Union City, Indiana.
If ever a movie was to be made about the early American steam locomotive, Glenn Hill of Bethel, Ohio, would make the perfect-looking old-time engineer to run it. He stands straight as a ram-rod on the deck of a steam engine with that all-knowing look of the experienced engineer, at 87 his steady hand on the throttle and reverse lever capable of making his iron horse obey every whim of his stern and mighty will.
Although, as a farm lad, Glenn did dream of someday graduating from his father's horse-drawn plow to that of being the heroic railroad engineer, he didn't quite make it beyond that of being fireman. But he did wind out a glorious career of throttling the many steam threshing engines that came into his life over the years as well as repairing and rehabilitating them into new-like machines once again.
With loving care he can remove his artificial leg and crawl into a steam engine boiler and twist around inside there at re-placing the flues better than any man with two legs.
'I can maneuver better that way inside a boiler because with only one leg I have more room to get around,' says he, having learned to change the tragic loss of a limb into a blessing. A tragedy that would have defeated many another man, Glenn Hill accepted as a challenge to get the job done better. 'I don't mind putting in flues if I'm not crowded.'
As a farm boy it was necessary that Glenn learn to handle and work with farm machinery.
'My father didn't care a bit for machinery not even a grain-binder', says he. 'Dad was just a farmer, and my brothers and I had to work with the farm machines and repair them.'
When I first saw Glenn Hill at the 1971 Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Show at Georgetown, Ohio, he was running a Russell Engine, which he later sold that fall. He seemed so devoted to his throttle that I felt he'd surely be a most difficult individual to coax off the engine deck long enough to interview. Besides, I have found that some engineers are a bit crusty and reluctant to be interviewed about their personnel idiosyncrasies pertaining to that holy of holies called Steam. But, the following year there was Glenn Hill, this time throttling the 1916, 20-60 Farquar over the O.V.A.M. grounds. I was informed that he was the oldest engineer at the show and, therefore, the most worthy to be written up. But I still feared him, until the end of the show, when I finally cornered him just as he throttled his Farquar over under the big shade tree-the first time both he and the engine had wound down long enough to be interviewed. And I found him the most gentle and kindest of men-and not the crusty ol' engineer I had thought.
'A Case was my first engine,' he began in a deep, quiet manner belying the day-long noise of hissing steam and wailing whistles that had suddenly come to an end. 'I bought a half-interest in an outfit when I was about twenty-one. It was a 50-horse Case Engine and Separator. Then I sold the separator out to the fellow and kept the Case which I used for a while and later sold.' 'Originally I was a farmer used to 'thrash' 'n shred 'n sawmill 'n all that,' continued Glenn, prodded by my continual questioning when he'd run out o' steam. 'Had a Garr-Scott Sawmill with a friction clutch friction pulley running against the face of another pulley-and you could get any speed you pleased.'
(This was the same principle of friction-clutch which was invented by the pioneer auto manufacturer, John Lambert, for use in the early Lambert automobiles, first manufactured at Union City, Ind., my hometown.)
'We had two threshing rings around there and did lots of 'thrashing' for other people and shredded lots of corn,' reminded Hill. 'I had only one threshing rig but sometimes ran both rings. We'd do a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five jobs a season, and I have done as many as four jobs in one day, using the 50-horse Case Engine and Separator.'
'Then I worked for another man two or three years running an engine for him, threshing and the like and I was farming at the same time,' explained Glenn. 'And then it was afterwards -that I bought an interest in a Case Engine and Separator with another fellow. Later he sold out and went to the city and I ran that for several years.'
'The combines hadn't come in yet,' reminisced Hill.
It was during this time that Glenn Hill switched from steam to internal combustion power to do his threshing and shredding and sawmilling.
'I bought a Rumely Oil-Pull Tractor and sold the Case,' he went on. 'The Rumely was a 20-40 and it handled about as good as a steam engine. It was a lot more convenient all you had to do was crank it and take off. Cheaper to operate didn't have to have a water wagon and team.
For a couple years Glenn Hill ran a steam roller for a contractor just to keep the steam in his blood, during the switch from coal-burner to oil-boomer.
It was his railroading experience that was probably the shortest career in Glenn Hill's life with steam engines. Though he confessed it had been his boyhood dream to become, someday, a railroad engineer, the season he worked as fireman on the old Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad was pretty bleak, brief and without the promotion to the throttle side of the cab as he had hoped for.
