Tribute To A Friendship

15 horse Case

Gary Yaeger poses with his 15 horse Case.

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717 Cloverdale Waterloo, Iowa 50703

I was lying in bed the other night looking over some old Albums and thinking to myself I should contribute more to the magazine. As I was studying some old Advance pictures I was interrupted by the phone. On the other end was Gary Yaeger, calling from Whitefish, Montana. We talked for 45 minutes regarding steam engines, our families and a possible trip out west. Before we hung up Gary said something that really got me thinking. He said, 'Tell your dad I love him and hope to see him soon.' Now, I didn't really think much about it at first but, as the night went on, I began to think about it quite a bit and decided that this was a pretty cool thing for one man to say towards another and really speak of their friendship.

So after putting off any contributions to the magazine for so long, I was inspired to write about a lifelong friendship that developed by chance at a steam show.

If I have my facts correct the year was 1959. The Antique Acres Old Time Power Show was being held at the Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo, Iowa. My grandpa Shelby Bellinger, and my dad Dean Bellinger were showing their 20 horse Minneapolis at the show. It was at this show that my dad, 16 at the time, became acquainted with another 16 year old, Gary Yaeger. Gary had traveled to Iowa from Montana with a friend after reading about the show in the Iron Men Album. They became fast friends as they were both young and ambitious and had a natural love towards steam.

The two of them spent the rest of the show getting to know one another and running steam engines all over the grounds. In addition to the Minneapolis they spent a lot of time on Justin Hintgen's nine horse Case.

I have also heard my dad and Gary talk about a fondness for Cliff Vaverka's 16 horse Reeves, but I do not know if they ran it or not.

Well, the show ended and Gary had made such an impression on my grandpa that he didn't want him to leave! In fact my grandpa made an invitation to adopt Gary. Having a family of his own made Gary turn down the offer I guess. But addresses were exchanged and promises to keep in touch. They did keep in touch for a while but with jobs and families of their own they quit writing and lost touch.

My dad often spoke of this show and the friend he made from Montana and wondered what he was doing and if he was still into steam. As it had been several years since he had heard from him, I always wondered if I would ever meet this man that my dad and grandpa spoke so fondly of.

Then one day in the fall of 1990 my dad got a call. On the phone was a man who said his name was Gary Yaeger and wanted to know if he remembered him. Dad said, 'I sure do!' Well Gary was on his way home to Montana after picking up his son Mike at a military base in the Southwest. He was going to be passing through and would like to know if he could stop for a visit. Dad readily agreed and was very excited to see his friend for the first time in 30 years.

This was a night I will always remember. I had my wisdom teeth removed that afternoon so I couldn't contribute much to the conversation but I really enjoyed listening to the two of them. They still had their boyhood love for steam. Only now they can share it with their kids and grandkids. This seems to add to their excitement.

Well, Gary had to leave again but the two of them vowed to keep in touch. They did and Gary even came back for our show in 1992. He stayed with us in our camper and entertained us at night with his 'squeeze box' and songs. I know the highlight of his trip was running the Smoliks' 40 HP Reeves.

We all still keep in touch through pictures, letters and calls. I am happy to say I have gotten a new friend as well through my dad. Hopefully we can visit Montana soon and it won't be another 30 years between visits.