UNION CITY, INDIANA.
'Mister, can you direct us to the whereabouts of the Weisel Seed Store?'
'Just follow your nose down to where all the steam engines are stacked in the window and smoke's pourin' out of the door. You can't miss it. And if he happens to be over at the junkyard, she'll sack up what plants 'n seeds you need.'
Thus it was that we were directed down the main thoroughfare of Hillsdale, Mich., to seek out the private haunts of one Carlton Weisel, full time model steam engine genius and junkyard commuter, part-time seedsman and seasonal fabricator of yule tide mistletoe, at Christmastime.
The rows of boxed spring tomato seedlings out front, the rising tiers of model steam engines, their pistons and fly-wheels of brass and nickel-silver reflecting the solitary light bulb through a dark window, the smell of feed and grain sacks wafting from within all told us we were indeed there.
A short, heavy-jowled figure, looking more like an elf from Santa's workshop than ye Iron Man on the vibrating deck, came waddling up the store aisle, lugging a heavy model of a Corliss steam engine-which he promptly plopped down in juxtaposition astride the seed store, counter. His eyes were utterly transfixed upon the object of his affection, hardly knowing I had arrived, while the womenfolk were already well into bartering bargains over the counter in the way of garden seeds and tomato plants.
He's the quiet, unassuming little rolypoly figure you always see presiding over the model engine table at any mid-western steam engine reunion, usually in cohort with Sam (Snore) Schnur of Spark Plug famethe twain espousing the virtues of both steam and gas in the finely-turned models they always lug along.
'Well, look who's here!' exclaimed my host, interrupting his morning worship of a beloved Corliss model long enough to notice my roving eyes coveting the beautiful array of horizontal and vertical, single and double-cylinder steam engine models silhouetted, like a Santa Claus workshop, in the seed store window.
'Of course, I would,' replied I, wanting to see more.
'Well, follow me,' quoth he - leading the way back to a crowded workshop of lathes, shapers, drill presses and grinders with barely enough space for a well-rounded belly to crawl through.
'This is my modern workshop,' said Carlton Weisel, making a few deft adjustments on an Atlas cutting tool while his rump rested on the lathe bed at his rear. A mighty good shop practice in safety I thought turning one machine off before working at another, lest the protruding seat in those Weisel trousers happen to get caught up with a 'tuck in the chuck'.
'My older workshop is back here,' pointed out Carlton, hoofing me farther to the rear of the Weisel Seed Store. 'I've worn out all these machines long ago.'
'Come on upstairs,' said my host, leading me up the crowded and creaking old staircase overflowing with fragments of antique radio paraphernalia and numerous odd assortments all of which I stopped short every step in my sojourn to examine in detail. Finally making it to the second floor, my eyes fairly bulged at the fragments of old-time Americana models of steam threshing engines, tiny separators and diminutive stationary gas and hot-air engines sprawled out from wall to wall before me.
'What's this, what's that and where'd you get this one?' I kept exclaiming as my eyes took in such wonders as would drive even a King Solomon to envy.
'There's more up on the third floor, pointed out my host. 'But it's too crowded to get up there,' pined he, to me.
'I'll take you down into the basement,' said Weisel, apparently saving the best till the last.
Down another crowded stairway we crept I stumbling over object after object and trying to examine each as together we descended into what resembled a dark mine shaft my more surefooted host leading confidently, placing a foot here, a foot there without stubbing a toe as he led me down into his 'holy of holies'.
Snapping a solitary light bulb into incadescence, as it dangled on its lengthy cord, an indeterminate 'symphony of shadows' began dancing from wall to wall. As my visual orbs became accustomed to this subterranean illumination, I beheld the human form of my host at the far end of a winding pathway, leading between mounds of what appeared at first like a well-planted Japanese rock garden. But instead of flowers petunias, snapdragons, pansies and the like less aromatic and colorful forms of such as iron fly-wheels and pulleys, gear-boxes, truck transmissions, old phonographs, coil springs - everything but the German Luftwaffe and the kitchen sink-were taking shape before me. And I believe had I lingered long enough even these could have been found.
My host smiled triumphantly, his visage glowing as a halo in the sun from that single light bulb, while he busied himself fawning over one of his latest acquisitions from a recent sortie to the town junk emporium.
'I visit the junkyards every day twice a day including Saturdays and Sundays,' announced my host with a gleam of excitement in his eyes. 'I go at eight in the mornings, and then at one in the afternoons. There are always new thrills and surprises every time I visit the junkyard and I usually come home with my car trunk and seats loaded,' said Carlton, gesturing in a broad sweep of the arm at the vastness of his subterranean stockpiles which keep growing and growing.
'What a delightful sojourn what an interesting stockpile to warm the cockles of any collector's heart, let alone an inveterate model craftsman,' I exclaimed, once we had ascended to the main floor of the Weisel seed and feed dispensing clinic. 'You certainly do have other interests besides the mere handling of garden seeds and pet supplies.'
'Oh you haven't begun to see everything,' interjected the patient Cora Weisel, sacking up a dozen tomato plants for my wife. 'Carlton has stacks and piles of stuff in other buildings and at the farm. You ought to come up some time and see the rest of the things he has dragged in,' said she with a muffled sigh.
It was one of our most pleasant sorties into the never-never land of ye Iron Men our visit with the Weisel's which afforded a rare insight into their daily doings without fanfare of flag-waving and bands blaring.
To Carlton Weisel Iron Man of the Month must go much of the credit for the well-organized and diverse model exhibits which always enhance every midwest threshermen's reunion, be it the N.T.A. at Wauseon, The Darke County Threshers at Greenville, Ohio, the meetings at Rushville and the Old Time Threshers and Sawmillers at Fort Wayne, Indiana, as well as numerous conclaves in Michigan and elsewhere. And, with his inevitable side-kick, Spark Plug, Sam Schnur, tagging along, their fine model exhibits have now broadened to even the impressive gas and tractor shows, such as Tri-State at Portland, Indiana.
It's always a rare pleasure, visiting one of the Weisel model exhibits and to have him repay the visit which must always be paid for in free coffee and a bowlful of bean soup to stoke up his boiler.
You occupy a prominent niche in our Iron Man Hall of Fame, Carlton Weisel. And we salute you for all you've done to enhance the midwest threshermen's reunion in our age of Vanishing Americana.
And, to the faithful Cora, we say, 'Thanks' for keeping the seed store going while Carlton's at play.