3982 Ballard Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45209
Could Teddy Roosevelt have met Doris Lindenmier, his famous saying might have been, 'Speak softly but run a big engine!' For over forty years, Doris has done exactly that. She has exhibited Reeves engines and a Port Huron at threshing reunions in Illinois and Iowa.
Recently, I sent Doris a letter stating, 'Dad and Mom started attending the shows at Pontiac shortly after they were begun, and, as a nurse for the reunions and an expert engineer, you were a Pontiac celebrity I thought of interviewing you and composing a story for the Album.' Soon after, Doris left this message on my answering machine: 'I received your complimentary letter, and I would be glad to invite you over.' 'Over' meant an eight-hour drive from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Cherry, Illinois (population 550)a journey from a hilly river valley to the flat prairies. From my car window, I witnessed miles and miles of some of this nation's richest farmland, and, in my mind's eye, I watched the ghosts of plowing engines crossing and re-crossing the plains.
With well-spoken grace, Doris welcomed me into her home decorated with drawings and photographs of engines. She asked, 'Were you at Pontiac on Sunday this year?' 'Yes,' I replied, wondering what was coming. 'Did you see the Reeves go out and rescue the Case during the plowing demonstration?' As the owner of a 65-horsepower engine from Racine, Wisconsin, I had to swallow my pride long enough to acknowledge that her 20-horse-power Canadian Reeves, run by grandson Nick Lord, indeed had replaced a Case which had become immobilized. Doris laughed, 'We've always had a little rivalry with Case. It's all part of the fun all in good fun! Really, the Case couldn't be blamed. It was missing a few of its cleats, and the driver wheels couldn't develop enough traction.'
Glad she admitted the handicap which hindered the Case, I accepted the offer of a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Ornamental dinner plates commemorating the 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1977 Stephenson County shows lined the wall above the cabinets, and a silhouette of a threshing scene painted on a varnished board completed the decor. In chatting while the coffee cooled, I learned why Doris speaks with such pleasing precision. Growing up in nearby Tonica, Doris attended 'country one-room schools where you had ten or twelve students' and a high school where 'there were seventy-five students in the top four grades.' With such small classes, each student benefited from personal attention. Doris exclaimed, 'I had good teachers! You need a strong basis to get along in this world. My teachers gave me that!'
Doris graduated from nursing school at St. Mary's in La Salle. She served as a nurse at the Illinois Valley Community Hospital, became House Supervisor, then returned to staff nursing on the medical floor. She also earned a place in American steam-engine history by being both an engineer and a nurse at the Central States Threshermen's Reunion, one of the oldest steam rallies. Doris explained, 'Fred Hassler, who became a leader at Pontiac, was a neighbor of my parents. He knew me. The Pontiac show hired me as a nurse.' What Doris modestly left unsaid was that the Central States Reunion could not have found a better nurse.
Once, her conscientious work saved the Reunion from a potentially-damaging allegation. 'A spectator claimed he got burned from the steam off an injector,' Doris recounted. 'He was going to sue. I consulted my records, and neither he nor anyone else ever reported his injury to me. He never came to me! That fact proved that he could not have been burned at the show. He then backed down.'
Most fans of Doris will remember her wearing a white blouse, blue jeans with rolled cuffs, and a polka-dot engineer's cap. A few of her supporters, however, may recall that, on one occasion, her costume differed. 'I had to work late at the hospital,' Doris narrated. 'When I finally got free, I drove straight to the show. I was still in uniform. I arrived just in time for the parade. There was no time to change clothes. I hopped up on the platform and drove the engine in full nurse's white!' Doris chuckled. 'I got most of the black spots out later.'
On the day I interviewed her, Doris wore a pale-green sweatshirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes. I mentioned how I always think of her in her engineer's cap and white shirt, and she said, 'My last white blouse just went to a woman who makes rugs.'
Opening the patio door to let in her long-haired orange-and-white cat, then putting together our lunch of rolls, turkey, and olives, Doris told how she met her husband, who sparked her interest in engines. 'While I was in nursing school, I knew this fellow who had a motorcycle, and he and I rode out to see a man named Lester who had a plane. We asked if Lester would take us up for a ride. We went up one at a time because it was a two-seater airplane. After that, Lester and I started going together. His sister was also in nursing training, and we had mutual friends. We decided to get married.
