Iron Man Of The Month

Round  engine

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390 Whenever the delicate touch of the feminine hand is needed 'round an engine, it's when it needs its smokebox door re-lettered. Here Iron-spouse Erna lends that special touch-and again under the critica

Joe Fahnestock

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'Frank, you did remember to bank the fire down in the Baker before coming to bed, didn't you?'

'Yes, Dear.'

'Frank, you checked the water in the boiler?'

'Yes, Dear.'

'And oh yes, Frank -- you did walk the dog and then put him to bed?'

'Yes, Dear.'

Everyone's heard, no doubt, of that famous radio question-and-answer Bible team of Frank and Ernest. Well, not to be confusing, this story happens to be about a well-known question-and-answer 'Baker' team known as Frank and Erna. 'Wright' that is!

For when it comes to asking questions (barbed or otherwise) 'bout a certain Baker Engine, beloved by both, well Erna knows how to ask 'em. And Frank Wright, never confined to a straight jacket (bless his soul), always shakes himself free with a very soft and quite diplomatic answer of 'Yes Dear.'

It doesn't matter whether the question's popped at high noon on a sweltering July day during some mid western threshermen's reunion, as to whether Frank's oiled the governor and wrist-pin, or whether Erna happens to wake up and pop the question to Pop in the middle of the night's slumber. It's always Frank answering softly and assuredly, 'Yes, Dear' - then all is well. No argument here - they're both 'Wright'.

They're always fixtures around any tri-state area threshermen's reunion in Ohio, Indiana or Michigan -- are Iron Man, Frank Wright, and Iron Missus, spouse Erna. And they're always both 'draped' over the deck of their pet 19-65 Baker Engine, garbed in their usual attire of red and white polka-dot engineers' caps, gray coveralls and possibly betraying a thin veil of coal dust on cheeks, depending upon the duties of the day.

Whether at National Threshers Association at Wauseon, Ohio, or Old Time Threshers and Sawmillers at Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Iron Man, Frank Wright, the day begins with the usual stoking of wood slabs from the nearby sawmill, for an early warm up of old Abner Baker's\innards, followed of course by generous portions of chunk-coal to lend life and duration to the wood-fed flames that always feel so comfy and homelike around the open firebox door of an early morn. A check of the steam and water gages, a look at the top of the stack to note the draft and direction of the morning breeze, a grab for the oil can for a quick-'round of valve gear and rod bearings-it's merely that wake-up routine that begins the threshermen's day for Iron Man Frank while Iron Missus Erna is busy flopping flap-jacks in their modern camp trailer under the trees nearby.

And, with all that, there's time for Frank to visit with the boys in the Men's Emporium down the way while smoothing off the chin and removing from the cheek what remains from the day before and yet be back to begin his rigorous day with a heaping stack o' flap-jacks smothered in syrup 'n butter.

Then it is that our Iron Man Frank, having dispensed heartily with the morning's repast, saunters forth with a fresh-lit cigar to put final touches to ol' Abner while Erna is stuck with the more menial and wifely task of the silverware and dishes.

But not for long are our Iron Man and his 'woman Friday' bogged down in such earthy tasks as polishing up? a Baker Engine and drying the breakfast dishes. For yet while the mornin's dew is wet upon the blade these twain are off together 'pon the vibrating deck in quest of whatever ventures the day's agenda might bring forth. Should it be that a jag of wheat needs to be threshed, Iron Man Frank might dispense with the formalities of lining up the 19-65 to the separator whereupon, relinquishing his post, he promptly steps down and sprints 'longside to help with the belt while Erna takes over at the throttle. Or if perchance a log or two needs sawing Frank can be counted on to hog the throttle while Erna lends feminine pulchritude, like an ornament atop the fireman's seat box. But should Harold Gay announce it's time for the Wrights to belt up for a demonstration of the Baker fan at the Oldtime Threshers and Sawmillers at Fort Wayne, Ind., both Frank and Erna might well take turns at big-holing the throttle to make ol' Abner snort 'n bark.

