A Tough Collector and Trouble Shooter

Higgins, Texas

WHILE I NEVER Operated a saw mill outfit, I enjoyed ‘Saw
Mill Characters’ by Mr. Etchison in the Nov.-Dec. ALBUM. In
1892 my folks moved from Henderson County, Illinois to 40 miles
west of Keokuk. At times, my brother and I helped father cut logs
to be sawed at various mills nearby, operated mostly by 12 horse
power traction engines, pulling a 54 inch saw When the saw entered
a big log the engine almost left the ground in its run through the
log. Most operators sawed good lumber. However, I remember also a
sawyer or two who couldn’t or didn’t saw 2 boards same
gauge, and his 2×4’s were under or oversize, and his slab pile
was most as big as his lumber pile. So much for those who sawed
lumber in the ‘Good Old Days.’

Now for a few Thresher Characters I knew before and during my
threshing career. Most threshermen were honorable in their dealings
with their customers and builders of threshing machinery they did
business with. However, it was the exception a small minority that
made the headlines, of which I’ll mention just one of several I
knew. Unfortunately a few salesmen, eager to make sales, sold, in a
few cases, to men who had no business morally or otherwise with
this type of machinery. About, or shortly after the turn of the
century, Shockey and Landis, Abilene, Kansas, agents for Frick
Company, sold a complete outfit to a party or parties in Garfield
County, Oklahoma in the neighborhood of Enid. I am unable to recall
terms of sale, etc., but these fellows proved rough characters.
I’ll describe them as outlaws. When Shockey and Landis tried to
collect on the notes, they would run the collectors off until they
met their match. About midway, I believe, 3rd threshing season,
when Western Distributor for Frick at Council Bluffs, Iowa, sent
their Mr. Kirby, a tough collector and trouble shooter to Enid with
instructions to collect or get the rig. Kirby took just time enough
to change his clothes and toss a Colt 45 in his grip and he was in
Enid as fast as the train could get him there. He hired a rig and
drove out to meet the would-be owners of the Frick outfit in
operation. They were threshing as was custom of those times,
independent crew, cook-car, etc. Kirby didn’t collect, so he
drove back to Enid, saw the best lawyer in town, who sympathized,
but couldn’t due to case history, help much. Kirby told him,
‘I’ll steal the rig.’ That afternoon, he hired a man
with team to take sufficient coal to a farm not far from where rig
was threshing and parked behind a barn out of sight. After dark,
Kirby went over to the rig which was a safe distance from the cook
car, and coupled up the separator to the engine and shortly was on
the road. An hour or two later, our hero, on the engine, heard a
wagon with several men approaching. Two of the men jumped out, and
as they ran toward the engine, Kirby leveled his 45 on the edge of
the coal bunker, and told them in words they could understand, if
they tried to take over, or put a hand on the machine, he would
‘drill’ them both. That did it. They were now in the city
limits of Enid, and the gangsters drove into town, got the same
lawyer Kirby had talked to, out of bed. He told them if they wanted
to live, it was best to leave Kirby alone The next day the outfit
was loaded destination Council Bluffs. Kirby was an operator of a
machine shop in Wichita, Kansas. In those years, 1902 to 1935, I
operated a threshing rig and farmed near Caldwell, Kansas. The last
time I saw Mr. Kirby was in the 1926 threshing season. He was 8
years of age, but still enthusiastic about Frick engine, one of
which I owned. He had driven from Wichita to spend the day with
us.

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