Fitting the Pieces Together

Iowa man re-creates unique show display featuring wood puzzles from his childhood.


| August 2017



on the job

The crew – Keith, Galen and Vernon – on the job, while Keith’s youngest daughter, Lauren, takes a break.

Photo courtesy James L. Perron

Coming up on Labor Day weekend in 1976, I was riding my bike down the rows of gas engines at the Midwest Old Settlers & Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

It was Tuesday afternoon, and I was just out of school for the day when my brother caught my attention. I rode up to see what was going on, and met Ray Rylander from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was making wooden puzzle pieces. He handed me 12 pieces and said, “Well, kid, if you can put them together, you can start work tomorrow.” I somehow got all but one piece together. Ray accepted that as “mission accomplished,” and a long friendship – and a passion for puzzles – was born.

As a kid, I had worked around the Old Threshers grounds since 1972. I got my first “Early Bird” button in 1973, when I was 8 years old. The old-timers around the grounds knew who I was and seemed to accept me. I would work there during Christmas break and most of the summer. I learned a lot during those volunteer experiences.

Ray and I hit it off well. I spent the last few weeks of each summer enjoying mountain climbing and prepping for the show. Then we’d load the truck and trailer and drive back home to Mt. Pleasant, where I helped him set up for the reunion. He had a 4 hp C4 Cushman engine that he used to run the saw table. We cut 12-piece symmetrical puzzles made up of identical pieces.

As the operation grew, at each reunion other engines were added to run multiple saws, but the Cushman always pulled the slotting saw (Dado head). In about 1984, Ray and I parted ways. It was time for younger kids to get involved and my interests had shifted to college and work. But the puzzle operation and memories of those early experiences always stayed in my mind.

Putting the pieces together

In 1993, after my son was born, I picked up a few small table saws and packed them away with the hope of creating a display like Ray’s, maybe as a father-son event. In 2005, I purchased a complete Cushman C4 at an auction. The trip home was quite emotional; this plan that had been in the back of my mind for such a long time might actually come to be. I had the saws and now I had an engine – not just any engine, but a Cushman, just like the one Ray had started with.