DORIS LINDENMIER

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.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment