UNION CITY, INDIANA.
'Running a thresh engine is more difficult than that of handling a railroad locomotive,' is the way Iron Man Harry Woodmansee puts it. 'Railroads are usually level, whereas running a traction engine a fellow has hills and valleys to go over, and he has to keep stricter watch on water levels and the loads he's pulling.'
But Harry Woodmansee, once the proverbial farm lad who looked up from his horse-driven plow to wave at the passing train - and who dreamed of someday becoming a locomotive engineer has realized the fruition of all those boyhood ambitions, coming of course in their proper order.
'I was about six or seven when I began pestering my father around his steam threshing engine,' muses Woodmansee. 'From that time on I had steam in my blood. When I grew up, I signed up with the Grand Trunk Railroad as a fireman, but though I ran some of the engines now and then, I never actually was promoted to the right side of the cab.'
Some of Harry's fondest, most colorful memories were the years he helped the late Louie David work on some steam traction engines at Northfield, Mich., shop.
'Once Louie and I got the job of rebuilding, from the ground up, a 40-horsepower Avery undermounted. It was a wreck, but after thirty days of making rods, crosshead guides, injector, drilling out broken lugs and installing another boiler, we had this Avery performing in mint condition, and then it was taken clear up to Alberta, Canada, to a big show,' reminisces Woodmansee.
'Yes, I always get scared, so many things could go wrong,' confided Harry, later after descending from the high blue yonder.
From watching in engine shops as the professional boilermakers caulked boilers and observing the innovation of tools fashioned over the year, to tackle every kind of ensuing mechanical problem. Harry Woodmansee acquired most of the shop know-how to fit right into the busy schedule of the hard-working perfectionist, Louis David.
But working on steam traction engines was but a sideline to the spirited Louie David, whose day-to-day livelihood was working on professional racing cars, some of which he drove in races.
'Many a time I've gone along with Louie, and while he'd be getting ready to enter the race, I'd be out on the track warming up his racer,' explains Woodmansee.
However, the culimination of the career of this plow-boy, steam thresherman, railroader and race, track co-pilot has more recently flowered into a steam engine showmanship bordering on the spectacular, shared once by only the Big Top circus performers.
For wherever there is a midwest steam engine reunion, and Harry Woodmansee is announced ready to climb the big hill with his pipe, red polka-dot cap and old No. 9, there the crowds converge, to cheer and applaud - whether it's at the Ft. Wayne Old Time Threshers, out in Nebraska, up in Minnesota or perhaps the Dakotas.
But asked why he seems to prefer the Case over all other engines on which to perform his dangerous daily dozen, says Woodmansee, 'Some years back, while I was working for the Minneapolis people, I kept watching those wonderful engines coming out of the Case factory just across the street. Their later models appealed to me as a fine engine. They were an assembled engine, and in my view far superior in lasting qualities to those of the bracket type which seemed to develop failures over the years.'
One of Harry Woodmansee's happiest memories is the time his son, Carroll, a budding young engineer, began inspiring his other friends in the classroom to build up little steam engines just like Dad's so they could display them at the school.
'I began missing parts in my shop --whistles, oil drums, injectors, so many things,' chuckles Harry. 'But I knew where they were going. One day the boys came out with their little models, and you never saw such an array of steam engines that those kids had made up. I guess that was the first steam engine reunion that ever was held.'
Harry Woodmansee has the picture of those little engines his son and the other neighborhood boys made, long ago. Since then Harry went through the losing that teenage son in an automobile accidnet. But Harry will proudly whip the tattered and frayed old photo of that 'First steam engine reunion' out of his overall bib pocket and show it to you, if you ask about it.
To Iron Man Harry Woodmansee, engineer in the strictest tradition of his profession, his faithful old pipe, and old Case No. 9 -- we nominate a niche in the front row of the Iron Man Hall of Fame.
For the thousand, hair-raising thrills you've given the cheering, hat-waving crowds, for the faith you've kept vigil in steam, for the hours of thankless work done on old No. 9 while folks weren't watching,a nd without bragging, for the guidance given youth toward an understanding of steam locomotion both in the past and the present - we thank you, Iron Man Harry Woodmansee.
Keep climbin' those hills with old No. 9 and scarin' folks - even if it does scare you, Harry. Well be watchin' from down below, while you, scary Harry, say, 'Hello' to the Lord up there.
And oh yes, Harry, that time you came shuffling in like an old mud turtle, rather late, and plopped down in the straw stack to snooze the night out at the Old-Time Threshers - my wife was the guilty one who planted the pitch fork with that sign, 'Here Lies Harry Woodmansee -- May He 'Rust'in Peace' by your head.
'Sort o' gives a fellow a funny feelin' wakin' up and readin' his own epitaph,' chortles Iron Man Harry.