Iron Man of The Month

20 hp Russell engine

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Box 47, Union City, Indiana. Veteran Sawmiller and Thresher, John Limmer and grandson, Frank Johnson at throttle of 20 hp Russell. Neighbor boy on rear of deck also runs engine. 'A familiar fixture at Reunions'.

Joe Fahnestock

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AN APOLOGY TO IRON MAN PERCY SHERMAN Although to my wife I have never as yet admitted to making a mistake in life the fact remains that once in a rare while the 'memory diodes' of my automatic, computer-operated typewriter get to writing things backward such as that Iron Man, Percy Sherman, is 76 years old when actually he is only 67 years young (he was born the year the first Baker was out-shopped) all of which amounts to adding 9 glorious years of throttle jerking to this tireless giant of energy at the midwest reunions. And to Jack Tucker 'the undertucker' an apology for calling his whereabouts down Lexington-way when Georgetown would have gotten him better. I don't want the 'hot breath' of the Iron Men breathing so torridly down my neck.

He looks like a burly, brawny-armed sawmill man, standing on the vibrating deck of his pulsating Russell Engine at the National Thresher's Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio, where he often shares the job of yanking whistle cord and throttle with his grandson, Frank Johnson, who's learning to fill grandpa's shoes.

Wherever you may happen to roam over the grounds of some mid-western steam threshermen's reunion, you can pick John Limmer out of the crowd over by the sawmill either helping the boys adjust the big saw-blade or a-standing up on the deck of his beloved Russell, awaiting the go ahead from the head sawyer for the next log coming up. The proverbial engineer's cap, the tell-tale moustache and day's growth of chin beard, the oily overalls and heavy clod-hopper shoes, the leather watch strap tucked into his overall bib, a heavy wrench clutched in his horny hand it wouldn't be a typical thresher's reunion without John Limmer, old-time sawmiller and thresherman milling about the engines.

Whether it's lining up for the big belt, climbing up to oil the valve gear, or standing on the deck with eagle eye for the go ahead with hand on the throttle, John Limmer is always one of the main fixtures at ye olde time threshermen's shindig. And when the big engine begins pulsating and saw bites into log, if big John Limmer isn't satisfied with the available performance of fly-wheel on belt, he has his trusty grandson by his side to take over while he climbs up with wrench in hand to coax a little extra yank from the governor of his 20 horsepower Russell.

'My grandson, Frank Johnson can run this engine as good as grandpa,' yells John over the hiss of steam and bark of stack. 'He's getting to that age in life where he usually gets whatever he wants from his grandpaand sometimes he gets to thinkin' he knows a little more. But it's a fine thing to have a young fellow learning to like steam engines and be able to take over when we older fellows will just have to sit by and watch.'

Been sawmillin' for years, has big John Limmer over Perrysburg, Ohio-way always by steam until recently when he switched over routine operations to diesel.

'One of the things I miss most are the steam locomotives over on the railroad near where I live,' says John. 'I used to lie awake for hours at night and listen to the heavy steam freight drags pulling out of the yards. Now the only way I can hear such sounds is to put one of your records of steam freights on and play it by my bed while I lie there, imagining that steam is still king of the rails, as it should be,' drawls John Limmer. 'Nothing can do the job on the railroads as well as steam.'

For John Limmer, the threshermen's reunion always fetches back those memories over the years when going from threshing job to threshing job meant throttling the big Russell engine many a mile up muddy, dark roads and over creaking wooden bridges, with but the glimmer of the faint kerosene headlight to guide the way. Knifing through clusters of roadside trees, past the gaunt dark forms of the farm houses and barns along the way, it was always late at night or in the wee hours of the morn that John Limmer and the 'ring' arrived in time to bank down his fire and grab a few needed winks in the hay-loft before the breakfast call sent them rambling out in the fields to begin the day's work.

It was my fortune, one morning in the men's room at Montpelier, to observe sawmiller - thresherman, John Limmer, going through one of the standard routines of preparing himself for a day of steam engine work. With overall galluses down, moustache, chin-whiskers and eyes plastered with soap, John was 'freshening up' for the day's labors . As I watched him the thought struck me of how many times he had gone through this necessary routine of beginning the day's work over a farm building up throughout the winter, so in the spring as the snow was settling and wash-pan full of hand-pumped well water washing away the smoke and chaff of the day before in preparation of the morning sun rising in the eastern sky.

And I'll never forget the day that John Limmer emerged from the little red barn eating stand at Elmer Egbert's Buckeye Reunion recently, near Anna, Ohio. John was just picking his teeth with a twig, after indulging in a generous threshermen's repast. As a joke we had just tacked a sign on the door, entitled, 'Delmonico's' (as used to be done so often in wild west mining towns years ago). Our sign featured 'Buffalo Steak,' 'Prairie Pie,' and 'Buckeye Salad' as the menu for the day. And big John Limmer's moustache and overalls seemed to tit ever so perfectly into the scheme and decor as we snapped that picture without him being ever the wiser.

Our hat is off to you, John Limmer, sawmiller and steam thresher over the years man of the moustache, overalls and engineer's watch lover of the reciprocating steam piston and valve gearing on every steam thresh engine and railroad locomotive that ever yanked a belt or sped cargo over the high iron of our great nation.

May the midwestern threshing reunion ever see you and your beloved Russell, which incidentally will be featured on the badges at this year's National Threshermen's Reunion, Wauseon, Ohio.