Threshing The Wheat From The Chaff

Russell engine

My 12-36 Russell engine, Serial No. 10803. We are threshing oats on our farm August 20,1969, with a 28 x 46 Minneapolis special separator. Engine and separator completely restored and in good working order.

Mrs. Paul Giles

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A reader from Orlando, Florida, writes, 'Your religious remarks would be very fitting in any National Council of Churches magazine (they appreciate you belittling God), but away out of line in the Iron-Men Album; this is a steam magazine and let us keep it that way.'

The reader goes on to infer that my boyish prank of 'sneaking out of church after Sunday School' was the reason 'you were valueless as a president of Christian Endeavor and valueless as a teacher.'

The letter concludes, 'I can assure you God is in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Florida. I believe God will take care of Elmer Ritzman. In the last paragraph you infer he may not. (The writer should have capitalized 'He'.) The one person you should be very worried about is Joe Fahnestock, and you can only get in touch with God on your knees.'

'P.S. Save your stamp, no reply necessary.'

First of all, I'm glad to know that God is taking care of Elmer Ritzman as I believe He has been all the time. I am also encouraged to know that God is not only in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, but also Florida as I believe He has been all along, including the entire world and the universe. Our first space men to encircle the Moon were inspired of God's presence to read from the Book of Genesis as they surveyed the grand spectacle of our Earth shining in the distant, dark abyss just across the Lunar sphere. And the first thing our returning space men of the ill-fated Apollo Thirteen engaged in was prayer to God in thanksgiving for a safe return from a very hazardous, almost fatal sojourn, bolstered as they were in their darkest hours by the prayers of the faithful here on earth.

As to worrying about Joe Fahnestock let me say that he is the very guy I've been worrying about most ever since I was born, although the Good Book says, 'Take no thought for yourselves. .' 'Pray for your enemies, do good unto them that despitefully use you.'

May I add sneaking out of church when I was a lad might have been smiled upon by a merciful God as a rather boyish prank. Or it could have been that God, who knows all things, might have forgiven me, especially if the preacher wasn't up to His standards. But during my lifetime I've listened attentively to enough sermons that, if all their scripts were laid end to end, they'd reach from here to the Moon and back again. And I've hardly felt that my leading Christian Endeavor and teaching Sunday School were to be classified as failures. For I've never considered that reading out of the Bible and teaching the lessons of scripture were ever wasted, even if the kids were too lazy to get up early enough on Sunday morning to attend the Bible classes.

Standing on engine is yours truly and on separator is my brother, John, who is my separator man. The man pitching bundles is an old friend of ours. Otto Heit-kamp, who said he enjoyed pitching bundles once again - bringing back old memories.

Picture taken by Mr. Fred Heiland, 128 So. Market St., Belle Plaine, Minnesota. Courtesy of Arthur Krueger, R. R. 2, Box 58, Belle Plaine, Minnesota 56011.

Let me state that, although I was an elder in my particular church, the main reason I finally severed connections with it was because the church leaders worried more over what color the walls were to be painted, or buying a new carpet for the sanctuary than they did about the spiritual welfare of the communicant or the importance of the Bible lesson for the next week's service. And I look askance at many trends in the World Council of Churches for the very same reason. Whenever any church puts building decor above Bible, and emphasizes the painting of psychedelic blobs on the church school walls over and above the importance of the Sunday School lesson, as a cheap inducement to lure the youth within its doors, then it ceases to be a church. And I didn't feel I was forsaking God's House, but rather registering my disapproval when I ceased attending.

Heretofore I have felt that in every Iron Men or steam thresherman, there is a rather generously endowed sense of God-given humor. Indeed, humor has been man's safety valve over the centuries of struggle, a sort of salvation that has lightened the burden of human labor and involvement with sterner things of life. Whenever a nation or people lose their sense of humor, they lose much that makes life livable. The trend of things in our modern world have almost made us grim to the point of thinking we must live without laughing. The steam threshing reunions have become one of civilization's last frontiers of humor and laughter. Men have found out that, by going to a steam engine reunion, they can once again bask in the good, old-time humor of yesteryear, the reminiscing of boyhood and youth without some stern-visaged government official striding over the grounds to see if it meets with licensed approval. And I have attended enough midwest steam threshermen's reunions to know that steam engineers, bundle-pitchers, saw millers and even preachers come just so they can blow their stacks a little and laugh and just plain 'have fun'. When Elmer Ritzman said to me, last summer at Wauseon, 'If I hadn't come and got a good whiff of engine smoke, I believe I'd have died,' I didn't take him seriously or literally, but I laughed heartily at his rare, Pennsylvania-Dutch humor just as he was laughing in telling it. When the old-time threshermen's float was being towed behind Percy Sherman's Russell Engine at Wauseon several years ago, with Elmer Ritzman sitting at the head of the table just behind the engineer, and Percy left the throttle and began reaching around the Preacher-Ritzman neck to grab his coffee and eat his cake, leaving poor preacher an empty plate everyone on that float and up in the grandstand laughed, as did Rev. Ritzman, at the sheer fun of it all. That is what makes a threshermen's reunion.

We could go on and on and on, relating the anecdotes, the hilarious transpiring, the spontaneous cut-ups of the free-lance clowns that go to contribute to the steam threshermen's reunions, world without end and still there'd be not enough pages to record it all. There were those perennial clowns, Clint and Ferm Blume pulling off the daily, yea hourly antics of chasing rubber rats in straw piles, shooting squirrels out of trees with seven-foot shot-guns, the slicing of watermelons on the reunion sawmill by Mac Keller, or the stopping up of an engine smoke-box with wet straw to make some unwary engineer wonder what's making of smokey smoke so. That's what makes a threshermen's reunion and Harry Wood man see sleeping soundly in the old straw pile makes it even more so.

May we never grow so grim with our world's problems and work-a-day lives that we fail to laugh in the summer's sun, even if preachers get so long-sermoned that sonny boy sneaks out of church under the watchful eye of a forgiving God who loves him just the same. May we never forget we are Americans, dedicated to preserving the things that made America great the steam engines that built our nation, the dedicated men who maintain and run them, the stars and stripes, the government of our land, the schools and churches and, oh yes, when we sit down to the threshermen's dinner, fit for a king, let's give thanks to the God above whose blessings have made it so.