Cleat Tracks In The Sands Of Time

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127 S. Douglas Street Bronson, Michigan

THERE WAS AT LEAST one incident, brought about by a somewhat peculiar, if not a comic cicumstance whereby, back in the oncoming era of gas power, that gas tractors gave way, for a time to steam. This happened in La Grange County, Indiana.

Mr. brother Walter McManus, had been operating a steam rig, in the vicinity of La Grange for several years using a Reeves, then a Rumely and finally a Baker 21 hp. for power.

It was along about this time that the younger generation of farmers, so my brother thought, were becoming preferential to gas power. Accordingly, he decided that, after the heavy threshing season was over, he would retire his Baker from the road to his sawmill and purchase internal combustion for all his field and custom work. So at the end of the grain threshing season he went to Fort Wayne and purchased the first installment to his anticipated new equipment, a 15-30 Hart Parr internal combustion tractor to use for the fall clover hulling and corn shredding.

All went well with this new job until late one October day in corn shredding time. It seems he had a customer with a small job out in the sticks on a back road a few miles from town. Both the man and his wife had a reputation for not being in the upper bracket so far as cleanliness was concerned, so my brother, realizing the situation, checked the size of the job and very carefully laid his plans so that they would not be obliged to eat a meal at the place. The neighbors, who were to help, had the same idea and so advance plans were made to eat dinner at the next job, a mile or so out on the main road where a more appetizing meal of chicken and noodles would be waiting.

A grand rush was made to get an early start on the day the job was scheduled so as to be sure to get away before dinner time. The teams were trotted to the field and back, the shredder was gorged, and the men worked frantically until they saw they could be through by 11:30. No effort was made to clean up around the machine as was the usual custom when through, but the belt was thrown off, even before the machine stopped, and the tractor was coupled to the shredder post haste. The wagons left on the run on the pretext of doing the home chores, all the time the old farmer was trying to get everybody to stay to eat, saying that dinner would soon be ready. The men in the field left on foot and across lots, but he insisted that my brother and his man stop and eat; and they resolutely rerused saying that they would have to get the machine set up at the next place, would be late as it was and didn't want to hold up on the job any more than absolutely necessary. That excuse was an iron clad one, so they thought, and they, having got the blower pipe folded back, started off on the double.

Well, the start was fast amg for a couple of hundred feet or so until the tractor, heading for the arive way, came plumb in front and not far from the kitchen door and then, with a loud backfire and a couple of wheezy puffs, it rea up and came down to a dead stop. They tried frantically to get the thing started but 'no sale'. It just wouldn't cough once. They tried everything in the book, removing, replacing, and testing but couldn't get a wheeze out of it, so after nearly an hour of work and the old man insisting, there was no excuse left, for the old man said every thing was on the table now and waiting.

They followed the old man into the house. The kitchen and dining room if it could be recognized as such, were one room full of junk. The old wood cook stove, loaded with dirty pots and pans, was flanked on either side by cord wood. Smoky, greasy, brownish ceiling paper hung down over the dining table in strips covered with the fly specks of many years. Half a dozen cats vied with a dog for a place near the stove and several thousand flies, who had found a warm home, had decided to hole up for the winter.

The woman pointed a dirty finger at what was supposed to be a wash pan. It was covered with a half-inch of dried crust but they took it out doors to pump and then pumped for each other while they washed their hands in cold water from the spout. My brother thought it no disgrace to be poor but this was just plain filth, so they dried their hands on corn husks and their overalls, which were cleaner than the rag inside.

There was a questionable fly specky bowl on the table full of greasy water in which floated some small, bluish colored potatoes; and some coarse, home made bread and butter, also some sowbelly swimming in grease. Fortunately, there were some store pickles in a can, a box of freshly opened crackers and some salmon in the can. They ate sparingly and hurriedly and, with excuses, took off in a rush.

Once outside, they tried the motor again, and at the first try, it took off like a scared rabbit. In their excitement they knocked over a corner post and nearly went through the garden fence before they got the thing under control. My brother tells how they went down the road like they were going to a fire and how later, they took many a pun from the the other men who had gotten away in time.

This little incident was a deciding factor in my brothers business life. He decided there and then that he wasn't an internal combustion man. He kept the Hart Parr for light work but the old faithful Baker was a familiar sight on the road at threshing time for the next four years, until he sold his threshing equipment and put the Baker in his sawmill; and then finally sold the mill and engine and quit the business in 1938.