UNION CITY, INDIANA
From plow-boy and steam thresher-man to trolley car conductor and locomotive engineer Ray Jones epitomizes the true lover of steam and the American ideal.
The proverbial country boy who someday dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer Jones remembers plowing behind horses on his father's farm, serving as water boy for the threshing ring at fourteen, entering partnership in a steam rig at eighteen, punching tickets as conductor on the town trolley and throttling the big ones as engineer on the mighty 'Pennsy.'
'Yes, I dreamed of someday becoming a locomotive engineer when I used to plow with Dad's horses and I'd hear the trains whistling in the distance,' reminisces Ray Jones with that far away look in his eye. 'I fired those big old freight engines on the Pennsylvania Railroad, starting when I was twenty-four. They were all hand-fired in those days-the H-6's and H-10's.' (They were known as the 'Consolidations' with the 2-8-0 wheel arrangement.)
'I also fired some of the big E-6's, which were the fast passenger 4-4-2 Atlantic-types,' continued Jones, his eyes thrilling to the memories. 'Later, when I became engineer, I ran the larger M-1's and I-1's (both freight and passenger types), and the mighty K-4's'.
'Ran many a fast passenger train behind the K-4's. They were the best locomotives that ever stood on steel,' 'minds Ray. 'That's what all us Pennsylvania men claimed.'
The K-4 Pennsylvania steam locomotive was a 4-6-2 wheel arrangement-fast and powerful, for many years the pace-setter of American passenger schedules among the standard railroads. With its prominent keystone emblem on the smoke box front, its simple, forthright lines served as an emblem of speed and power on calendars and in picture books throughout America rivalled in opoularity only by our flag. Its reciprocating crossheads and flashing rods became the inspiration of every red-blooded man and boy in the land. And, to Ray Jones, they were the fastest, most powerful and thrilling engines that ever turned a wheel.
Oh there came bigger locomotives, like the PRR J-1's of five-thousand horsepower and the longer T-1's which Jones had fired at the head end of fast passenger trains which sometimes reached 110 miles an hour in the Knightstown area between Indianapolis and Richmond, Indiana.
'But the T-1's slipped their drivers so easily, especially if there was a little dew on the rails and they couldn't pull the hat off your head, compared to what the older and smaller K-4's could do,' explained Ray Jones. 'Many a time I've throttled a K-4 up to 100 miles an hour and over, keeping schedule with twelve, even fourteen standard passenger coaches.'
And there were the big name trains which Jones had pulled, 'right on the advertised' The Union, The Jeffersonian, The American all good trains with reputations of some fast running, oftentimes at 100 miles an hour or more.
'The T-1's were a later locomotive, and larger than the K-4's. They could go so fast they'd scare you, and they rode like a cradle, but they couldn't perform like the older K-4's,' is the way Ray Jones sums up locomotive performance through his veteran engineer's eye. 'It was the saddest day in my memory, when steam left the railroads. The diesels may be clean and are like sitting at home. But the thrills left the rails with steam. For every steam locomotive had a characteristic of its own. Each one required a different setting of the valve, and one would try to out-pull the other.'
'Anybody can pull the throttle on a diesel engine,' snapped Ray. 'But it took an artist to run a steam locomotive.'
Throttling the big steam locomotives on the 'Pennsy' was quite a comeuppance for Ray Jones from his earlier attempts to break into railroading.
'I left the farm rather early,' says Ray. 'I was only eighteen when I applied for a job on the Cincinnati Traction Company to work on the city trolley cars. I wanted to be a motor-man, but they said I didn't have enough whiskers on my chin. Instead of getting on the front end, they put me on the back end as a conductor,' chuckles Jones who began his railroading experiences punching tickets and helping old ladies and pretty young chicks up and down the rear steps on the swaying decks of the city street cars in the Queen City.
But to the young Ray Jones, being a conductor on the rear end of a town trolley did seem like the step upward toward becoming a real railroader someday, having graduated from the neighborhood threshing ring at seventeen to one-third ownership in a 16-horsepower T-Model Peerless Geiser just the year previous. The romance of railroading must have beckoned overwhelmingly to lure him from such a promising career in agriculture at only eighteen.
