AS UNUSUAL STORY

V. H. Stroud
September/October 1979
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Elmo J. Mahoney is shown atop an Avery undermounted steam traction engine near his home in Dorrance, Kansas.
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Hutchinson, Kansas 67501

All the old threshermen and enginemen as well as others interested in old farm machinery and the ways of life and things of the early days, have lost a friend. ELMO J. MAHONEY, 70, Dorrance, Kansas, died February 7, 1979 of an apparent heart attack while driving his car. Friends saw his car lodge in a snow bank. They rushed to his aid and gave expert cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It was too late. Born October 29, 1908 at Dorrance, Kansas, he was a lifelong resident of the area. He married the former Regina Schwartz in September 1932. She survives him. Other survivors are a son, Garry, of Wichita, Kansas, two daughters, Mrs. Linda Vopart of Topeka, Kansas and Mrs. Janet Hopkins of Junction City, Kansas.

It's hard to know where to start when writing about a man like Elmo. He spent all his life as a farmer. His father was a farmer and a pioneer in big-rig custom threshing in the part of Kansas where wheat fields were big, yields were big and men were big. Elmo just had to be big in every way and everything he did. It was a way of life. Big farmer, big politician, big promoter of good things, big Irishman and big talker.

Elmo was born into a large Western Kansas family. His father, Tom, and Uncle Ed were early day big steam outfit custom thresher-men. They used Avery machinery and, of course, the largest they could buy. Elmo's father and brother ordered two Avery undermounted steam traction engines from the original blueprint built at the time. Ordering two big engines, while you might say they were still on the drawing board, was a distinction that occurred to both the Avery Company of Peoria, Illinois and the Mahoney clan.

The Mahoney ranch was one of the two Avery testing and proving grounds, both of which were located in Kansas. One testing and proving ground location was at Averyville, Kansas (later the Kirborn Ranch near Sterling, Kansas), and the other on the Mahoney farms in the Bunker Hill and Dorrance, Kansas area. The Mahoneys invented the famous Mahoney low-down feeder used on the Yellow Fellow separators in later years. They also helped with the early changes and improvements on the under mounted traction engines. They were field consultants for the famous and much sought after Avery 40-80 Avery gas-kerosene tractor. Later in their operations they plowed and threshed with the 40-80 Avery tractors. There is still one in the family.

A great deal of space would be needed to tell about the things Elmo did in his span of three score and ten years. The things following would be only a partial list. Agricultural Leader: President of Russell County Farm Bureau; served on government sponsored agricultural programs both at state and national levels; was a trouble-shooter and a much called on speaker for farm problems and legislation. Farmer: His basic occupation; he raised certified varities of wheat; was the Kansas Wheat King of the state in 1938. Businessman: owner and manufacturer of the Toss-Back device and the automatic relief basketball goal. Inventor: the long-life sickle drive used on 18-22 foot harvester combine headers; and the above mentioned famous basketball and baseball toss-back device. Public Service: Consultant in the United States Department of Agriculture during the Kennedy Administration; Kansas state grain inspector. Political: Kansas Legislature House of Representatives; candidate for the United States Congress from his district. Community Leader: Mayor of Dorrance, Kansas; member of Lions Club; President of the Lake Wilson Development Association; member of the local school board for years. Public Speaker: for Farm Bureau and on call for various governmental farm programs; to promote and discuss various local community drives, issues and organizations. Organizer: the first curator and manager for the National Agricultural Hall of Fame at Bonner Springs, Kansas (located just west of Kansas City), organized and helped promote the first Wilson CJECH Festival and Threshing Bee in Wilson, Kansas. College: graduate of Kansas State University; a star basketball player; member of National Association of Basketball Coaches. Pilot: charter member of the Kansas Flying Farmers and held many offices in the organization; for many years piloted his own plane to Topeka for legislative sessions and business and farm affairs. Antique Buff: owned big Avery steam and gasoline threshing rigs; collector of Avery catalogs, literature, pictures and memorabilia; and what seemed like an unlimited source of information from experiences and memory. Radio & TV: on NBC Frank Blair's 'Today' program from the Kansas State Fair during the Kansas Centennial; anchored many farm programs on the Hutchinson, Salina and Russell, Kansas radio stations.

With all the above activities and accomplishments and many more he was right at home at the throttle of any Avery undermounted steam traction engine and it seemed he could make it perform better than any one else. Never did this writer ever see him change 'the set' when he lined up and belted into his big 42' x 70' Avery yellow separators.