'In 1951, we visited the Pontiac show. That was the first engine show we ever attended. Lester said, 'I'm going to have an engine here next year.' I said, Sure you are! But, in July of 1952, he bought a Reeves engine. I think he bought it on July 3rdand he had it hauled straight to Pontiac.'
Lester came by his liking for Reeves engines naturally enough. His father had owned a Reeves. In boy hood, 'Lester was always getting in trouble,' according to Doris. 'One time, his father's Reeves had just been parked in a special shed built for it, and the engine hadn't been taken out of gear. Lester and his brother got up on the platform when nobody was looking. They opened the throttle, and the boiler still had enough steam to drive the engine through the shed door, which was closed.' The engine Lester purchased in 1952 was a 20-horsepower Reeves located in Zionsville, Indiana. It had a U.S. boiler of lap-seam construction. The engine matched the one Lester and his brother had used as a battering ram.
Lester recognized that, if showing one Reeves was fun, exhibiting two Reeves engines would be even more fun. Doris reminisced, 'Lester drove to Columbia, which is down by St. Louis, to look at a Reeves. It was a sixteen-horsepower with a U.S. boiler. When he came home, he told me, 'That's a pretty good engine.' I couldn't tell if he intended to buy it. Suddenly, I had an inspiration. I made Lester a proposition. 'If I pay the hauling,' I asked, 'can I claim that engine as mine?' Then he told me he'd already put a hundred-dollar deposit on it. That was in 1953. Needless to say, that was the smartest thing I ever did.'
Doris leaned forward in her chair and said with conviction, 'I decided I wouldn't stay home and let him have all the fun. I just wouldn't be a steam-engine widow. I had to get mixed up in this hobby, too. I felt strongly that we should share each other's fun. For instance, we would go up to Minnesota together to go fishing. No matter how you slice it, it's six hundred miles one way! Now, I wouldn't go hunting with Lester. I drew the line there. But I wanted to share everything else with him. I had to become an engineer! My kids inherited that from me that is, they know how important it is to appreciate their mates' interests.' Doris's daughter in Cherry, son in nearby Arlington, daughter in Phoenix, Arizona, and daughter in Los Angeles, California, are married. Doris has seven grandchildren.
Lester farmed northeast of Cherry, and Doris played organ 'at a little country church,' as she put it nostalgically. An accomplished organist, Doris recently took a music-appreciation course at a community college and enjoyed the experience, although the subject proved challenging. 'I think I gave the teacher fits,' Doris remarked, 'because I kept reading things into the test questions which she didn't intend.'
Lester also taught grade school. 'He loved teaching,' Doris commented, 'every bit as much as he loved engines.' Every summer for several years, Lester and Doris showed their pair of Reeves engines. My father has told me that Doris carried on a conversation with me at Pontiac, but, as I was two years old and seated in a favorite little red wagon pulled by my dad, I do not recall the details of our discussion. When I was four or five years old, however, Dad and my brother were standing on the flywheel side of Doris's Reeves, Mom had gone to the flea market, and I had wandered behind the engine. Doris turned around on the platform, saw me dawdling there, and engaged me in conversation. I was delighted that such a great person would take notice of me.
I showed Doris a family photograph of Dad, my brother, and me standing beside an engine at Pontiac, and she said that pictures like it brought back memories of summers of cylinder oil and coal smoke.
Eventually, the Lindenmiers sold their first two Reeves engines and bought a 20-horsepower Canadian Reeves and a 16-horsepower Port Huron. Doris escorted me to her living room to point out artist George L. McCollum's detailed pencil sketches of both engines. She told me that Lester Wolber of Connersville, Indiana, had purchased the Reeves new. He sold it to Augie Otto from Sandwich, Illinois. The Lindenmiers acquired it from Otto. The Port Huron came to their attention abruptly. 'We heard from our boiler inspector that it was for sale. The owner boiled sweet corn with it up at Mendota. He thought he'd had a stroke and decided to sell. The boiler inspector told Lester, 'Get up there and get it!' Lester obeyed. He went up to Mendota and put a deposit on it right away.' The Port Huron had once belonged to a threshing run, and then it had gone to a junkyard. A friend of the original owner bought it, and he sold it to the man from whom the Lindenmiers purchased the engine. 'I met the daughter of the first owner at a show a couple of years ago,' Doris stated. 'Also, I found out that one of the former owners of the Port Huron is married to one of my grade-school classmates. My father bought the farm where she had lived when she was in grade school with me. That's another one of those small miracles!' While we returned to the kitchen, I mentioned that I had seen a photograph of Doris's Port Huron in the May/June, 1974 Album on page 35. The picture was snapped at Free-port.
