the river on the south shore, was Marinette, Wisconsin. Lumbering had begun in the Lower Peninsula in 1860. (Willis F. Dunbar, Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State [Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980] p. 396.)    Gradually, lumbering moved to the Upper Peninsula as well. By 1880, Michigan alone provided the United States with over ¼ of its total supply of lumber. (Ibid.) Just as in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, logs were floated down the Menominee River from the interior of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula to saw mills located in Menominee and Marinette. From there, the sawn timber would be shipped to other ports on Lake Michigan, especially booming cities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois.

Phillip found a job working with the local timber industry in Menominee. However, he and Olivia had a dream of moving to some land of their own and setting up a farming operation. Thus, when they heard about some land that was for sale near rural Hermansville, Michigan, located about 40 miles north of Menominee, they jumped at the opportunity. Consequently, in 1895, the family moved to their own 40-acre farm three miles south of Hermansville in Meyer Township in Menominee County. Phillip and Olivia purchased the land from the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company which had extensive land holdings in the area around Hermansville.

The Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company had been founded by Charles J. L. Meyer in 1883. Charles Meyer of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, owned a sash and door factory in Fond du Lac. Seeking a stable and ample supply of hardwood for his factory, Charles Meyer founded the village of Hermansville and had built a saw and shingle mill there in 1878. Meyer Township was named after him. Unlike the larger portion of the lumber industry, which deals with soft woods, the Meyer sawmill in the new town of Hermansville was concerned with obtaining hardwood. This was especially true after Charles Meyer incorporated the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company in 1883 together with a number of other investor/shareholders. The newly incorporated company wished to take advantage of all the maple trees that were still left in the area around Hermansville. The company would use the maple wood to make hardwood flooring. However, the “hard rock maple” of the Hermansville area contained so many “blemishes” or “knots” that it could not be cut into the usual long strips that was typical of such maple hardwood flooring. To remove all the knots from the wood, the hard rock maple needed to be cut into smaller strips. Thus, in 1886 a new kind of hardwood flooring was developed by the company which took advantage of these shorter strips of maple. This new kind of flooring was called IXL maple flooring. Over the years, this IXL flooring has been used in many palaces in Europe and was also used in the Mormon Taberacle in Salt Lake City Utah.

In 1887, a second sawmill was constructed in Hermansville just to keep up with the supply of lumber needed for the factory at Fond du Lac. That same year the company started construction on a large maple flooring factory. However, this large expansion of the business at this particular time may have been ill-timed. The company began to experience economic stress as the result of being financially over-extended. In 1889, the commercial interests of C. J. L. Meyer in both Chicago, Illinois, and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, went bankrupt. It was determined that the value of the assets as a going concern were greater than if the assets were sold separately. Thus the company was turned over to a receiver in bankruptcy, who was appointed by the bankruptcy court to operate the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company on behalf of the creditors of the company. No further expansion of the company was permitted and the current holdings of the company were severely trimmed back to pay off the debts. Thus, when the company was returned to the original owners in 1891 it was a shadow of its former self. Once back in control again the original owners of the company struggled to bring the company back up to its former position.

However, the economic times were operating against the company, for on February 20, 1893, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad went into bankrupcy. This was followed in quick succession by the failures of the National Cordage Company on May 5, the Erie Railroad in July, the Northern PacificRailroad in August, the Union Pacific Railroad in October and the Atchison and Topeka Railroad in December. Before the end of 1893, 16,000 businesses and 500 banks had declared bankruptcy. (Harold U. Faulkner, Politics Reform and Expansion 1890-1900 [Harper and Bros. Pub.: New York, 1959] p. 141.) This series of spectacular bankrupcies, became known as the Panic of 1893 and the Panic broadened into a general economic depression which would last until 1896.

The Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company struggled against the wind of these unfavorable economic conditions and in 1900 the company was re-incorporated under the corporation laws of Michigan. At this point, the company owned over 60,000 acres of hardwood timber lands. The timber on this land was sufficient to meet the company’s needs for 25 years into the future. The company reported to the Michigan Secretary of State its worth as $1,000,000.00 in capital stock. During this time, Dr. George W. Earle purchased nearly all the stock and bonds of the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company and began to run the company, himself. Under the guidance of Dr. Earle, the company entered a new period of prosperity. In addition to the main line business of birch and maple flooring, the company provided pine, hemlock, tamarack, and cedar for the retail lumber market. The company also produced cedar posts, poles and pilings and they handled spruce and hemlock for pulpwood. The total timber product of the company filled ten thousand railroad cars every year.

