Halloween Holocaust

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Karl C. McManus
Here is a picture of my grandfather, Mr. J.C. Gray, on his engine hulling clover on the Ed Lukens farm east of Harveysburg, Ohio in 1912. It was a Frick engine and Birdsal huller.

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

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