Iron Man Of The Month

OF DAYTON DAILY NEWS AND RADIO'S JOES JOURNAL

Harold Motes

The Harold Motes set out for their favorite steam engine show. Lillie Mae has her Bible and sermon - Harold, his latest steam engine poem. Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390

Joe Fahnestock

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UNION CITY, INDIANA.

'Good morning, friends and neighbors.

We want you all to know We are about to have our opening At the Darke County Steam Engine and Old Tractor Show.'

Name it, and Harold has written a poem about it - pleading his point in rhyme'n, meter or not. And it's all about those boyhood memories of the great age of steam threshing that lends that special flourish to his moving pen. Memories that come in flash-backs a hundred-fold as he wends his way amongst the iron horses that line the threshing reunion grounds wherever he 'tends.

'We have prayer by our chaplain.
There is an explosion in the sky;
Then there are whistles from all the steam engines;
Then our flag is raised up high.
Yes! We have our National Anthem.
And the whistles are so loud,
And the steam from the whistles Almost looks like a cloud.'

To our beloved bard, Harold Mote, the opening rituals of a steam engine reunion are as important as the very show itself. And the moving pen writes on in emphasis of the religious and patriotic fervor that once made America great and has been preserved, as have the mighty steam engines, to remind us of our heritage in the Promised Land. Though there be those, granted, who might think prayer is a big superficial and therefore dispensable at an engine shindig, not so our poet, Harold, whose wife, the Rev. Lillie Black Mote, invokes God's official blessing immediately following the gunpowder blast that sets the big Darke County Greenville, Ohio Show in motion. And, if Harold had not, by chance, met Lillie, he might never have been dragged to an engine show to find out how much fun he was missing. 'We were married in 1961,' says Lillie Mote. 'And I began dragging Harold to the Darke County Steam Threshers that year.'

From then on you couldn't keep Harold Mote away from a steam engine show with a Gatling gun - so much fun he had hanging around the big engines, smelling the hot cylinder oil and the wood and coal smoke, basking in the mem'ries of his boyhood back on Dad's Miami County farm in Western Ohio.

'Now the engines are all fired up.
I have watched the engineers clean out the flues.
We will soon be thrashing loads of wheat
Just exactly like we used to do.

Yes - after reading these poetic lines will anyone be so brash as to doubt that our bard still has steam in his blood? And that he does, even though when he grew up by helping his father in neighborhood threshing ring, beginning at the age of fifteen, he never got to fire or run the engine. His, like his father's, were the more lowly chores of driving the binder, shocking the wheat and pitching the bundles to the hungry - always hungry separator at the far end of the engine belt.

'I've been around steam engines all my life,' says Harold Mote.
'But I never got to run one.
'Some trucks are almost loaded With sheaves of ripened grain. And the way the clouds look, Gee! I hope it doesn't rain.'
'Now the wheat binder has been put away.
Shocking wheat is fun.
Now we all are thankful
That another day's work is done.'

Like the thresherman he used to be, Harold Mote the poet with his pen writes of those wonderful mem'ries and scenes of yesteryear -how a wide-eyed farm boy watched the engineers clean out the flues of the mighty, smoke-belching iron horse, the sights 'n sounds of the creaking farm wagons being loaded with the golden grain, the fear and apprehension all farmers had of whether the clouds would bring rain or fair weather and finally the joy and thankfulness when the threshing was finally done. Little wonder that Harold, like most threshermen, out of old-time habit, keeps one eye on the engines and the other eye on the sky when they 'tend an old-fashioned steam engine reunion.

'Now do you remember?

I think lots of you folks do.

When it comes to threshing time The crickets had chewed a lot of the strings in two.'

Yes - there were forces in Nature, other than the weather, that bugged the old-time threshermen. And our bard has duly taken notes, in rhyme and rhythm, of their unbecoming anecdotes. All of which makes me sound as if I'm becoming a poet, like Mote.

As the Bible so well says, 'Man cannot live by bread alone,' thus our Iron-Man bard captures the other sights 'n sounds that make up a steam engine show. The lining up of the engine to the sawmill, the whine of the sawmill blade, the smell of fresh-sawn lumber and the sawdust down one's back. Not to mention the 'shower of sawdust sparks' come the day's end when the night shadows lengthen into darkness.

'The sawmill is just sitting there Awaiting for some power.
An engine then is belted to it;
Now the saw is running and there is a sawdust shower.'

And then came the evolution of internal-combustion on the American farm, when steam was gradually replaced by the smaller old time tractors which furnished the power on the big belt for both threshing and sawmilling. And our poet has recorded it thusly in these immortal lines:

'The antique tractors all look so nice.