The town of Hermansville, Michigan was first established by the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company as living quarters for all the company workers in the area. All the local businesses in Hermansville and nearly every building in the town was owned by the Company. The Company even paid its workers in its own company script which was redeemable in the local company stores in Hermansville. The Company planted some 400 trees in Hermansville to make the town attractive to potential employees and new citizens that would want to live in Hermansville. As the land around Hermansville was logged, the Company sold the cleared land to settlers who wished to move into the Upper Penninsula of Michigan and set up farming operations. Over the years some 200 settlers purchased land from the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company.

Phillip and Olivia Savord’s family was just one of these new families coming to Menominee County in 1895, to purchase the allotments of land made available by the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company. The Savord family would eventually grow to include ten children. Sadly two of the daughters would die of diphtheria in childhood. Of the eight remaining Savord children only three were boys; Tom, William and Arthur. On their new farm, the Savord family built log home for themselves and a long log barn for the animals. On one end of the log barn was space for the horses that supplied the power for the farming operation. On the other end were the stanchions for their small dairy herd of Holstein and Jersey cows with a sprinkling of some Gurensey milk cows. The middle of the log barn contained a space for the storage of the hay for the horses and the milking herd. Also at the milking end of the barn was storage for the buggy and other farm equipment. Following the milking of the cows in the morning and the evening the milk was “separated” with a hand crank milk separator. The whole milk was added at the top of the separator and as the hand crank was turned cream came out one of the spouts of the separator and skim milk came out the other spout to be collected in a pail. The skim milk was regarded at the time as being the waste product of the operation. It was the cream that was valued and sold to the creamery. The skim milk was fed to the pigs. The Savord family also raised English peas to sell locally. During the winter, they sold firewood locally.

However, the main cash crop on the farm, however, was winter wheat. Winter wheat was planted in mid September. The grains germinated in the ground and sprouted. The young plants developed a root system before the killing frosts came and forced the winter wheat into hibernation for the winter. In the spring the winter wheat already had a head start with its well developed root system. The winter wheat was generally ready to harvest and thresh in July. Oats, on the other hand, were planted in the spring and were genarlly not fully ripe until August.

The year 1895 was a good time for the Savord family to take up farming. The United States economy had been suffering from a depression since the Panic of 1893. However, the discovery of gold on the Klodike river in Alaska on August 17, 1896, provided a big infusion of money into the United States economy which dragged the economy out of its doldrums. The economic depression had affected the wheat market since 1893.   In normal years, the inventory of wheat held by elevators and other wholesale buyers usually rose to a high of 55 to 59 million bushels following the end of harvest each fall and then fell to a normal low of 21 million to 25 million bushels the next summer as the wheat was used by the economy. (From the National Bureau of Economic Research web site on the Internet.) Normally as this inventory of wheat rose and fell each year the price of wheat would react inversely falling as the inventory rose and rising as the inventory of wheat fell. The traditional annual range within which wheat prices fluctuated, during its yearly cycle, was between a high of $1.00 a bushel to a low of $.75 per bushel. However, there was a the bumper crop of wheat harvested in the fall of 1891—a new all time record of 787 million bushels. Consequently, the inventory of wheat swelled to a new record level of 74.8 million bushels. Naturally, the price of wheat started to decline. There was no rise in the price of wheat in the spring and summer of 1892. Instead the price continued to decline as the inventories of wheat reached 110.2 million bushels in December of the fall of 1892—twice the normal inventory of wheat. The glut in the wheat market was further aggravated by the Panic of 1893, which as noted above began in February of 1893. The price of wheat went down to $.51 a bushel in October of 1894 when the inventory of wheat reached 115.0 million bushes that same month, 122.7 million bushels in November 1894 and 122.8 million bushels in December 1894.   The fact that there had been a poor harvest in 1893 and only a normal harvest in 1894 did not help reduce the glut of wheat. The Panic had left the wheat market with no buyers who had any money to purchase the wheat.   In July and August 1896, at the very time that gold was discovered the inventory of wheat was 56.1 million bushels and 57.7 bushel million respectively. However, in the very next month the wheat market began to recover. The wheat inventories rose as the wheat crop of 1896 (an average crop in terms of production) started to come into the market, but the inventories rose no higher than 78.0 million bushels during that whole winter of 1896-97. The price of wheat stabilized and slowly started to rise—reaching $1.00 a bushel as an average for the entire month of February, 1897. The prices kept on climbing until they reached $1.51 per bushel as an average for the whole month of May, 1897. To be sure, the next month of June saw a drop in the price of wheat which kept sliding into the next year of 1898. This decline, however, was not due to any dislocations of the economy but rather was the normal reaction of the market to another bumper crop of wheat in 1898—829 million bushels were harvested in 1898. (Ibid.) Indeed, the market was “anticipating” the bumper crop as early as June and this is why the market price for wheat dropped in June, 1898, even before the crop had been harvested and while inventories were very low—19.6 million bushels—in the month of June 1898.

