Remembering Henry Abels

Henry Abels was a life-long collector of farm collectibles

Henry Abels

Henry Abels

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After a long battle with heart trouble and complications, Henry L. Abels, Clay Center, Kan., a life-long collector of farm collectibles, passed away on Aug. 3. 

Born in Clay Center in 1910, he followed a boyhood dream of being an airplane mechanic, and after high school, studied at Parks Air College in St. Louis. After one year there, however, he returned to Clay Center to farm with his father. In 1932, he and his bride of one year, Rosie, settled on a farm of their own southwest of town, where they would live for the next 60 years.

Henry was an accomplished mechanic and builder. In 1942, he completed construction of a new two story home on the farm for a total of $1,000. His next project was a full machine shop, including a forge and lathe. His shop was later featured in Kansas Farmer Magazine, and was the site of visits by college students and faculty.

Henry was always available to help with repair of a neighbor's combine, baler or other equipment. If he needed a piece of machinery in his farm operation, and the price was too high, he'd build it himself, often ending up with a better piece. After World War II, he taught welding to returning veterans.

In the early 1960s, he began collecting antique farm machinery and gas engines. Later, that collection expanded to include windmills, animal traps and anything unusual. He and his brother, Wilfred, built a "Krazy Kar" constructed from two 1939 Chevrolet front ends. Painted red, white and blue by Rosie, it could be maneuvered in both directions and sideways.

He had other interests, as well. He was a member of the Clay County Historical Society and the First Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder. And he was a dedicated family man: Henry and Rosie were the parents of one son and two daughters, two grandsons and four great-grandchildren.

I met Henry at my first engine show, at McLouth, Kan., in the early 1970s. He had a large group of old engines on display, including one of his favorites, a 10 hp Stickney engine. Henry always had an interesting display. He had a large collection of animal traps in all sizes and styles. At his farm he reserved one building just for his trap collection.

He also collected windmills. He had several restored models on display at the farm, including a power mill for running grinders and equipment.

I can still remember my first trip to Henry's farm, where I saw his collection of old engines and equipment. He had filled several buildings with engines, a few tractors and lots of related farm equipment.

Henry was one of the original collectors in my area that started collecting in the early 1960s. On my first visit to his place, he introduced me to Gas Engine Magazine, and I've been a subscriber ever since. When GEM was getting started, he was a regular contributor of high-quality photographs of his engines and equipment. The March-April 1966 issue, for instance, featured a photo of his Aermotor fluted hopper engine.

The July-August 1966 issue included photos of a load of tractors and engines from one of his Canadian iron hunting trips. He made many such trips with his brother, Wilfred, Harold Ottaway, Wichita; Bill Krumweidel, Voltaire, N.D.; John Tysse, Crosby, N.D.; and "Red" Russel, Wichita. It was always a treat to get Henry, Wilfred and Harold together at one of the shows and listen to them talk about their adventures collecting iron in Canada.

The old Stickney engine was also featured in GEM, in the July-August 1967 issue, with a photo Henry submitted of a freshly restored engine, and an article on the Great Sawing Contest.

I am sure Henry would have been a contributor to Farm Collector if he were still with us. He is featured on the cover of this issue, parading his Jerry tractor at the Salina Flywheelers Show at Camp Webster in 1980. The Jerry was a basketcase when Henry got it from a farm near Barns, Kan. It was one he worked on for several years before the restoration was complete.

The old Stickney engine was a main attraction at local engine shows in northeast Kansas. If you ever saw the engine on display, you could still hear her bark. He also had a 1-1/2 hp Stickney he showed with a Stickney pump jack display.

Another of Henry's show attractions was the shop-built shingle mill he'd put together. He used it for demonstrations at many shows. He would saw out many sample shingles, and spectators would stand in line to get one. Henry also had many different groups of literature on the old farm equipment, and lots of advertising memorabilia, including watch fobs.

We should all be grateful to the old timers who had the foresight to collect, save and restore the old engines and equipment for future generations to enjoy. I have two engines in my collection that Henry once owned: a 4-1/2 Bauer sideshaft built in Kansas City, Mo., and a KSAC air-cooled built in Manhattan, Kan. Although I didn't get them from Henry, he gets the credit for saving them from being junked or lost forever. I attended his auctions when he decided to retire and downsize his collection. Many collectors came to his sales from all over the country, and it took several different dates to sell the many collections of treasures.

Henry will be missed but his collection lives on in the hands of other collectors around the country. Granddads and dads, gather up your grandchildren, sons and daughters, and take them to an old engine show. Buy them an LB or a Maytag: get them introduced to the hobby so we can keep it going and growing. The best people in the country are Farm Collectors. FC