Iron Man, Frank Wright, is one of the quiet, dignified type of engineers -- the kind of fellow always ready to offer a wrench, a hammer or pair of pliers to the other fellow who's working on his engine and needs one. Always the gentleman, he's never without lending a hand to help a neighbor or speaking the right word to lift morale when everything else has gone wrong. Ever the gentleman and philosopher in the crowd, though sparse of speech, Iron Man Frank Wright can be unfailingly counted upon to enliven any conversation with a generous seasoning of dry wit and wisdom. Dress him up in his Sunday-go-to-meetin' suit, stiff shirt 'n collar and he looks the part of the metropolitan church preacher. Let him clamp the inevitable cigar between his molars and he's at once the college campus professor. But on the deck of a Baker Engine he's the same guy - though instead of preaching or lecturing, he's jerking the quadrant and throttle.

For counterpart Erna, whenever hubby Frank isn't always 'Wright', there's that ever-present feminine talent at keeping things lively whenever Iron Man's spirits ebb at low tide. Or if and when the occasion at any threshermen's reunion calls for the unusual, spouse Erna is there with the props. Like the time she suddenly got the urge to ride on the neck of the huge dinosaur at the Sinclair exhibit at the Oldtime Thresherman's Fort Wayne Reunion - and did. How she got up there, nobody knows. And how she got down, well that's history too. But everybody had fun --which is just what Jim Whitby and his reunion men want.

I've often wondered just how 'Romeo' Frank met and wooed 'Juliet' Erna. Was it on the vibrating deck of some old Baker Engine that these twain might have decided to become one?

When World War One came on, they changed alot of names because they were too much German - so Krupp became Marlin - a little town on the Graet Northern Railway. Nice Steam Engine were to the scrap pile by World War Two. This picture was given to my by Rex Weiler of Millwood, Washington. His father was the separator man in this picture Rex is my wife's uncle. How many autos can you see? Ha! This was a threshing outfit of Rails and Roth, Krupp, Washington - September 19, 1911.

No. As Erna tell it, 'Frank was moonlighting, grinding auto parts at a nearby shop, and we'd happen to eat in the same place, eventually at the same table.'

Oh now I get it - and dear reader alme to digress in word and rhyme sufficient to tell the rest of the tale as it must've been.

'Twas in a restaurant where they met, Romeo and Juliet.

But he had no cash to pay the debt, So Rome-e-owed what Julie-et.

Or could it be that Juliet paid for what she 'et' -- working as she did for years as waitress and cashier in a restaurant.

And with Iron Man, Frank Wright, working up such appetites over the years as an employee in the tool department of the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors, maybe all he could pay for were his own meals without owing for what his 'Julie et.'

At any rate the expert cook and mechanic made it to the altar - and where one goes on that vibrating Baker deck, goeth the other, making every threshermen's reunion a better place for the human race.

But the only remianing problem yet to be worked out for the Frank Wrights is that they have no place to store their beloved Baker Engine.

'We have to keep our engine out in some farmer friend's barn,' says 'Juliet' Erna.

'But we're working and planning to someday have our own several acres in the country where we can have all our fun nearby -- our Baker engine and water wagon and all the wonderful things that remind us of when we were kids, ran engines and pitched grain back on Dad's farm,' is the 'Romeo' Frank puts it.

To the wonderful Iron Man and Iron Missus, Frank and Erna Wright we dedicate this particular niche in The Iron Man of the Month Hall of Fame.

'Keep the fun-fires burning, Erna,' says I.

'I'll do that and without your preachin',' says Erna.

'And you, Frank, keep the steam up and belt tight on the Baker,' plied I.

Yes, Dear -- er I mean Joe,' quoth Frank, chewing his cigar in obeisance.

And with that I couldn't disagree -- for two 'Wrights' can do no wrong.