Thus, Phillip and Olivia Savord made their move to enter farming just at the right time economically. They purchased their land at a time while the economy was still depressed because of the Panic and as a result land prices were already low. Furthermore, they purchased their land from a company that was struggling as a result of economic difficulties aggravated by the Panic of 1893. No doubt the Company sought to sell as much of the cleared land as possible and at this time would have been inclined to do so cheaply to save overhead expenses of hanging on to the land and to make funds available for other needs.   As a result, Phillip and Olivia, probably, paid a quite favorable price for their land. No doubt they struggled the first year on the farm. They would not have been able to receive more than $.58 or $.59 per bushel for their wheat. Even the next year they would not have received more than $.78 per bushel provided they could have held onto the wheat until November. However, by the third year, 1897, they would have been receiving $1.00 a bushel for the wheat even if brought to the elevator right after being threshed straight from the field. In 1898, a new record bumper crop of wheat was harvested nationwide—832,000,000 bushels. This new record was up 5.7% over the previous record harvest—787.000.000 bushels—in 1891. This had brought prices down again in 1898 because of the glut of wheat on the market as a result of this record crop.   Nonetheless, the normal cycle of wheat prices had returned again. The prices were high for most of the summer until winter wheat crop started coming into the market in July every year. From that point on the prices dropped until the winter when the prices began to rise again and kept on rising until the next harvest.

By 1899, Phillip had learned that in normal years it was usually best to sell the wheat as soon as possible after threshing while the summer prices remained somewhat high. Otherwise he would have to store the winter wheat on the farm through the winter months and sell it in the spring when the price was normally high again. The truth be told, most farmers would sell a little at the end of harvest even if the prices were low, just to obtain some funds and pay some debts and store the rest hoping for that better price in the spring. The farmer would place the grain in burlap sacks and store it in a dry place. Indeed, Phillip had built a granary separate from the log barn on his new farm to store the oats for the horses all year. This granary also was used to store the wheat when necessary. However, storing grain was not as easy as it sounded. Any spoilage or loss due to mice, or other rodents or mold would subtract from any future profits that Phillip hoped to obtain by keeping the grain on the farm. Consequently, selling immediately was the best way.

Phillip was, currently, threshing his grain together with his neighbors. Often times he had to “wait on the thresher” to reach his farm in order to get his wheat threshed and to be able to sell the crop. Actually, he was not “waiting,” he was actually out on his neighbors farms helping then with their threshing as the thresher made its way around the neighborhood. Many times he watched, helplessly, as the price of wheat at the elevator fell as he sat waiting his turn—or indeed helping someone else get the high price while he waited. He began to think of a different way of threshing his wheat and getting more control over his own farming operation.

Accordingly, after the harvest season in the fall of 1899, Phillip was thinking seriously about this problem. Nationally, it had been a normal crop year for the production of wheat—682,000,000 bushels had been produced across the nation in 1899. Normal prices had returned as the wheat market adjusted for the glut that had hit the market the previous year—1898.

Locally the last growing season had started cooler than normal. The very cold winter had taken its sweet time in leaving. It was downright cold until the first week in April when it suddenly became very warm—jumping from a mean daily temperature of 10°F on April 1 to nearly 80°F in one short week. The summer had been fairly normal temperature-wise. However, a couple of heavy rains in mid-July had delayed the winter wheat harvest. Meanwhile the price of wheat was falling—from 77.9¢ per bushel as a monthly average for the month of July to 70.1¢ per bushel in August. In mid-August the heavy rains returned and the weather remained rainy throughout August and into September. This raised havock with the oat harvest. Even though the oats on the farms around Hermansville were not sold on the market and were entirely used by Phillip and his neighbors on their farms as a primary feed for their work horses, the fact that the rains delayed the thresher from making the rounds of the neighborhood, once again, pointed out what Phillip was losing by not having control over his own grain harvest.

