Iron Man of The Month

Charlie Ditmer

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That elusive, overalled vertebrate known more commonly to devotees of the threshing ring circles as Ye Iron Man can and oftentimes does wind up as a sort of superman, or titular head of his own 'cult'.

Though in the eternal realms of theology there exists such divine allusions as Wise Men bearing gifts of 'incense and Myrrh', a Promised Land laden with 'milk and honey' and a Triune Deity revealed in 'Father, Son and Holy Ghost' we of the more earthy sort have quite capably incorporated a terminology most suitable to our own.

Indeed there are those who have expostulated quite lavishly upon the 'heavenly aroma' of hot cylinder-oil and coal smoke, others the 'divine symphony of stack music' and still others the 'soul satisfying wail' of the thresh engine whistle, not to mention those to whom the sight of men threshing the golden grain is assurance that God is on the Throne and all's right with the world.

But when it comes to a certain cigar-chewing Iron Man, his son and their two engines, I am moved, though not irreverently, to refer to this trinity as none other than the earthly triune of 'Father, Son and Holy Smoke'.

For when the senior patriarch and 'godhead' of his cult, the cigar-chewing Charlie Ditmer yanks whistle cord and throttle on his mighty Advance Rumely, followed suit by son, Sylvester, on the deck of his barkin' Baker and the twain head down the village streets and highways for the Darke County Threshing grounds, the 'chosen people' begin following the 'pillar of cloud' to the 'promised land' like the Bible story of old.

HOLY SMOKE TRINITY of Ditmers does everything by steam around Greenville, Ohio. Father Charlie (right) chews furiously on his ragweed as Son Sylvester yanks throttle on his bark in Baker belching 'Holy Smoke' to the high blue heavens. Verl Lawrence helps supervise (left). The old shed screeched puny defiance to the mighty Baker. Luckily a railroad strike was pending on the. PRR tracks reducing the danger of oncoming trains.

The sights, the sounds and aromas of the mighty Ditmer caravan leading the big Sunday parade of threshermen under a halo of steam and smoke is sufficient to fetch thrills to both young and old as well as headaches to state patrol cars should they ponder the strange, slow-moving panorama snaking its way along the busy highway.

With smoke belching heavenward and flags waving in the morning breezes, town folks gathered curbside to view the awesome sight, exclaim, 'Here comes Uncle Charlie and Cousin Sylvester a-heading the big parade' whether that august occasion happens to be the up-coming Darke County Threshermen's Reunion, come July, or any of the other civic extravaganzas this 'Father, Son and Holy Smoke' trinity is called upon to embellish.

It was some years ago, when the Miami Valley Threshers moved headquarters to the Mechanicsburg-Urbana area in central Ohio that Father Charlie announced to Son Sylvester, 'Holy smoke we're not movin'. We'Jl just keep our engines here and start our own show.'

The 'trinity' having spoken, the die was cast, and the famous Darke County Threshers Association was born, a thriving western Ohio steam show with Father Charlie serving as vice president under Son Sylvester as president 'neath halos of steam and smoke overhead.

Visiting their headquarters, located in a huge frame building, formerly a coal office beside the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks in Greenville, I was quite impressed at the wonderful work of restoring and beautifying that Father Charlie, Son Sylvester and others of the organization were doing to the various old engines, separators and the official sawmill all to be exhibited in the big annual Darke County Steam Threshermen's Reunion.

After snapping a few pictures for a newspaper feature story, I suddenly announced, 'This is really a 'Steam Engine Beauty Shoppe'.' How surprised I was to discover upon my next visit to the Darke County headquarters that the 'Steam Trinity' had indeed taken me seriously for over the entrance hung a sign, 'Steam Engine Beauty Shop'.

It was quite another occasion that I once visited the Ditmer farm, near Hillgrove fortified with camera and flashbulbs to write up the strange spectacle of old-time apple butter making the Charlie Ditmer way.

As I drove down the dirt country road, an animated tin model of a Baker Engine whirring in the breezes atop Uncle Charlie's mail box assured me I had arrived at the proper place.

There was the big copper 'kittle' into which Mrs. Ditmer was pouring copious quantities of apple 'schnitzes', with Uncle Charlie wielding the long wooden paddle while Uncle Willis supervised from his straight-backed chair the old Advance Rumely 12-horse providing steam heat to the vats in the background.

