Nieland; Quick with a Line and a Wrench

Carroll, Iowa, July 17, 1984
By Jay Mohr

Walt Nieland is a man of many talents, but he is also a collector of those things that made this country great, antique engines and humor, in the form of limericks.

His collection of engines may be unsurpassed by any in this area, and there is a story behind each. Each story, Nieland will relate to any who are interested in hearing it.

Nieland has been collecting engines ever since he retired from farming, about five years ago. He still calls himself a farmer and he still lives on a farm just over two miles north of Carroll.

Photo caption: Walt Nieland shows his expertise in the field of refinishing old equipment. The classic examples are these grain drills. The one on the right has been redone by Nieland, while the other is waiting its turn. Nieland is also a talent in limerick as well. See story. (Photo by Jay Mohr)

He admits that some of the engines are just accumulation, those which have just found a home at his place, while others he has purchased outright from other farmers and collectors.

About every week, usually on Mondays, Nieland heads to the junkyard on a salvage mission.

"I always manage to find something new, or old, depending on how you look at it."

That's where he found the van that he uses to haul his machines to different antique shows. He purchased the van for about $400, and put about that much more into the engine, getting title and getting the vehicle inspected and registered. "It runs like a top now."

He needed a big machine to haul his engines, simply because he has so many. His oldest engine is a Root and Vander Voort engine that was made for John Deere in about 1907. From there, the engines read like a history book.

He has a 1913 LaCrose Potato Planter, a 1913 two and a quarter horse Galloway Engine, a 1917 Sandwich Engine, a John Deere No. 2A Engine, a two-holed corn scheller, and a Hart-Carter Seed Corn Grader that's engine carries "1 wife power," and more.

One of his pride and joys is the Superior Grain Drill which was pulled by a horse. When he purchased the drill, it was in a rundown state. He put a great deal of work into the drill, refinishing , sandpapering, scraping, and returned the machine to a catalog-like newness.

One of the things he saw so remarkable about this drill is that it also had the papers telling the history of the drill. In pencil, it also told of how one farmer drilled his grain as well. He also has another model, in a state of disrepair.

"The good Lord willing and the Creek don't rise, I'll get started on the other one."

There are other machines of all types at Nieland's farm. Some have been completely restored and run just like they did when they were new. Like a Witte Log Saw and an old cement mixer.

The cement mixer was a heavy project, according to Nieland.

"It took me a whole week to clean off all the cement. The barrel still had a load of hardened cement and there was cement all over it. It weighed about 1,100 pounds lighter when I finished it than when I started."

Nieland said he also has a number of "parts in waiting." Those are parts that lie around in the shed waiting to be used in one machine or another.

Nieland's machines aren't just for the farm, however. He also has some outboard motors, like a 1924 Outboard designed and built by Olie Evinrude at the Evinrude Outboard Motor Company. He also has a few other outboards as well. Most of his engines were used on the farm.

"Many of these engines were used to pump water when the wind didn't blow for the windmills. They were also used for running grindstones and a number of other things."

His collection isn't limited to just machines, either. He also has a number of other relics, like the surveyor's chain or the two-man barbed wire carrier and a wire stretcher, used to stretch a fence taunt before nailing it to a post.

Behind each of these machines is a story, whether it be from the past, or a story on how he received the machine. Each story is locked safely away in the memory of the man who has spent many hours on his machines.

"Since my retirement, I work on the machines exclusively-when I'm not picking apples mowing the lawn, wedding watermelons, etc. You could say I have a wealth of old tools that were designed specifically for these machines and I use them."

Nieland is also a member of the Albert City Collectors and Threshers Association. He participates in their show every year. This year's show will take place on August 10-12. He also takes in whatever centennials come up around the area.

Topping off his machinery work, Nieland is also a weaver, like his grandfather was.

"When my grandfather came to America in 1869 he had only $5 left. He then took the train from New York to Dubuque, at a cost of $4.90. So when he arrived here he had only $.10 to his name."

Nieland said his grandfather came to this area because he knew some of the people here and started to work. One of the things he worked on was weaving baskets, to use in his work, farming.

"He gave me one of the baskets and I still have it."

When Nieland decided it was time to retire and enjoy his life, he finally decided to try and duplicate his grandfather's basket. Although he mad a few changes in the basket, he accomplished what he set our to do and has been making a few baskets ever since.

Perhaps the greatest amount of Nieland's talent can't simply be viewed in his work on a machine or his craftsmanship on a basket. One has to listen to his poems, known as limericks.

As he described them, a limerick is a five-lined doggerel verse that tells a great deal about the subject. It's used mostly in humor.

You won't find many of his limericks in print, however. Most of his are locked away inside his head.

I've always been a great one for memory work. But I really have no way of justifying that, except for the fact of my schooling. When I went to school we didn't have textbooks, although the teacher did have. She would put the things on the board and we would have to memorize them."

Even though age and health brought about his retirement, it hasn't dimmed his eye or his mind.

"I hope senility never gets the best of me. But, the only way I know of to avoid the infirmities of old age is to die young."

Nieland said he is very conscious of words and how they are used, and likes to think of himself as having an extended vocabulary, simply from his work in limericks.

He has found no reason to publish his limericks as well. As a matter of fact, he is very reluctant to publish anything that he has written. Nieland said that many limericks have been copied down through the years and they no longer belong to the man who wrote them because others have put their names to them. Its for that reason that he keeps his limericks in his mind, not in books.

A great deal goes into his limericks, but nothing so important as a piece of himself, his opinions, judgments, knowledge, wisdom and humor. That is what adds life to those few words in the five lines. That's one of the reasons he holds them so dear.

"When I go, I'll probably take all my limericks with me.

His wife Teresa doesn't share his love for the verses. She is a rosary and home maker, and she's good at both, in Walt's eyes.

Although he was leery about having any of his limericks published, he did allow this reporter to write down one for use in this article. It is written with the permission of the author and has been published nationally.

A crabby old fellow named Walt,
Folks said he wasn't worth his salt.
But when they'd walked in his shoes,
They shared his own views,
And agreed it wasn't his fault.

Perhaps that tells better than anything else the spirit of the man-a man with a many talents.

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