Working for the electric city transit in those days was, after all, quite a venture to be proud of for a boy fresh from the farm. And, who knows, maybe that could lead someday to becoming a motorman on the front end of one of the big, sleek interurbans that ran from city to city. It was an age when folks looked up in awe to the men in this day and age. At least, if the aspiring young Ray Jones might never make it to the right-hand side of a locomotive cab, as engineer, this would surely be the next best. But fireman, then engineer he did become.
To the long-haired, wild-eyed political idealists of our generation who complain that America doesn't have a non-pollutant system of mass transportation to relieve the highway congestion and move the commuting traffic we would like to point out that we did have just such a network of efficient electric rail communications throughout our land when the rest of the world was traveling by ox-cart. Not only were the large, speedy electric interurbans and city transit systems non-polluting, but the sparks from their overhead trolleys and axle-wound motors actually gave off ozone which acted as a purification to our atmosphere. The city street cars moved the populace to and from work and shoppers from home to downtown and back several times each hour. And the big electric interurbans sped from city to city, through village and hamlet and countryside, serving the rural populations better than any other modern transportation system in history. And even for the farmer or housewife who didn't wish to ride the cars, there was the special accommodation of having the big electric car stop right in front of your farm residence to pick up a crate of fresh eggs or cans of cream and milk which the crew promptly shipped to its specified destination. But the coming of the internal-combustion bus and automobile, and the gobbling up of public taxes to improve the roads and highways, relegated this once fine system of electric mass transportation into the valhalla of no return. The busses that were supposed to herald 'the new era', by boasting they could do a better job, forced the more comfortable and speedier electric interurbans into bankruptcy and more commuters onto the busy highways. Now the busses, once serving villages and towns in rural America, have flunked out. The public tax-dollar is split wide to maintain the constant hammering on what have become modern trackways throughout the nation. The modern airways are likewise subsidized by the government, provided by the same public tax, while the passenger trains are driven from the rails for want of finances and patronage. And the political gripers about mass transportation today aren't even cognizant of the fact that the once-splendid electric interurbans and railroad passenger trains paid for and maintained their own systems without biting into the public tax.
'We had wonderful mass transportation systems in the interurbans and railroads, serving both the large cities and the rural areas,' pines Ray Jones. 'It's enough to break a person's heart. The modern generation doesn't even know how good it was.'
But over the years, the grand and glorious memories of steam have remained in the heart of one Ray Jones. True, he witnessed the passing of the electric cars and the thrill of the steam locomotives from the rails. But through the organization known as the Pioneer Engineers Club of Indiana, Inc., of which he's served as vice president and president for some twenty years, there still lingers the smell of coal smoke and cylinder oil, the feel of the coal scoop and throttle, and the plaintive wail of the steam engine whistle which have haunted him since his boyhood on the farm and his years in the cabs of railroad locomotives.
'Twenty five years ago about forty of us men met up here at Rushville, Ind., at the Metzcar Lumber Company we called it a basket lunch,' recalls Ray Jones. We discussed the matter of forming a threshers club. We didn't take any action that year but agreed to meet the following year.'
'Some people insist that this should be our twenty-fifth year for the organization,' says Ray. 'But it wasn't until the following year that we actually began organizing, and we had but one engine, an old 6-horse Garr-Scott portable owned by Luther Caldwell. So, when our 1973 reunion is held, we will then celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Pioneer Engineers' Club here at Rushville, Indiana.'
'Nelson Howard, now deceased, was our first president,' recalls Jones. 'He had his 50-horse Case Engine at our first show, and it has been here ever since. A dentist, Dr. Russell Holmes of Louisville, Ky., now owns it and continues to bring it every year.'
