'Thrashing' Memories Appear In A Cloud of Steam

Harvey Hoffman

Harvey Hoffman and His Steam Engine in 1921, Harvey G. Hoffman of Elizabethtown bought this Frick steam engine and related implements and ''went thrashing.'' Now 88, Hoffman recalls with pride the days his arrival at area farms was ''the biggest show on

Dick Sarge

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The cry was 'Here comes Harvey' and the farm lads waved their straw hats at the sight of Harvey G. Hoffman chugging up the lane belching smoke with his 'thrashing' rig pulled by a huge Frick steam engine.

To the youngsters and oldsters alike in northwestern Lancaster County, the arrival of the Hoffman caravan meant just as much a thrill as the river people in the Midwest with their 'Here comes the Showboat.'

Threshing or 'thrashing' as the old-timers called it is the payoff in wheat raising and Hoffman, now 88, figures that 'close to a million' bushels of wheat were processed through his machine.

Hoffman got his start in the Milton Grove area, helping his father, Samuel Hoffman.

But, in 1919, he bought the property on Anchor Road between here and Rheems where he still lives today, moving in the following year.

In 1906, he married Katie Stump, who lived 'out Ridge Road a ways.' They had 10 children and enjoyed 60 years together before she died in 1966.

For Hoffman, Katie was love at first sight. He remembers well how he set his cap for her.

He smiles to recall: 'I saw her somewhere, I can't remember where. So, one night I just thought I'd go up there (to her house), even though she already had a fella. But, I beat him, because Kattie sacked him and took me.'

In 1921, Hoffman made a big plunge when he invested in a brand new Frick steam engine, made at Waynesboro, and 'went thrashing.'

And, he insists, he'd still be at it today if tractors and combines hadn't come along and forced him out of business. Serving 50 customers, he said, 'I thrashed many a barn empty.'

At the age of 88, he still feels competent to tend the engine, but doesn't think he'd be up to working inside the barn with the threshing machine itself.

Hoffman had the steam engine he first began using in 1921 and, he reports, it's still in working order, though he hasn't operated it since last Fall.

He admits he doesn't feel quite up to it anymore.

'I've done a lot of work in my time and I'm not ready to quit,' Hoffman said, 'but I guess I have to.'

Though he says he manages to keep his spirits up pretty well by keeping busy around the place, Hoffman lamented, 'When you get old, you get into trouble,' and 'I'm 'in wrong' every place.'

Last fall, on Election Day, he was on his way home from voting when he collided with a parked truck 'in Rheems, they park so dumb' and ruined his 1954 Buick with more than 100,000 miles on it.

'I miss my car,' he said, but admitted he agreed with his children that he shouldn't buy another one. 'I might hurt somebody, they said, and they are right,' Hoffman said.

When Tropical Storm Eloise poured buckets three weeks ago, Hoffman complained, his roof began to leak and now he's worried because, although the new shingles have arrived, the roofing contractor hasn't come back yet.

His coal supply for the house 'is almost all,' he reported, 'and I don't want to buy anymore buckwheat coal at $60 a ton, but cold weather is coming on and I don't know when the man is going to install the oil burner I ordered.'

A huge Keefer pear tree sits in his side yard, but nobody wants the pears, so he has to keep cleaning them up as they drop.

And he has a real 'thing' with the large maple trees out front which are just beginning to deposit their leaves which must be raked up.

Yet, Hoffman admitted, having Dears to pick up and leaves to rake lets him go to bed each evening knowing he has work to do when he gets up the next morning and that's important.

The tall, thick walnut tree at the back of the house is another problem of sorts, he tells you. The nuts themselves, he said, are 'deaf' all dried and shriveled up inside so even the squirrels don't want them.

A man came one day and offered to buy the tree for lumber, but Hoffman can't sell because the tree may be a 'line tree' partly on his property and partly on his neighbor's.

It may appear Hoffman is an old grouch and constant complainer. Not so. He merely matter-of-factly tells the visitor how it is.

He has no real complaints, even though his doctor told him on the last visit he has a cataract in one eye.

The impression you get is that Hoffman understands full well that 'that's life' and he still counts his many blessings.

Like the eight children of 10 who survive and the many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the daughters who visit at least twice a week to clean and fix the kinds of food that all he has to do is heat it.

And the memories. Like the family trip to Atlantic City when they all slept in their 1926 Buick touring car. No motel for them, he said, because 'that would have cost terrible and I wasn't so fat with money at the time.'

So, the Hoffman family philosophy was, as he expressed it: 'We just had to work it according to the pocketbook.'

Hoffman's longtime love affair with steam engines is his principal interest in life and his favorite reading material is The Iron Men Album magazine.

He's belonged to the Rough and Tumble Historical Association for many years and goes to the annual steam show at Kinzers every August.

Hoffman likes being his own boss and persistently declines suggestions he should move into a nearby nursing home or even visit and have an occasional meal with the elderly people there.

'If it gets to be too much, I'll have to do something,' he said, 'but I can't see myself sitting around listening to those old ladies chewing the fat.'

Though he's always been slightly built, Hoffman was a man of power and prestige in these parts when steam was king.

In command of a goliath machine with huge wheels six feet high and pulling his gigantic threshing machine, straw baling rig, wagon of soft coal and water wagon, Hoffman stirred up a lot of dust in his day with his caravan on country roads and threshing floors.

About all that's left of those times is the wad of chewing tobacco he still favors. He started to chew as a young lad to overcome the dust of 'thrashing.'

Of course, he'll never part with his steam engine.

And he's nourished by the pride of accomplishment still warming the heart of an 'iron man' from the 'rough-and-tumble' days.

Sure, the combines and gasoline-powered tractors have taken over, but, Hoffman said, 'they don't get the grain the way they did in the old days.