Some of them for years had just been sitting;

Now they all look like new And are purring like a kitten.'

The old-time gas engines came too, lending smaller horsepower to those arm-breaking chores of pumping water, running the family washing machine, generating light, buzzing wood and the like. And our bard has included them too among the specimens of his old-time steam engine-gas tractor zoo.

'We have lots of one-cylinder gas engines.

The are the operators' pride and joy.

Lots of people owned one 'When we were girls and boys.'

Later, the Rev. Lillie Black Mote expanded her services of steam engine chaplain to the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association at Portland, Indiana. President Woody Turner and others of that growing organization of internal-combustion enthusiasts had heard her evangelistic preaching of the Gospel at the Darke County Threshers, and thought it might do some good up Jay-County Way, which it did and does, each year. And, of course, Lillie dragged Harold along with the result that more poems began issuing forth from the flourishes of the poetic Mote quill. Poems about the old gas engines and tractors, the big flea markets, the making of steam engine apple butter, the sawmilling and the threshing of grain, just like it is done at the Darke County Steam Threshers.

One may wonder how this unusual pair got together in life which resulted in the marriage of the preacher and the poet. What more fortunate of life's vicissitudes could ever happen to two fine people than the fateful crossing of their diverse, yet harmonious paths - the one preaching the Gospel and the other rhyming it in metered verse. There is an old saying that, 'All marriages are made in Heaven'. And who can doubt that this one was? Though each was married to their own particular spouse and raised their families over the years, God bridged the loneliness that life often brings later by uniting the twain to enrich the golden years.

'God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform,' so the Good Book says. And He was working over the years for both Harold and Lillie Mae, even though at the time they didn't know it or need it. But it so happened that the Rev. Lillie Mae Black pastored several village and rural churches in the Darke-Miami County area of western Ohio. And one of these congregations was at the West Grove Church where Harold officiated as the Lord's custodian.

'I preached at the Annual Homecoming at West Grove,' explains the Rev. Lillie Mae. 'I had pastored there for two and a half years, but left for other work. But at this particular yearly service, I remembered seeing a Harold Mote serving as church janitor. My little daughter, whom I had taken along, wasn't yet a year old.'

After Mr. Black passed away in 1959, Harold and his two sisters came over to view. 'At the time his wife was in the hospital,' says the Rev. Lillie Mae.  'He came to offer his sympathy, and also wanted prayer for his own wife.'

'I didn't see any more of Harold until after his wife passed away - it was at a doings at Gettysburg, 'she explains.  It was an ice cream social. We had a few words and then went our ways.'

'After visiting with a daughter in Dayton, when I returned home my neighbors said that a strange car from out of town had been to my house,' recalls Lillie.

The a phone call came late one evening of October in 1960. It was Harold, and he asked if he could come up.

'I told him, 'Not tonight',' laughs Lillie. 'But you could come Friday. I thought he was coming only to 'talk'. And 'he did'.'

'I asked my two girls what they thought,' muses Lillie. 'And they said no one would be better than Harold to come calling.'

And a-calling he came, did Harold Mote. Whose calling soon changed the name of the Rev. Lillie Mae Black to that of the Rev. Lillie Mae Black Mote. And together the twain goes to the steam engine shows; the Rev. Lillie to preach the Good Word of God's Love and how God should come first and the engines second, though she understands that it doesn't always work out that way. While Harold pens poems of each day's proceedings, lest we forget the wonderful things that made America great.

And when these two don't have any steam engine or gas tractor shindigs to 'tend, what then do they do? Well, Harold drags Lillie out to his friend, Walt Lambert's Rambler Sales, to sit and bask on the big Baker Engine to gather more mem'ries to rhyme about. So now you know why Harold has driven a Rambler for years, and Lillie too, and why they both go 'Rambling 'Round Together' here of late in the same Rambler.

'Harold always liked my Rambler, before we were married. How the seats could unfold into beds,' laughs the Rev. Lillie Mae. 'Then he bought a Rambler and now we both go places in the same Rambler.' (If you can figure that one out. I can't, but am still trying.)

We call each other Mommy and Poppy,' chuckles Lillie of Harold and vice versa.

And now Harold, if you can lay your pen aside and stay away from Walt Lambert's Baker Engine long enough, and fishin' for carp in the Great Miami River, we invite you to fetch Lillie Mae along to our Hall of Iron-Man Fame, where we have a seat for both - one to preach the Good Book to our faltering souls, the other to pen the proceedings in rhymed verse. And we know we'll all wind up better than worse. For Harold, and Lillie you're making both a preacher 'n poet out of me, you see.