Iron Man Of The Month

Dean Saunders

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'Lord, we thank Thee for this, another beautiful day. Bless each and everyone at this reunion. Watch over us and protect us against all danger as we labor and work together in Christian Brotherhood. May we ever be mindful in all that we do of Thy presence, and to Thee be the glory. In His name we ask it. Amen.'

Thus it is that another wonderful day is begun at the Old Time Threshers and Sawmillers on the Jim Whitby farm, near Fort Wayne, Ind., with all heads bared and bowed while the divine blessing is intoned from the lips of engineer-chaplain, Irvin Bandelier.

THE OLD TIME RELIGION PAID OFF FOR CHRISTIAN ENGINEER - IRON-MAN BANDELIER. He prayed for a steam engine, got a Baker 21 75. Then he began praying for nice weather each day at The Old-Time Threshers and Sawmillers on the Jim Whitby farm near Fort Wayne, Indiana. He got the nice weather, and his daughter, Elaine, the schoolma'rm, got converted to steam engines. Before his prayers were fully answered, he wound up with a school teaching son-in-law and a Port Huron, who married the daughter who ran his Baker, then came two future engineers all five of whom have steam in their blood. Left to right on the deck of grandpa's 21-75 Baker are: son-in-law Dean Saunders, Beverly Ann, Grandpa Irvin, grandson Frederick Irvin and Elaine, the comely schoolma'rm, hand on throttle. No wonder grandpa Irvin Bandelier wound up in the Iron-Men Hall of Fame.

Raised in a Christian home, the son of an old-time steam thresherman, Irvin Bandelier's life was epitomized that unique and admired parallel in an engineer love of God, and love of the steam engine. For him the power of a piston driven by steam is matched only, and no less, by the power and impact of the good life. The same God who laid down the laws of thermo-dynamics from the beginning, is likewise the giver of the golden grain that man has threshed each harvest by the power governed by those very laws. To Iron Man, Irvin Bandelier, being a Christian is just a better way of being an engineer. Thus it is that, when things go wrong, as things often do when a wrench a fellow needs can't be found, the water in the boiler foams, the firebox wood is too wet, a flu begins to leak, the injector lays down on the job, the clutch slips and/or the blamed thing gets stuck on dead-center how much more noble it is to calmly take stock of one's self and deliberate on the cause rather than inflect invectives against fellow man and the Creator.

Deep-running in the hearts of the farm folk that have made up the backbone of our great nation was the faith and conviction of right over wrong. And for Iron Man, Irvin Bandelier, a better engineer because of his faith, life has rewarded its dividends many-fold.

For first-generation Irvin, the lonely role of being merely a nostalgic steam buff, basking in the memories of yesteryear, can and often did portend a rather unrewarding lot in life. But not for long. For there was a daughter, who unlike most girls, seemed tomboyish enough to crawl up on the vibrating deck of Dad's 21-75 Baker Engine and reach for the throttle just to be like Pop. And one time daughter, who had also become a school teacher, became acquainted with another young school teacher who also liked steam well enough to buy his own Port Huron Engine. And of course there was no better place for a steam engine girl to meet a steam engine boy than at a threshermen's reunion. (Where else?)

Thus it was that, from the meeting of the twain, Dean Saunders and second-generation Elaine Bandelier, came third-generation steam hopefuls a grandson and grand-daughter to lend -company to grandpa, Iron Man Irvin, no longer alone on the deck of his Baker.

Says daughter Elaine, explaining the humble beginnings of an interest in steam reciprocation that has engulfed the entire Bandelier family, headed by Iron Man Irvin, 'Dad was raised with the steam engine. His father had a Gaar-Scott engine and a threshing rig. Along with the separator, they also had a clover huller and a corn shredder.'

At first he started in as just the water boy, the young Irvin, then only twelve or thirteen. As he grew older, he began spending more time around that fascinating machine known as the separator.

Meantime there was the engine nearby and the kid, keeping an eye on the workings thereof, soon\acquired the know-how of firing and running old Gaar-Scott sufficient to go along with Grandpa to help do the Saturday custom sawing for the neighbors thereabouts.