It all looked like the proverbial Rube Goldberg contraption and that it was what with the womenfolk fetching more 'schnitzes', all of which poured into vat A, were stirred by Uncle Charlie with paddle B, under the watchful eye of supervisor Willis as operation C, Son Sylvester stoking the fires D while out in the woodshed Ira Edger and Tony Paulin were snitching tincup samples of cider E. All of which, after the whole blamed contraption had finished with the processing, what was left after the sampling was an apple butter spread fir for a king. In fact Charlie Ditmer's fame as 'Apple Butter King' has spread to other midwest reunions and his annual Fall apple butter rendering down at the Steam Engine Beauty Shop fetches folks with empty jars from far and wide.

But just the showing of steam engines and using them in the rendering of apple butter is not enough for this 'Father, Son and Holy Smoke' three. For the Ditmer philosophy still holds to the premise that steam engines were made to do work. Such as the time that a friend wanted a small frame building moved down the city streets and across the railroad tracks to a new location. And how convenient it was that a railroad strike happened to be pending allowing plenty of time should the shack get stuck on the railroad right-of-way with Sylvester yanking throttle on his big Baker and Charlie chewing nervously on his well-worn cigar till everything was safe on the other side of the tracks.

The ancient woodshed 'screeched' puny defiance to the barking Baker while Charlie chewed ever more furiously his ragged weed and soon all was well with the new owner admiring his purchase dragged to the back of his lot by steam power.

It's a real summertime treat, watching a work-a-day schedule of Uncle Charlie Ditmer, 'godhead of the steam trinity' 'round the clock at an average sun-up to sun-down Darke County Threshers. Rising at the crack o' dawn when Ezra the Rooster crows from his roost atop a tree limb, Uncle Charlie lights up, then is off to fill the water wagons before sitting himself down to a real threshermen's breakfast of ham 'n eggs. After which comes the oiling and coaling up of his beloved 12-horse Advance Rumely, tossing in a few slabs of wood, stoking the fire and noting the water gage and injector. Then there are the orders to 'flunkies' to fetch up more logs while Uncle Charlie goes over the fine points of getting the big Darke County sawmill in order, following which comes the

placing of the engine, the belting up, the tooting of the whistle, the barking of the stack and whine of the big saw blade. The pungency of fresh-sawn lumber it smells so delectable with Uncle Charlie at the throttle working up a real lumberman's appetite as the dinner bells clangs away from the threshermen's shack nearby.

(It resembled a Rube Goldberg operation Mrs. Ditmer pours in apple 'Schnitzes' (A), Charlie Ditmer stirs brew with wooden paddle (B), Uncle Willis supervises from chair (C), and son Sylvester Ditmer stokes fires in Advance Rumely (D), furnishing steam heat for brewing vats.

Then there's the full afternoon of more oiling, coaling and watering of the big black monster, the belting up to the grain separator across the field to separate the golden grain. It's all so thoroughly reassuring, so utterly American and Charlie, well into his seventies never tires till the sun comes down on another day and for any hard-working thresherman it's time to retire.

During the winter months I've often seen Charlie Ditmer at the crack o' dawn, creeping at snail's pace in his little red pick-up truck down to his Steam Engine Beauty Shop. How often I've remarked that Charlie drives his truck as slow as his engine. And sure enough one day we read the announcement in the local paper, 'Charlie Ditmer hailed into city court for driving too slow.' But the mayor wouldn't fine him good character that he is just reminded him to speed up a little so as not to slow down traffic enroute to his engine shop. Now Charlie doesn't have to drive to his beloved Steam Engine Beauty Shop. No sirree for Charlie now has taken up residence in the front offices of his engine shop replete with all the household accoutrements of dishpans, kitchen sink and color T-V, embellished by window boxes of petunias and geraniums framed by percale curtains.

Charlie Ditmer Heads Annual Parade to Darke County Threshers' Grounds, Greenville, Ohio. A thrill to the spectators, a headache to state patrol cars in traffic on a Sunday morn. Here Charlie tows water wagon, separator and little red pickup truck down busy highway.

To you, Uncle Charlie Ditmer, patriot and godhead of steam trinity we thank you for all you've done to preserve the wonderful dynasty of steam and old-time country ways in our midst. May it ever be to your

glory that you have served well in your capacity as head of that noble earthly triune, 'Father, Son and Holy Smoke'. A halo of coal smoke and steam to you and yours forever Amen.