For years, Lester and Doris showed the Reeves and Port Huron engines at the Stephenson County Reunion in Freeport, at Justin Hingtgen's show in Iowa, and at George Hedtke's Hickory-Oaks Farm, among others. At one low point in Doris's life, she could not run her Port Huron at Hedtke's show. She had undergone surgery only three weeks before. 'On the last day of the event,' Doris recalled, 'I got up on the engine anyway. Lester gave me a little lecture, but I was already up on it. What could he do?'
In those years, Lester and Doris camped in a converted schoolbus. 'On one occasion,' Doris said, 'we had driven over to DeWitt, Iowa. That morning, Lester was running a Jumbo. A fellow asked if he could ride along, and Lester agreed. It was quite hilly, and all at once the pin fell out of the reverse lever. On that engine, the reverse lever also served as the throttle. It was all one lever. Suddenly, Lester had no control over the engine. Somehow or other, he got the engine stopped. The passenger was scared. He asked, 'What happened?' Lester handed him the lever and said, 'You might as well take this lever. It's no good to me.' The fellow jumped off right then. Luckily, an other guy spotted the pin on the ground, and they were able to fix the engine.'
While pouring more coffee in my cup, Doris said, 'For a long time, we would take the Port Huron up to Mendota to boil the sweet corn at the festival there. One time, we couldn't get the injector to work. The other injector wouldn't work, either. It ended up taking three people to make the first one work: one to fetch cold water, another to cool the injector by pouring the water on it, and the third to turn the valves to get it to pick up. That was a tense day!'
'I'm respectful of engines,' Doris commented in a serious tone of voice. 'I heard of a nineteen-horse-power Port Huron which blew out a drain plug. The force shot it in the ground so deep that they never did find it.'
She folded her arms and peered intently at me. 'When Lester and I went to the shows, we always stayed on the grounds. That's how you learn to run an engine. You sit around in the evening and at night and listen to the people talk. You keep your mouth shut, and you listen. Some of those old guys could tell you exactly how to run engines such as how to be sure you have enough water in the boiler, what to do when your water is low, when to pull the fire, how to pull the fire, and so on. At first, I had quite a bit to learn. I remember running a sixty-five Case at Janesville, Wisconsin. I was going up the side of the bowl-shaped grounds there, and I ran out of steam. I had to stop halfway up. I pulled the engine around on one side and then had to wait to build up the steam. That was quite early in my experience.' Again, Doris, modestly refrained from saying that she quickly became one of the finest engineers at any steam rally.
I wonder how many hundreds of spectators at shows over the past forty-three years have focused their cameras on the distinguished woman at the helm of a Reeves or a Port Huron engine! On page 8 of the 1957 January/February issue, on page 2 of the 1958 November/December issue, on page 16 of the 1959 September/October issue, and on page 15 of the 1984 March/April issue, the Album featured photographs and/or articles about Doris and her engines. The printed programs from various shows have high lighted her extraordinary commitment to the preservation of history. Clearly, Doris inspired people. She explained, 'I like meeting the public. I think I can credit Lester with that. I was actually a shy person before I met Lester. He had the ability to speak with people fearlessly. I listened to him talk to people. Gradually, I learned how to speak with the public. Over the years, I met a lot of nice people.'
At today's reunions, Doris is 'beyond the stage of sleeping in a tent or camper,' and stays in a motel instead. 'I can't climb up on the wheel to put the belt on the Keeves anymore,' Doris said; therefore, Nick Lord runs that engine, which once pulled 114 horsepower on the Prony brake at Pontiac. 'I like to hear the big one work on a Prony brake,' Doris said. 'An engine's no fun if you don't run it!' She continues to stand proudly at the throttle of the Port Huron, 'a sweet engine,' as Doris put it. With each passing year, she respects her engine's increasing age, and, though she no longer will work them as hard as she once did, she enjoys running them as public exhibits of our agricultural heritage.
'I want to keep the history alive,' Doris underscored by a nod of her head. 'It's surprising to discover who gets interested. A young person at a show might ask you a question, and, just by the way you answer, you might inspire that person to become excited about history.'
On the long drive home, I had the opportunity to consider Doris's words and to honor her contributions to the legacy of engineering.