Ray Jones, as president of the Pioneer Engineers' Club of Indiana, is a busy man each year at the show, with a vitality and interest in its every facet befitting his office. Wherever he goes over the reunion grounds, Jones has become a familiar fixture commuting here and there oh his small John Deere tractor whether it's greeting old friends, pumping a bucket of water from the old pitcher pump that was once in his mother's kitchen, carting off garbage cans, going to church services on a Sunday morn, or organizing the big Sunday afternoon thresh engine parade. Whether the business of the moment happens to be out by the engines, or down in the natural amphitheatre over by the sawmill, or on the hill-top among the various concessionaires and exhibitors Ray Jones is going somewhere on that little green tractor beneath the big straw hat with the brim turned back. For Jones is a president that believes in helping where the help is needed. No task is too trivial, no human so humble but that he shares his burden. His philosophy and religion are universal, reaching both the depths and the heights overlooked by most. In the Sunday morning services, he hands out the hymn books, leads the singing and introduces the preacher. In the afternoon, he heads the big Sunday parade, astride his John Deere, doffing his straw katy to his many friends on the overlooking hillside bleachers. And on Monday morning, after the big show was over, he was still on the little green tractor beneath the straw hat, advising the 4-H Youth concerning problems of the 'Now Generation'.
The Rushville Pioneer Engineers' Show is one of the old-time organizations that started out with a hard-core nucleus of steam and has remained so ever since. But, like most such historically-minded associations, it now includes a generous portion of internal-combustion in way of antique farm gas engines and tractors to round out its exhibits.
'We try to please both those who like steam, and those who like the old gas engines and tractors,' is the way Ray Jones officially puts it. 'They're all a part of the farm history,' quoth he. 'I like steam, because I've got steam in my blood. A gas tractor does not thrill me personally, but others are thrilled by them and don't care for steam.'
'Steam engines come high these days, and it takes money to transport them,' was my reply. 'I often think of the humble gas engine as the 'poor man's steam engine'. He can buy one fairly cheap, work it over himself, and take it to the shows in the boot of his car.'
'That's right, Joe. Everyone can participate that way,' agreed President Jones.
It was a time for reminiscing, and Ray Jones took me down to the bottom of the hill at the Pioneer Engineers' grounds. Unlike Jack and Jill, we went 'down' the hill to fetch a pail of water. 'This old pitcher pump was once in my mother's kitchen. When we got this, she felt like a millionaire because she didn't have to go outside to pump the water,' laughed Ray.
Across to the backfield he led me, to where some of the old Iron Horses stood. The big Peerless Geiser was the one he crawled up onto, because it reminded him of the first engine he had ever threshed with as a boy. It was the unusual T-Model slide gear which the Geiser Works had designed for the valve that interested him. And he toted along an actual piece of that special valve gearing to explain to us its unusual function.
Over the first quarter century of The Pioneer Engineers' Club existence, Ray Jones remembered only four times the weather was bad.
'The worst time we were rained out was back in '58, Joe,' he recalled. 'It was like a river down at the bottom of the hill. The sawmill was covered and in some places you waded water up to your waist.'
The Master of his Masonic Lodge at Sunman, Ind., and always a sincere Christian, Ray Jones believes and lives the old-time religion, just like it is preached at the Sunday morning services each year, attended by his Pioneer Engineer friends. For Ray Jones is not the kind of an engineer who sits out on his engine and toots the whistle during the Sunday morning 'preachin'. Always up in front, helping to direct the services, Jones believes that the average thresherman and his family are basically religious, and he wants them to feel at home, even if it takes Kitch's steam calliope playing the old-fashioned hymns outside the door to back up the preacher's sermon on hell-fire and repentance.
It's for all these wonderful things that we love you, Ray Jones. For being such a tireless leader of the Pioneer Engineers' Club over its first quarter century of exhibiting the grand old line of Steam Traction Engines. For preserving the hard-core steam nucleus that started your organization, yet being human enough to welcome the internal-combustion segment of old gas engines and tractors that helped share the burdens on the American farm of yesteryear.
For all these, and for your generous interests and contributions to the human element and soul we invite you, Ray Jones, to an honored seat in our Hall of Iron Man Fame. (A real-for-sure Iron Man, named Jones!).
Keep the steam up, Ray so we can all come back and help celebrate your 25th year with one of the great American steam engine shows the Pioneer Engineers of Rushville, Indiana, in the Year of Our Lord, 1973.