The Man Behind the Books: C.H. Wendel's Passion for Antique Machinery

10 things you probably don't know about C.H. Wendel and his dedication to antique machinery.


| August 2008



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Wendel the author, autographing American Gasoline Engines, widely considered the definitive resource for collectors of stationary gasoline engines. “I always enjoyed writing,” he says. “But I never made any attempt to be a good writer. I just wanted to be accurate and have a good grasp of grammar.”

Looking for the ultimate authority on antique farm equipment? C.H. "Chuck" Wendel is your man. Fascinated by machinery since the days he wore short pants, Chuck is an acclaimed author and historian on the subject. He's written nearly three dozen books covering various types of antique machinery, authored a column in Gas Engine Magazine for 18 years, and led tour groups to Europe, Australia and New Zealand in search of antique machinery. But who is the man behind the books? Read on: Ten things that may surprise you about C.H. Wendel.

A born natural: Chuck grew up on a farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His dad farmed with horses and his great-uncles had steam engines. "They threshed and ran sawmills and drilled wells," he says. "There was a certain mechanical bent in the family." As a boy, Chuck specialized in self-taught deconstruction. "I have always been an inveterate tinkerer," he says. "I took a lot of things apart. I was always trying to find out how things work. If I ever got in over my head, it just made me work harder to figure out what I'd done wrong."

Learning the old ways: For Chuck, farming was a means to an end. "I always enjoyed farming," he says, "but I was more fascinated with the machinery." He delved in at a young age. "I'd ask the old timers questions," he says, "and tried to learn all I could about the history of the equipment and why they did things the way they did. As early as my grade school days, I was picking those guys' brains, especially to hear their memories of threshing days."

Some people discover a hobby, immerse themselves in it, tire of it and then move on. For Chuck, antique machinery has been a lifelong interest. "This is a passion for me," he says. "I've never burned out on it. Steam engines, gas engines, tractors, anything - and not just farm equipment. I could easily have gotten into old cars but I successfully resisted that temptation. I've always had a great fascination with mechanical things."

"I've always been interested in printing. The printer's craft involves complicated machinery and precision work. It keeps the brain active. And the printed page is not nearly as hard to move around as a 10 hp engine."

Green at the beginning: Chuck's engine collection began with a John Deere 6 hp stationary engine on factory trucks. "That was my first engine," he recalls. "I bought it in 1959 for $5. I brought it home, unloaded it off the trailer, cleaned it up a little and it ran."