During my early years of life in the vicinity of Lima (now Howe) Indiana, in fact, even long before I can remember, there lived half a mile or so from town two brothers, one a batchelor. These men, seemingly a little past middle age were big farmers; and I do mean 'Big Farmers'. My father said, they owned more than 1300 acres of good, fertile, Northern Indiana farm and grazing land. In those days farming that much acreage required a lot of help, and so there were always a couple of year men, one or two by the month and some help hired by the day for special work during haying harvest and corn season.
None of the help stayed very long or completed the season, for these men were very hard task-masters and it was generally known that the pay wasn't big and that they extracted every ounce of energy from every man for his pittance; and there didn't ever seem to be enough hours of sunlight to complete the never ending routine of jobs laid out for them, rain or shine. In fact, the days started before dawn and the chores were completed only at bed-time. Sunday and holiday work and chores were considered gratis. A tribute for the privilege of working there. So they stayed only long enough until better conditions were found elsewhere.
So it was in all their transactions. Honest in their way but tight and grasping; and though professed Christians with regular church attendance, in the final analysis, it seemed that personal gain was their greatest ambition.
When it came to threshing which would have and should have been a real plum for the local thresherman, which, incidently, was my father, as their land laid largely within his territory, they expected a cut in the price. Theirs was an exceedingly large job, around ten to twelve thousand bushels of wheat, oats and barley and it would, of course, be cash. Besides, it would be mostly barn and stack work and could be done when the rush was over.
It was hard for my father to say no, which he always did, as they had an annual habit of asking him first. So they always imported another machine from outside, whose operator wasn't s o scrupulous about cutting prices away from his own territory. Although my dad always hulled their clover seed at the regular prices, which they accepted because there no other alternative, when it come to corn shredding, and they had a lot of it, they found it expedient and they presumed to be more profitable to them to rig up an outfit of their own. This they did by purchasing an old portable 10 H.P., J. I. Case engine and a 4 roll corn shredder, probably one of the original McCormick's, as the husking rolls were installed at right angle to the frame of the machine. This outfit was the basis for a true experience of long ago, which I remember well and am about to relate.
The year was somewhere around 1903 or four and the corn shredder was set up with the blower pointing through an opening to the mow of the sheep barn. In this connection, let me add; the farm yard consisted of 12 or 15 buildings of various shapes and capacities, reminding one of a small village. The sheep barn was the farthest one away down the road toward town and was six or seven hundred feet from the residence.
It was the last day of October and corn shredding had been the activity of the day. The hired men would bring up 2 or 3 large loads of corn shocks at a time, run them through the shredder and then go back into the field for more loads. This was a continuous routine and the fire would be banked each time that they went into the field. When darkness descended, the machine was abandoned for the chores, blower left up and belt left on for an early morning start. Com shredding was a long drawn out job on this farm.
This day being Halloween, and previous experiences having proved it a necessity, the usual guard was hired for the occasion. He was a man about town. One always avoiding anything resembling hard work, but generally looking for a soft way to make a few dimes for beer and smokes, neither did he minimize the authority which accompanied the job. I'll not mention his name out of respect for he is lone deceased.
As usual, he was provided with shotgun and a kerosene lantern, and he took over his duties after chore time, about 9 o'clock at night, partolling the buildings on the lookout for marauders and vandals. He didn't know it but, at about the same time, there was congregating up in the village, a motley mob of some 40 or 50 high school boys and other young sprouts, who were full of vim and vigor and had an urge.
Along about midnight, when the gobblins are supposed to be out, this outfit ventured o u t of town on foot bent on mischief. They had about 75 or 100 feet of 1 inch hay rope and a gallon jug of hard cider that was well 'spiked' with something that wasn't root beer. The mob halted in a deep cut of the road some 60 rods short of the farm buildings where six of their number were split off and sent ahead with the jug of cider. Needless to say, a n d in line with their expectations they, having made some noise and confusion purposely, were halted near the sheep barn by a rough command and a menacing wave of the shotgun. One of the vandals moved forward, hands up and stated that they were just a few 'guys' out on a lark and had a little refreshment in a jug. However, as long as they had been caught, why not just make it a little good fellowship party down behind the big barn and no harm done. Just a few drinks and some stories etc., then we'll all leave.
Well, the thought of that refreshment must have been overpowering to the watchman. Besides, he had the marauders corralled where he could keep an eye on them so why not. So they hied themselves away, all 7 of them, to a spot behind the big barn, some 30 rods distant from the sheep barn, where drinks were had a plenty and stories told galore; most of the drinks going down into the gullet of the watchman while the others mostly made gulping noises and just sipped. This went on for about an hour until the watchman became groggy, then inebriated and finally fell into a deep sleep.
One of the advance party then slipped away to report and the main body of the gang moved up to the sheep barn with the big rope. In very short order, with the blower down and the belt removed, the portable engine and little shredder were on their way down the road toward the village. Down back streets and alleys it went nobody knew where it was going yet, but it finally wound up in the far end of town, near the railroad depot, and onto the loading platform.
The 'King Bee' of the gang suggested that there was an empty flat car on the siding several hundred feet down from the loading dock so it did not take a group of husky young men with a 1 inch rope long to bring up the car, load the entire outfit, fasten it down and replace the car to its former position. During all this time the watchmen and his captives were asleep down behind the big barn. At daybreak they awakened him and hurriedly left.
Sometime in the morning, the local freight came along and the conductor checked the number of the car. The number corresponded to the one he had on his order for a flat car to be spotted for a customer at Avilla, Ind., some 30 miles to the south, so it was soon on its way south bound.
The customer at Avilla, who had ordered an empty flat car, couldn't use one loaded with machinery and he protested. So messages flashed back and forth from Avilla to Lima and that is how those big farmers, who were still searching, found their shredding rig. The Railroad Co. was not interested as to the 'How and Wherefores' it got loaded out, but if they wanted it, the freight charges would be $30.00. Along with a couple of good shredding days, that is I heard precisely what it cost them to get it back.
And they say that kids of this generation are getting worse!?
Karl C. McManus, 127 S. Douglas Street, Bronson, Michigan