'One winter I hired out as fireman on the old C. H. & D.,' says he. 'But my pay was so low I could barely pay my board. In the spring more of the men came back to fill the jobs on the railroad, and I didn't get promoted to engineer, so I just quit. It was during my work there that the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton was sold to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.'
Later, Glenn Hill began working for the locally-owned Municipal Light Plant of Bethel, Ohio-a town of some 2500 souls. 'We just started on a shoe-string about,' says Glenn.
'We had no regular linemen,' recalls he. 'So I did some of the pole climbing. One day a rotted pole fell down with me, crushing my leg against a stone wall. That's how I lost my leg, and that's what slows me down getting around,' he chuckles courageously.
But Glenn Hill didn't really slow down nor did he get on the outs with the local light plant by using his tragedy as a legitimate grievance or gripe to disrupt operations.
'I didn't do any more pole climbing, but I did stay and work at the plant,' says he. 'The generators were powered by diesel engines from the start. We didn't know a thing about diesel but we got along pretty well with that light plant.'
It was twenty-eight years that Glenn Hill worked at the Bethel Municipal Light Plant, 'til retirement. After that the steam in his blood began building up pressure once again and, by the time the safety-valve had popped in his brain, he had bought himself another steam engine this time for the fun of re-working it, running it a while then selling it to get another one to do likewise.
'Ever since I've been retired, I've been buying them up, fixing them up and selling them,' says Glenn. 'Sold a little 6-horse Farquar, a 10-ton Huber Roller, then a double Rumely which 1 shipped back into Kentucky. Sold a Port Huron, Keck-Gonnerman and others about a dozen in all. The Keck-Gonnerman I sold about two year-ago.'
'About the first thing you have to do is put in flues,' explains Hill who ought to know whereof he speaks by now. 'When you buy one that's been setting out, the first thing that's gone wrong is the flues.'
'This past winter and spring ('71 and '72) we re-flued this Farquar that I've been running and playing with here,' he went on. 'We don't have a building-it sets out and there were lots o' days we couldn't work and when we could we didn't work an 8-hour day only when we wanted to. Oh, I'd say it pretty near 'spoils a week' to take the old flues out 'n put the new ones in 'n go over it 'n everything.'
'I keep this engine behind my place in town where I moved from the farm. I can keep two or three engines where my wife and I once had our garden.'
'This Farquar Engine, Ed Fiscus and I own together,' explained Glenn. 'Ed's such a nice fellow. His late father, Lawrence, and I used to buy steam engines together. That Baker setting out there on the grounds, he and I bought together, then we bought a Case. But then I traded my interest in the Baker for his interest in the Case.' (That's the way it goes, folks you-all listen. D'ya hear?)
Whenever Glenn Hill is up on the engine deck throttling whatever engine he happens to own at the time, he always has the willingest of helpers from far and near ........'boys' (still liking steam engines) that somehow never grew up. Kenneth White of Williamsburg and the friendly, cigar-chewing inventor, Lloyd Sidell of Georgetown, Ohio, were Glenn Hill's constant whistle-tooting firemen up in the cab of the smoke-belching, steam-hissing Farquar at last summer's Ohio Antique Machinery Show.
'Always did like steam engines, even as a kid,' confides Glenn (as if we didn't already know.) 'Don't like tractors, although I've run them.'
Despite his big dream of becoming a railroad engineer never materializing, Glenn Hill, who ran a real-for-sure steam locomotive only a few feet forward and back on the switch-spur, actually saw that dream fulfilled in the many threshing engine cabs he's occupied over the years. To any farm lad, young or old, he's still the heroic engineer of storybook fame who makes the engine go 'chug-chug' and the whistle go 'toot-toot-toot'.
'Every time I fire my engine up at home and blow the whistle, the kids come running and get up on it and ride. I just have fun,' is the way Glenn Hill puts it. And we believe him, without a single dissent.
'I keep healthy by tinkering and keeping busy,' says Glenn. 'Although I live alone, since my wife's died, I don't mind washing dishes, but I don't like to cook. Oh, I can fry bacon or sausage when I get hungry enough.' (What! No bean soup, Glenn?)
'I never complain, though. There's too many young fellows worse off than me.'
'Don't make it too flowery. I'm just a common man,' quoth he.
But we think Glenn Hill's 'uncommon' enough that we've reserved a special seat for him in our Iron Man Hall of Fame so we can 'set around' and listen to him tell of his many 'love stories' about his favorite engines, the mighty Cases, and the host of other Iron Horses he's labored in love to perfect and sell, so he could buy more and do likewise. (Will someone shout, 'Amen'?)