Phillip knew that his small farm could not justify the purchase of his own thresher let alone the power source, probably a steam engine that would have to come with the thresher. Additionally, it would not help matters to make the commitment to purchase a thresher and steam engine to compete with the threshers that were already operating in the neighborhood. No, he needed a different option. Toward this end he was attracted by the little hand thresher called the “Champion” that was offered by the Ellis Keystone Company. The specific model of Champion thresher that interested Phillip was the Ellis Champion Model No. 1 Overshot Thresher with a 20” cylinder, a 27” “trunk” and 22” “riddles” (sieves). The Model 1 Thresher was matched to the single horse treadmill. An advertisement for the Model No. 1 Thresher noted that as an alternative the thresher could easily be powered by a 3 horse power gasoline engine.

That winter of 1899-1900, Phillip made up his mind to start the new century with a new step forward in his farming operation. He ordered the thresher and accompanying treadmill from the Ellis Keystone Company through the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company-owned general (hardware) store in Hermansville. At about this time in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the factory was completing construction of another of its famous Champion Model No. 1 hand-fed threshers and also a treadmill. When the order for the treadmill and thresher arrived from Hermansville, this particular thresher and the treadmill bearing the serial number 4535 was then loaded onto a Pennsylvania Railroad flat car to be connected to a train, originating in Philadelphia, stopping in Pottsville on its way to Chicago, Illinois. Pulling this freight train was one of the Pennsylvania Company’s own Model F-1 Mogul steam engine locomotives. This locomotive was capable of developing 433 tons of pulling capacity. (Timothy Jacobs, The History of the Pennsylvania Railroad [SmithMark Pub.: Greenwich, Conn., 1995] p. 70.) However, this train was headed over the Allegany Mountains on the “Pennsy” tracks where at one point the elevation increased 1,398 feet in just 10 short miles. (Ibid., p. 19.) For this climb the Mogul steam engine would be assisted by one of “Pennsy’s” new Model H-5 locomotives which could develop 643 tons of pulling capacity. So out along the Pennsylvania countryside sped the train in mid-January 1900. Chugging over the Allegany Mountains with the help of the H-5 locomotive, the train made stops along the way including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Canton and Mansfield Ohio and Fort Wayne and Gary, Indiana before arriving in Chicago. In Chicago, the railroad car bearing the Ellis Champion Model No. 1 thresher and the treadmill, was unhitched from the Pennsy train and hitched to a Chicago Northwestern train headed north out of Chicago towards Wisconsin. It had been a warm January so far with temperatures reaching up to nearly 50°F during the first week of the new century. Now in the second week of January, the temperatures returned to the familiar range of 10°F at night rising to 30° during the daytime. Additionally, while the railcar sat in Chicago waiting to be hitched to the Chicago Northwestern train it started to snow. It was the beginning of three days of lightly falling snow. Because of the return to freezing temperatures, the snowfall accumulated on the ground about three inches deep. Thus, as the train rolled out of Chicago and north across the Illinois state line into Wisconsin, the rolling hills and hardwood forests along the tracks were covered with a blanket of snow. The Chicago Northwestern Railroad train made routine stops in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisconsin before reaching Marinettte, Wisconsin, on the state line with Michigan. Just over the railroad bridge spanning the Menominee River, the train entered the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The train made another stop in the town of Menominee, Michigan before heading north for the short 45 mile trip to Hermansville.

Phillip had wanted to take delivery of the treadmill early in the year, so that he might get his horses used to walking on the treadmill before threshing season that summer. He wanted to have time to work with the horses and the treadmill before he would have to begin the field work in April. It turned out to be a good plan, the warm weather began early in April with a couple of 70°F days in the first week of April. Even though 1½ inches of snow fell in that second week of April, the temperatures were so high that the snow was all gone within a day. Indeed the warm spell that followed the snow fall reached 80°F.

In July of that year, Phillip was at last able to try out the new thresher and treadmill. It was a good year to try this new machine. The summer of 1900 was considerably wetter than normal—14 inches of rain fell that year from June through August whereas 11.7 inches was considered normal. A great deal of this rain fell in early July. Late July offered a pretty good window of opportunity of several dry days in a row to get the wheat bound, shocked and then threshed. However, even during this period of dry days there were a couple of light rains which prevented the threshing. Nonetheless, by concentrating on his own crop, Phillip and his growing boys Tom and William were able to get the wheat crop cut and threshed in a very quick manner compared to previous years.

When Phillip and the boys brought a load of shocks in from the field with a team of horses, they brought another horse out of the barn to walk up the ramp of the treadmill. The tread was locked as the horse was walked into the treadmill. When the belt from the thresher was attached to the big pulley at the front of the treadmill, the lock on the treadmill was released and the horse was commanded to “giddap” at the same time. One of his daughters held the reins of the horse—just to assure the horse that someone was still watching and that the horse should keep walking. Meanwhile, Phillip began cutting the twine bands on the bundles of wheat and feeding the bundles, one at a time, into the thresher.   His son, Tom, changed the buckets under the spout where the grain came at out the bottom of the thresher. Ellis Keystone’s advertisement of the Champion Model No. 1 thresher had claimed that the Model 1 had the capacity to thresh 25 to 35 bushels per hour. Under ideal conditions, with a couple of adults sacking the grain as it came out of the thresher and another worker clearing the straw away from the rear of the thresher these numbers might be achievable.   However, in this operation Phillip himself had stop periodically to help his son Tom with the bagging of the grain. When the buckets were full of wheat, Phillip would take time out to empty the cans into a sack while Tom held the sack. When the sack was full it was stitched shut and then set upright in the wagon. Since this particular thresher did not come with the optional straw stacking elevator, such an option would add more horsepower demand to the thresher and would have placed the demand for power beyond the capacity of the single horse treadmill, Phillip had to, occasionally, clear the straw out from behind the thresher. The family did the threshing near the log barn so that the straw could be stacked up in a convenient place to be used as bedding for the cows and horses.

In the years that followed, the Ellis Keystone Champion Model No. 1 thresher, saved Phillip money on many occasions, just as it had done in that first year of 1900. When an opportunity arose in 1915 to purchase another 120 acres to add to the farm, Phillip did so. Later another piece of land was added to the farm to bring the total acreage of the farm to 200 acres. Phillip’s oldest son, Tom, took over the farming operation on the home farm upon Phillip’s retirement from farming. Phillip continued to live on until 1947. Despite the growth of the farm and the size of the crops that were harvested each year, Tom Savord continued to use the Model No. 1 thresher on the main farm until the early 1950s. Indeed, other neighbors brought their grain to the Savord farm to be threshed by the Ellis thresher. However, in later years, the treadmill was not used to power the thresher. Instead, a used International Harvester single cylinder (“hit and miss”) engine (possibly a 3hp. Model M IHC stationary engine) was used to provide the power for the thresher. However, every year the thresher was placed back in the log barn out of the weather and elements. The treadmill was kept in the barn even though it was not currently being used. Tom never married and remained a bachelor his whole life. William J. Savord, Phillip’s second son, married Rose Fabry. Although continuing to live on the farm, William worked for a furrier on the Nieman Fox Farm. William and Rose had a family consisting of three boys and two girls. One of the sons was Lawrence Savord. Lawrence married Martha Page in 1955 and took over the farming operations on the main farm when Tom died in 1980 at the age of 88 years old. His younger brother, William had passed away just the year before in 1979 at the age of 75 years. William’s wife Rose passed away in 1999. Lawrence became the third generation of the Savord family to live on the farm that was started by Phillip in 1895.

The thresher and the accompanying treadmill remained in storage in the log barn on the Savord farm. In late 1986, Lawrence and Martha began to seek buyers for the treadmill and thresher. Francis and Rita Christianson operated a building supply store in Hermansville. Their daughter actually lived in LeSueur Minnesota. She was aware of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, and mentioned the association to her parents as a possible buyer of the Savord family Ellis Keystone thresher and treadmill.   She first broached the subject to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association. Charlie Schleeve, a member of the Board of Director’s of the Pioneer Power Association wrote Lawrence and Martha Savord on January 12, 1987 stating that there was interest within the Association regarding the purchase of the thresher and treadmill. On January 23, 1987, another letter from Dave Preuhs to the Savord family sought more information about the condition of the thresher and the treadmill. Negotiations were carried on for over a year before Donny and Judy Pfarr, members of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, agreed to purchase the treadmill and hand-fed thresher. Donny and Judy Pfarr own and operate an 800-acre farm in rural LeSueur Minnesota. Although work horses were not used on the Pfarr farm, Donny continued to breed and raise gray and dapple white Percheron work horses. In 1988, he had four Percherons. Since that time, the number of horses on the Pfarr farm has grown to a total number of seven. Each year Donny exhibits his teams of Percherons horses at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show in rural LeCenter, Minnesota. Donny Pfarr purchased the Savord family thresher and treadmill with the intent of using the hand-fed thresher at the Show as a field demonstration featuring his Percherons. Donny and Judy arrived in Hermansville on March 2, 1988 to pickup the treadmill and hand-fed thresher. March 2, 1988, turned out to be an exceptionally beautiful day. It was unusually warm (75°F) for a day in early spring.

