- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

WINTERS, Texas (AP) - There’s nothing like a roomful of old tractors to bring out your inner tinker. That, or maybe it’s just the spirit of the man who built the room in the first place.

The Gus Pruser Agricultural Exhibit at the Z.I. Hale Museum is located in the former shop built by Gus in 1927. On April 12, some of the tractors inside the structure will be featured in the Hale Museum’s spring festival to raise money for a new roof on the Rock Hotel, which also is part of the museum complex.

Contained within the Pruser exhibit’s walls are a broad spectrum of farming implements and machinery spanning more than 100 years. Some of it was made by Gus himself.

“I remember that he was an inventor, he liked to piddle with things,” Jerry Holle, 77, one of Gus’ grandchildren, told the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1qXHuFX). “He was interested in building things.”

Gustav Adolph Pruser was born Jan. 3, 1876, in Keystone, Iowa. He was the son of a Danish shipbuilder who, with his brother, had built and sailed a ship from Copenhagen to the United States in the hopes of striking it rich in the California Gold Rush.

Gus’ daughter Lela Thormeyer wrote in her memoirs that it took the men two years to reach the Golden State. With the Panama Canal almost a half-century in the future, the brothers braved the Strait of Magellan to sail around South America. By the time they arrived in California, gold fever had run its course, but even so, they still were able to find enough of the precious metal to finance an eventual move east, where they purchased the farm in Iowa where Gus was born.

In 1978, Charlsie Poe wrote in a column for The Winters Enterprise about how, at 15, Gus was hired to operate the only steam engine thresher around Keystone. After his father moved the family to Texas for health reasons, Gus brought the memories of that machine with him.

Later, when he couldn’t afford to buy a threshing machine, Gus built his own. A lifetime of tinkering in his father’s workshop and a burning curiosity for all things mechanical were all the education he’d ever needed.

Poe wrote that Gus built his horse-drawn thresher in 1906, attached a gas engine to it, and toured the countryside cutting grain for other farmers. That lasted until about 1917, when the dust generated by the machine had become too much for Gus and he fell ill. He limited his threshing to his own farm after that.

But as machines began to replace men in the fields, Gus earned a reputation as somebody who could fix whatever went wrong. Poe wrote that he never charged for repairs.

In 1915, Gus filed a patent for the first cotton picker. On a partition in the center of the museum’s exhibit, copies of the machine are arranged in a display.

“It works as a cotton picker, not as a stripper,” said Dale Duggan, a member of a small group that meets here once a month to repair and maintain the tractors on loan within.

Designed to be pulled, either by a machine or horse, the device featured vertical rollers perpendicular to the ground, each sporting independently rotating, fingerlike, stubby steel bars lined with rough metal. The machine would pluck the cotton, then brushes would strip it from the rollers and drop the puffs in a sack or on a drag cloth behind.

It was a wonder, but when times got tougher, they let it fall by the wayside.

“During the Depression, they let the patent go and somebody else picked it up,” Duggan said.

The machine sits about 10 feet from one of Gus’ other achievements, a homemade pickup that he built in 1920.

“The unique thing about this truck is that the frame is wood,” Duggan said. “All of the component parts, he took off of different stuff. He took a radiator from an Allis Chalmers; the motor, I was told at one time, is a six-cylinder Chevrolet engine.”

The small, boxy cab looks big enough for one, but not much more. The truck’s bed, about 12 feet by 7 feet, features a grain auger underneath. Two panels in the bed cover where the grain could access the auger, spilling out eventually through a pipe at the back.

“Grandpa wouldn’t let anybody drive it, it was precious property,” recalled Juanita Bredemeyer, another of Gus’ grandchildren. “This was special to him; he built it.”

Gus hauled all kinds of things with that truck.

“They tell me he hauled watermelons to Fort Worth and Dallas, to the markets up there,” said John Long, who’s sort of the curator for the exhibit. “Its top speed might have been 40 miles an hour, if you got on a better road and went downhill.”

Although only Gus or perhaps his oldest son, George, would drive the truck, at Christmastime everyone was invited to ride in the back during the annual parade.

“It was fun,” Bredemeyer said. “He’d throw all the grandkids back there.”

With eight children of his own, Gus wasn’t short on grandchildren. Bredemeyer figured there were at least 20.

Holle recalled where his grandfather made most of his stuff.

“He had one of these old-timey blacksmith shops out in the backyard,” he said. “You’d sit there and pump the bellows with your foot.”

With a surplus of kids running around, there was always somebody to pump the bellows, at least until Gus figured out how to hook it up to a machine.

But Gus wasn’t just a machinist, he also was the architect of several buildings in town. Poe described him as a one-man industrial complex.

She quoted his son George as saying of Gus, “He was happiest when building and never lost his temper with the workers.”

In 1928, Gus designed and built the town’s St. John Lutheran Church. Poe wrote that he considered the building, which stands to this day, his finest achievement.

Holle said his grandfather always was coming up with a new project. If he could figure out a better way to engineer something, Gus would dive into it headfirst.

“I guess you could say he was a thinker,” Holle said.


Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com



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