Iron Man Of The Month

Old locomotive oil-can

MANY FRIENDS DROP BY TO CHAT WITH ELMER Joe Ernst, Grand Trunk engineer, gives Elmer his old locomotive oil-can to put in his KORN KOB MUSEUM. Ernst has also made some, threshing rigs out of wood for the museum. Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, In

Joe Fahnestock

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'And may this day be both pleasant and profitable to both us and to Thee, in Jesus name and for His sake we ask it, AMEN.' Thus prays the Rev. Elmer L. Ritzman at each and all the numerous steam thresher-men's conclaves and reunions throughout the length and breadth of this land of ours, whenever and wherever he is called upon to serve as honorary chaplain.

It isn't until the official Ritzman blessing has been asked, following the raising of Old Glory to the strains of our National Anthem, that steam engine stacks begin barking, whistles begin blowing and belts start to flopping ushering in another beautiful and glorious day of old-time American threshermen's get-together, reminiscent of the days when 'steam was king.'

And, as the day wears on, should you happen to stress a point most pleasing in the course of your conversation, don't be surprised if a resounding, 'A-MEN' comes forth from a certain distinguished-looking Pennsylvania Dutchman of sparse mane who happens to agree as a sort of official emphasis to the correctness of what you are saying.

'Elmer Ritzman has done more than any one man to revive and keep alive the interest in the steam engine throughout America,' confided Lyle Hoffmaster of Worthington, Ohio, after hand-shakes and well-wishes that sent the preacher-editor back to his Pennsylvania homeland at the close of the 1967 National Threshermen's Association. 'Next to him, the credit must go to LeRoy Blaker,' summed up the Hoffmaster appraisal.

The entire N.T.A. 1967 steam threshermen's conclave experienced a moral and spiritual resurgence when the usual traveling van arrived at the grounds and chaplain-editor Ritzman and his entourage began spreading out their numerous issues of IRON MEN ALBUMS, GAS ENGINE MAGAZINES and related books and pamphlets in the grand old manner. For folks had heard of his siege of illness throughout the long winter months, and were wondering if their beloved Elmer would make it this time.

'Elmer has never missed a single year here at the National Threshermen's and he just had to come, 'explained Mrs. Earlene Ritzman, a bit jubilant. 'For a long time we wondered if we could come, but Elmer just wouldn't miss it.'

It was indeed a time for reminiscing and the renewing of old friendships, for the Rev. Ritzman both among the engines and the engineers amongst whom he sorted on his many jaunts out across the infield, shaking hands, riding here and there an engine, and otherwise basking in the pleasant aura of steam cylinder oil, coal smoke and the June sun. And, like the tonic it was, every time he returned the stronger and happier he was for the experience. (Couldn't keep 'im off that Kitten Engine).

And, to me, the experiences of the past two years have been even pleasanter, with editor-chaplain Elmer setting up his official IRON MEN stand beside my humble recording abode 'neath the sprawling N.T.A. grandstand a feeling that I believe has become quite mutual.

And even more pleasant was the reminiscing of years gone by when Elmer Ritzman swapped me a Floyd Clymer Steam Engine Album for a copy of my first recording of an old Aultman-Taylor Gas Tractor back in '48. And his reply, saying he liked it and inviting me to come to the LeRoy Blaker farm to record more engines. How green I was to learn I didn't know a Baker Engine from a jack-ass, but soon learned after making a recording of such sterling figures as Abner Baker and visiting with editor Elmer who was then taking subscriptions for his humble FARM ALBUM in his tiny tent.

It all started in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, where Elmer Ritzman grew up on a farm near Port Royal.

'My father first had a Nichols and Sheppard engine, then later he got a Case,' reminisced Elmer. 'I didn't get steam in my blood it was already in. I began running the engine for my father's threshing rig when only a young man of about 14. Outside of the steam threshing engine, everything else we did by hand. We had no refinements like the windmill or gas engines we pumped our water by hand, the 'Armstrong' method.'

Of those early years, Elmer Ritzman retains the most vivid memories of the bounteous threshermen's dinners spread out for the hungry threshermen as they went from farm to farm.

'And what, in your memory, was the main dish around which the usual threshermen's dinner was spread?' queried I.

'Oh, it was always fried chicken,' remonstrated brother Elmer.

'And, since you have now been a preacher, I presume you know that well-worn cliche about 'fried-chicken-eating preachers'?', continued .1, pressing the reverend for more memories.

'Yes, I am well-acquainted with that also,' replied Elmer. 'But by the time I became a preacher, I was already so well-filled with country fried chicken that I was ready for steak.'

It was when the National Threshermens Association became organized that the Rev. Elmer Ritzman began feeling the need for some kind of publication to keep engineers informed of the activities and unify them into some form of a national nucleus.

'I remember Elmer wrote me a letter, at the time, asking what I thought of some kind of letter or pamphlet for the organization, and I told him I thought it would be a good idea,' injected President of N.T.A., LeRoy Blaker, who had just come up to join our conversational reminiscing. 'But I told him he wouldn't become a millionaire over it.'

For some years the sparse sheets of the little magazine, including photos of old and historic agricultural machinery and especially steam traction engines, was known as THE FARM ALBUM. Then editor-Elmer got the bright idea of changing the tite to IRON MEN ALBUM.

I reminded Elmer that I had congratulated him upon the name change, the last year we met at the Blaker farm. But his reply was that no one else had so complimented him, but he still preferred the new nomenclature.

Soon after, the layout of the little magazine changed from the glossy to the more familiar pages and clearer photos we have been enjoying ever since, thanks to a switch to the off-set press method of publication. And over the years Elmer's little FARM ALBUM has now grown up to become the nice, plump, very readable and photogenic magazine that, in any threshermen's and historians' heart takes second place to none.

Indeed, Elmer's brain-child, THE FARM ALBUM, has come of age in the well-laid-out format we now enjoy as THE IRON MEN ALBUM,

And now, what of your latest brain child, the Ritzman Agricultural Korn-Krib Museum, Elmer?

'Ever since 1902 I've been buying up old magazines and posters of threshing and agricultural interests and related subjects,' explains Elmer. 'I also have my Burdsell and 4-wheel drive Lansing Engines, as well as numerous models. Some of the models, like my road-scraper and others are what are known as 'salesmen's models'.'

I wanted folks to be able to see these historic things, so I had a concrete block building erected to house them in,' says Elmer. 'After I brought everything out of the house and attic, we had more living space to spread out in.'

'I also have some of threshing rigs which Joe Ernst, engineer on the Grand Trunk, has made for my museum,' adds Ritzman. 'Everyone is invited at any time to come and see my collection in 'Elmer's Korn Krib' for free.'

And what of it all these 42 years of preaching the Good Word in Pennsylvania Methodist pastorates, as well as reviving the interest in American steam engine heritage and serving as chaplain and spiritual guide to the thousands that read his pages?

Like the humble bumble bee, which aerodynamic theorists say couldn't possibly fly, but it does simply because it doesn't know it can't says Rev. Elmer, 'I've just gone along and done things without knowing I couldn't.'

And to you, brother Elmer, though your stature has grown, your halo still fits. From us, one and all, an eternal gratitude for all you've done and are doing.

May God grant many more years in your mission among us. For I recall you said years ago, Had these thresher-men not united to save our fine old engines they'd have long ago been melted into bullets to damn Mankind.'

And now, brother Elmer do I hear a resounding 'A-MEN?