Bringing the thresher and treadmill back to there home in Minnesota, Donny made arrangements with Gary Lund of Redwood Falls, Minnesota to do some repairs on the treadmill and the thresher to bring the machine up to running order. By show time in August of 1988, the treadmill and thresher were ready. Fortunately, the first field demonstration of the Savord family thresher and treadmill at the 1988 Show was captured on VHS video tape. (This video tape sequence can now be seen in the “second hour” portion of Tape #3 of the International Harvester Promotional movies.) The sequence of scenes of the Savord thresher and treadmill in 1988 shows Donny Pfarr cutting the bands on bundles of wheat and feeding the bundles into the thresher. Meanwhile, Donny’s brother-in-law John Smisek collects and sacks the grain that is pouring out of the bottom of the thresher. Also shown is “Captain” one the Pfarr family’s own beautiful gray and dapple white Percheron gildings. Captain is seen being led up into the tread mill without a hint of hesitancy. Only the conversation between Donny and the camera person and with some of the public watching the field demonstration reveals, that there had been any trouble at all. On this particular day, Captain was the only horse that seemed willing to walk up into the treadmill without balking. Over the years, other Pfarr family Percherons have been used in the treadmill during field demonstrations at the Pioneer Power Show. However, none were used as often to power the Savord family Ellis Keystone Model #1 Champion thresher as the large mare “Soddy.” Soddy always worked well with the treadmill. There was only one time she gave the slightest bit of trouble at the Show with regard to the treadmill. In 1990, Soddy had just foaled a colt prior to the show. Being to young to be separted from her mother, the colt named Queen, was brought to the Showgrounds with Soddy. That year, 1990, Lawrence and Martha Savord travelled to LeSueur to attend the Show and to see their old family thresher and treadmill operating at the Show. While watching the field demonstration of Soddy in the treadmill they noticed that her colt, Queen, had to be kept up near the front of treadmill where her mother could keep an eye on her. It was only when Soddy could not see her offspring that she became upset in the tread mill. Soddy didn’t mind the work she just wanted to keep her offspring in view while she did the work.

The Savord family Ellis Keystone Champion Model #1 thresher and accompanying single horse treadmill are now a permanent exhibit at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association show held on the last full weekend in August—the weekend prior to the Labor Day weekend. This exhibit is unique among the other exhibits at Pioneer Power Show because it provides a view into farming before mechanical power. This would not have come about without three important components. One was the actions on the part of the Savord family who stored the treadmill and thresher indoors out of the elements. Storing old machinery which no longer is a productive part of the farm is not as easy as it sounds. Indoor storage takes space that could be used for other more productive machinery. This is especially true for long term storage—35 years or so in this case. Secondly, once the machine was sold care was taken to get the machine to someone with the resources to appreciate the machinery. In this case, it is clear that only a family that still raised and trained work horses would be the appropriate person to have this treadmill and thresher. Hence, all the people that were involved in making the connections across three states to get the thresher and treadmill to the Pfarr family, who were one of the few families left that raise and train Percheron work horses. Thirdly, even if the other two components are in place the tread mill and hand-fed thresher would not ever be seen by the public except for the forum provided by the annual LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show. Thanks to the presence of these three components in this case, the Savord family thresher and treadmill will be preserved for future generations to enjoy and to observe at work.

3 thoughts on “Ellis Keystone’s Horse-powered Tread Mill”

  1. We just put our first bundle of wheat through our refurbished Ellis Keystone Champion #1 and it seems to be working fine. I read this article and wanted to say that there’s at least one more Ellis (ours) that’s working and we’re excited about it. It’s powered by a Massey Harris Pony at very low speed, and seems to do the job. If you have any interest in this, keep us in mind, we’ll take photos and be glad to share this with you.

      1. Thank you for your nice compliment. I enjoyed writing the article for the Belt Pulley magazine. Now with the articles on the website I have been revisiting the articles to add any new material and especially pictures.

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