Glimpsing the Past In Pine Village, Indiana


| January/February 1998



4745 Glenway Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45238-4537

In my great-great-grandfather's barn northwest of Pine Village, Indiana, in the 1860s and 1870s, oxen trod in a circle to thresh wheat with their hooves. (This barn was built in the 1850s and is still standing.) Within two generations, harvesting, threshing, and separating the grain became mechanized and required concerted interaction among rural people. By the 1920s, a person standing on the level ground to either side of Pine Creek could see columns of smoke rising from steam engines and could hear the morning whistles calling to crews of farmers, 'We have steam up and are ready to thresh!' During the first two decades of the new century in Pine Village, then a town of two-hundred residents, cooperation flourished in a variety of forms, from the harmonies of the mandolin orchestra and concert band to the teamwork of the town's football club. Of all such collaborative endeavors in and around this rural hamlet, steam-powered threshing united the highest numbers of citizens in carefully synchronized activities.

From 1899 to 1919, Pine Village fielded a football team which was undefeated for twelve years and professional from 1915 to 1919. Over two thousand spectators would convene to witness the clash of mighty opponents a large crowd in a sparsely-populated region. The management hired the legendary Jim Thorpe to star in an exhibition match. My great-uncle Charles Rhode played fullback and occasionally center, and my cousin Claire Rhode both played on the team and sponsored it financially.

Around 1910, Samuel C. Fenton, a talented musician who had learned his craft through performing with various ensembles in his hometown of Pine Village, played first trumpet in Arthur Pryor's band, considered second only to John Philip Sousa's band. Pryor had been Sousa's top trumpeter before he organized his own ensemble. The half dozen of the best concert bands toured the country entertaining crowds in cities small and large from the turn of the century until the early 1930s. Such bands were emblematic of the harmony of yesteryear.

'Cooperation' was the byword of rural people. Nowhere was that teamwork more in evidence than in threshing. Horses accomplished much of the labor and were valuable possessions. My father watched members of the Horse Thief Detective Association wearing badges and marching in parades in Pine Village. Commissioned by the governor, these organizations threatened to exercise frontier justice if any crooks were caught.

The marriage of horse power and iron implements gave blacksmiths all the work they needed. My great-great-uncle Tommy Fenton, Pine Village's blacksmith, and his assistant devised a shoe to prevent the famous harness horse Dan Patch from 'interfering,' or skinning one front leg by striking it with the other front hoof. Until Daniel Messner sold Dan Patch to M. W. Savage of Minnesota, Tommy shod 'the Fastest and Most Popular Harness Horse in all the World's History,' as a 1913 advertisement proclaimed (see Floyd Clymer's Album of Historical Steam Traction Engines, page 98). Two of Dan Patch's special shoes were set in concrete as a modest monument in front of the blacksmith shop and probably were buried there when people who could not have known the history of those horseshoes recently erected a building over the site.