In a 1951 letter to Iron Men Album magazine, Mr. E.C. Foreman of Tacoma, Ohio, recounted some stories of his many years as a salesman for Gaar-Scott Co. of Richmond, Indiana, builders of steam traction engines and threshing machines.
Mr. Foreman wrote [in part]: “My mind still reverts to the grand old days when running machinery powered by the old steamers and the selling [that] machinery for many years. Many of the instances come to my memory as though yesterday. Many of these sales were just luck, sudden and remarkable. A few I will relate.
“Some years ago when I traveled by rail I boarded a train and a gentleman shared his seat. Some way I took him to be a thresherman and soon found out he was, and from West Virginia, and on his way to Columbus, Ohio, to look for a thresher. On arrival at Columbus I asked him to look over our line which he did and bought a rig.
“Another time on a train I had a catalog and a young fellow spied it and asked for it to send to his father who was a thresherman. This resulted later in the sale of two machines, one to his father and one to an uncle. Both machines were shipped on the same car.
“Once a postal card came to the office wanting a catalog at once. The office considered this a 'hot prospect' and sent me at once. It was 50 miles away and when I reached the town depot I inquired of the station agent the way to the man’s farm. He said, '1 mile out, but if you are a machine agent I can save you a trip because it was just a 10-year-old boy writing for catalogs and three other agents had already gone out.’ To make sure I asked a man loading lumber nearby who gave me the same information, but he stated that his boss was in the market for a new engine.
“When I reached the mill I saw immediately that all the old engine needed was new rings and the valve set. The owner insisted the engine was no good and never had been and he would buy a new 16hp and said he would throw the old engine in if we paid the freight and delivered the new one to the mill.
“Upon delivery of the new one, we pulled the old one out to a nearby barn, put in new rings and set the valve and the engine run like new. We expected to load it at another station some 8 miles away. While moving the engine on the road a man saw us and asked us if we would help him out grinding feed as his engine was entirely gone. I consented to help him out and he was so taken with the engine that he bought it for cash and later he bought a new thresher.
An 1884 Gaar-Scott 10hp engine that was owned by William G. Roberts of Somerset, Virginia, when I snapped this photo at the National Threshers Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio, in 2009.
“Another time I was driving an open car when a storm came up and a farmer yelled at me to drive into his wagon shed. I had some catalogs on the seat and he said, ‘Let me have a catalog, we’re going to buy a thresher and have sent for catalogs from a couple of firms.’ His son then said, ‘Father, that is the same make of machine that did our threshing last season and it did a fine job, no cut straw, chaff or dirt and green straw stack as a year previous.’ The farmer said, ‘Come to the house and get your dinner and we’ll consult the wife.’ The wife said, ‘We’ve thought of an auto but it wouldn’t help buy a thresher, but a thresher might help buy an auto later.’ That order was quick work.
“Years ago I was held up in a town by a late train. The station agent found I was peddling threshing machinery and said, "Mike, a fellow up the road, was here sending a telegram for repairs for a very old make of engine and a reply came just a few minutes ago, ‘no repairs available.’ I walked up to see Mike and some two weeks later a rebuilt traction engine found a new home for cash on delivery at railroad station.
“Once I heard of a sawmill operator through a school boy whom I gave a ride to his school. I walked down to his mill through the mud and he said, ‘Apparently mud doesn't bother you.’ I said, ‘No, it doesn’t and I hear you’re interested in a thresher.’ He said he was and that a very dignified machine agent drove out a few days ago in a shiny livery rig and wanted him to come out to the road as he did not want to wade through the mud down to his mill. He told the fellow to wait an hour and he would see him at the mill men's shack. The agent waited there but was so afraid of getting his clothes soiled from the mud and greasy clothes of the mill men that the mill owner told him he wasn’t interested in his line.
The mill owner said, ‘I see you don’t carry your vest and coat pockets full of pearl pens and pencils as the fellow who saw me the other day.’ I replied, ‘One pencil is enough if you’re ready to buy.’ He told me to leave him a catalog and see him Saturday evening at home which I did and the result was a new thresher sold.
Author’s note: In 1946 a Methodist minister and steam engine enthusiast named Elmer Ritzman from central Pennsylvania began publishing a quarterly magazine called the Farm Album. The Farm Album became the bimonthly Iron Men Album in 1950, a name that reflected Rev. Ritzman’s desire tell of old-time farm machinery, culture, and the “Iron Men” who ran that machinery and worked those farms.