But when young Irvin became nineteen, just old enough to really handle a steam engine father Bandelier up and sold the old Gaar-Scott, switching to the early gas tractors as the source of power for his ring, made up mostly of relatives. Though the days of King Steam were over, the Bandelier relatives kept their family ring going by gas power 'til '43. Thus it was that steam lay dormant a forgotten relic of the past in the mind and life of one Irvin Bandelier. That is, 'til the year of 1949 when the late Ferman Bloom happened to be showing off his wonderful little steam roller rig at The National Threshers. And Irvin Bandelier just happened to be there, too. Ferman did a little 'preaching on steam' and like the New Testament parable, the 'preaching' fell on fertile ground. Irvin Bandelier, who happened to be listening, suddenly 'got religion' steam engine religion, that is.

Memories of the good old days of steam threshing the neighborliness and brotherhood of the ring, the threshing dinners, the bark of the tall stack, and the wail of the steam whistle suddenly obsessed one who'd thought steam was dead and buried forever.

Like that rousing old camp-meetin' hymn 'Gi' me that old-time religion it was good enough for Dad and Mom, and it's good enough for me,' so Irvin Bandelier's theme song became, 'Gi' me an old-time threshin' engine. It was good enough for Pop, and it's good enough for me.'

'Dad began looking around for a steam engine,' says Elaine Bandelier. 'In 1957 he bought the Baker he now has from James Conrad of Waterloo, Indiana. And I, being a sort of tomboy and interested in Dad's things, helped him get ready for the shows.'

'Before I knew it, I had steam in my blood,' muses Elaine, blushing but jubilant over her unique role wielding her schoolma'rm's hickory stick nine months of the year, and an engineer's coal scoop the remaining three. 'I learned to fire and run the engine because I enjoyed it. And I guess I enjoyed even more the startled looks on people's faces when they saw me running a steam engine.'

They say all marriages are planned in heaven. And certainly heaven must have done a little prompting here, although Iron Man Percy Sherman once confided to me that he did a little coaxing and urging of schoolma'rm Elaine Bandelier to get to know better a certain young and rather good-looking Dean Saunders who'd fetched a Port Huron to the Montpelier, Ohio, show. And, although Percy Sherman in oily engineer's coveralls doesn't look like heaven somehow he did the work of heaven in bringing the twain together.

Dean was pointed out to Elaine as 'that school teacher from Hillsdale, Michigan' and Elaine was pointed out to Dean as 'that school teacher from New Haven, Indiana,' with Percy Sherman, a wrench in one hand and coal scoop in the other, arranging the delicacies as agilely as any traditional Chinese court in planned marriages.

'After the evening show at Montpelier in 1961 I met Dean,' laughs Elaine of that portentious event. 'Before that N. T. A. reunion was over, we were pegged as 'Mr. Dean Port Huron' and 'Miss Elaine Baker'.

'You know the rest,' says the comely Elaine, beaming and blushing ear to ear. 'We were married in June of 1962. I still run Dad's Baker Engine, Dean still runs his (or our) Port Huron and now we have two future steam engineers Beverly Ann, born in 1966, and Frederick Irvin, born in 1968. Dean was raised on steam engines as much as I was and our kids have already got steam in their blood.'

Iron Man Irvin Bandelier your prayers have been answered most bounteously. Not only did you get that 'old-time steam engine religion', but a 21-75 Baker thrown in to boot. You also reaped a Port Huron and a son-in-law who married the daughter who ran the Baker and two little 'grand-kiddies' the grand total of a foursome to help you keep the steam up.

Who said prayers aren't answered for them that love the Lord and keep His ways? May you, Iron-Man Irvin Bandelier, ever remind your brother engineers in steam, and the rest of us who gather annually at the Old Time Threshers and Sawmillers near Fort Wayne of the virtues and values of living the good life.

To you, Irvin Bandelier, a niche in the Iron Man Hall of Fame and God's blessing for pointing a better way.