In 1949 Elmo staged at the ranch west of Dorrance, Kansas the first Flying-Farmer 'Fly-in Threshing Bee.' To the writer's knowledge this was the only 'one-of-a-kind' threshing bee held any place in the country. He showed folks how threshing was done with a big 42' Yellow Fellow separator and the 30 HP undermounted Avery engine. There were some 27 airplanes on the ground and in the air around the rig at one time with more than 700 spectators. Such an occasion one never forgets with airplanes flying around, airplanes on the ground taxing around a big steam threshing rig. There was billowing chaff and straw on the down wind side of the straw pile and a long plume of smoke rolling out of the undermount's stack. The air might have had some noise pollution with airplane motors running and a big double cylinder steam engine chuffing under the load, but it sure was a melody of sounds you don't forget. The accompanying scene gives a glimpse of the beauty of such an occasion. The popularity of this demonstration probably gave more impetus to the antique engine and threshing shows over the country than any other demonstration it set the pattern.

Elmo took time from his farming enterprises to be the curator and general manager of the National Agricultural Hall of Fame at Bonner Springs, Kansas when it first opened in 1965. Through his vision and many contacts the Ag Hall of Fame was able to accumulate a wide variety of fine antique and restored machines used in the early years of agricultural production. Many restorations that are presently on exhibition there were completed by Elmo.

He was an inventor and thinker. The trait ran in the family. He knew how a farm machine should work and if it didn't, he made it work better with field changes. Many of his field changes were adapted later into regular production by the manufacturers. One of his outstanding inventions was the sickle head drive for large combine headers. This drive was particularly adapted where the crop was down and damp and matted and loaded with weeds. He invented in later years and was manufacturing at the time of his death the famous Toss-back device now used around the world by head baseball and basketball coaches.

Elmo was a long time subscriber and contributor to the Iron Men Album. He contributed by lending his support and quoting it as a bible as he went about with friends and business. Through the years he wrote many items and supplied pictures about the Avery line. When the late Rev. Elmer Ritzman started publishing the Iron Men Album and was selling subscriptions and operating a stand (under the shade of a big umbrella) at the Antique Engine and Threshers Show at Wichita, Kansas it was not unusual to see Elmo and Elmer discussing engines and separators and you could tell it wasn't the little ones they were talking about.

Elmo had the right background for an antique buff. He was an expert and an authority from early experience. He didn't have to brag or fantasize, his background was from the real thing. He was brought up in the early times of large production and harvesting, particularly with the early history of Avery equipment. His folks owned and operated them. His father, Tom and uncle Ed bought two new separators in later years big Averysat the same time and threshed upwards of 100,000 bushels of grain per year with each machine. Testimonials in both the 1908 and 1914 Avery General Catalogs verify the above accomplishment and gives many more interesting Mahoney accomplishments. We are all dimished by his demise.

Finally and in conclusion this editorial by R. T. Townley, editor of the Russell, Kansas Daily News (Senator Bob Dole's home town newspaper) gives a closing summation: 'The sudden death of Elmo J. Mahoney, after 70 tumultous years, seems almost out of character. He was a man who one might believe would have been gored in a bullring; trampled by a herd of charging elephants; lost on a flight to the Gobi Desert; or wasted by the CIA. Of course, none of these would or could happen to Elmo. He was first, last and always a family man, a man of consideration, love and devotion. But he seemed to live in a tempest, constantly buffetted by gale winds, drenched with torrential rains, baked with eternal sunlight and forever at the mercy of Irish spirits who had tested his ancestors. The Dorrance, Kansas farmer business man politician idealist thinker was his own creation of sound and fury. Devoted to principle, he felt strongly about issues of the day. His Irish temper, quick to rise and just as quick to turn into charm, told much about this man. It told for example, that he loved controversy, sided with the underdog against the giant, had a natural feeling for the pulse of the people and willing to joust, if necessary, with whatever dragons happened to be standing between him and his goals.

A threshing demonstration on the Elmo J. Mahoney ranch at Dorrance, Kansas, with his 30 HP Avery undermounted engine and 42' x 70' Avery Yellow Fellow thresher. Threshing certified seed wheat.

We remember the elated Elmo sharing the discovery that things were as he had said they would be; looking ahead to a harvest, a business deal, or the acceptance of an innovation or invention. We remember too, the forceful speaker who flavored invectiveness with flattery, who played on emotions with the skill of a concert organist at the keyboard; a man who was 'on stage' for or against policy or politics; and we remember, too, the plain, ordinary, everyday man a friend.

Elmo was a doer. He may have moved mountains, although we don't know of one which had been displaced. But, one thing is sure if he wanted to, we had no doubt his ability to do it.

Some think Elmo was more eloquent when his face was an even Irish red talking about political issues, state government, federal policy and school districts. We are inclined to agree. But, lest there are some who remember the Dorrance farmer as all bombast, we remind them that substance was there and in far greater quantities than found in many men who claim more more and produce less.'


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