Iron Man Of The Month

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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana. One of Frank McGuffin's matchless bits of Scotch philosophy, which helps make life liveable is the story about the bumblebee which can't possibly fly, but does just the same. This off-set printing was give
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Not always is ye Iron Man merely the ‘local yokel’ who
ekes out his life’s span from birth to death ‘down on the
farm’. Sometimes he is very much the man of the world, soldier
of fortune (sometimes misfortune), fighting battles on foreign soil
and going from job to job but always with that perennial love of
steam surging through his veins.

‘The only mark I’ve made in life is a question
mark,’ muses Frank McGuffin, Thresherman-Diplomat from over
Washington, D.C. – way, the man with a true Scot’s wit in
whatever story true or false he might be telling.

‘I won two Liar’s Contests with my ‘threshing
watermelons’,’ chortles Frank ‘And yet it was the only
true story told at these contests.

‘In fact everyone I ever told that story to, about threshing
watermelons, ended up calling me a liar even Rev. Elmer Ritzman,
who wouldn’t dare call me a liar because he is a preacher,
summed it all up by saying, ‘Frank, you make it sound so true I
almost have to believe it in spite of myself.’

It was the kind of story that Frank McGuffin, once caught up in
the tail-wind of human reaction and suspicion, wound up perusing
the congressional archives and records and writing for verification
to reputable seed houses for additional confirmation that
watermelons had indeed been threshed thus preserving his honesty
and integrity as the best of story tellers without dulling the edge
of his Scotch wit.

‘My initiation in threshing came when, as a lad, I used to
skip out from home to where the threshing was in full swing,’
recollects McGuffin ‘Only to return home in the evening to
receive my reward of ‘razor strap oil’ applied to my end
gate by an irate mother.’

‘My dad was a fair but stern Scotchman who carried the Bible
in one hand and a razor strap in the other, both with equally
effective results,’ reminisces the witty Frank, his eyes
reflecting the grim humor of the distant past. ‘When Dad saw
that neither the razor strap nor the stern admonishments of the
paternal right-hand swing’ could deter me from running away to
be near the threshing, he tried a new angle. He gave me the job of
carrying the drinking water to the men in the field.’ (Boy, was
Frank initiated into the grand and glorious aura of steam the hard

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana. Scotch wit, man
of the world, and Washington, D. C. ‘diplomat’ at the
thresher-men’s reunionsFrank McGuffin (engineer’s cap)
looks up to watch a test-run of his newly-created ‘sniffter
valve’on John Limmer’s Keck Gonnerman engine at Wauseon,
Ohio N.T.A. If we know Frank, he is no doubt explaining the
sniffter valve to the budding young engineer standing beside him,
while rising generation engineer Frank Johnson, peers from his
grandpa’s throttle at back of engine. The sniffter valve which
McGuffin made can be seen to left of cylinder end of

Ambitious lad that Frank McGuffin was, to serve fresh well water
to the parching palates of his older threshing compatriots, by way
of gallon jugs strapped to the saddle horn, he nevertheless found
time between his water-peddling sorties to sort of ‘polish the
apple’ for the steam engineer.

‘I pestered the engineer with questions, broke up coal for
him, filled his coal box from the wagon anything and everything to
curry his favor,’ relates McGuffin, weaving a humorous twist
into the tragi-comic fabric of his boyhood. ‘For such efforts I
was rewarded by being allowed to operate the injector which was
heaven to me. Some modern day politicians could well learn new
tricks from the way I used to pull strings and cut red tape while
evading the paternal ire.’

It was back in the year of 1911 that young McGuffin got his
first pair of long pants. And too, the depot agent at Raymore,
Missouri, noting the frequency the farm lad visited the local
railway station to watch the arriving and departing steam trains,
took a liking to him and taught him the fine art of the Morse code
and pounding out messages on the mysterious brass key.

‘I guess I thought I was arriving at being a man before my
time,’ muses Frank. ‘Here I wouldn’t have to go to
Sunday School anymore in knee britches how I hated those knee
britches and now I was learning telegraphy. Besides, a well-to-do
neighbor farmer who owned a 1910 Rambler, and who served as
superintendent in our Presbyterian Sunday School, took me to church
in his new horseless buggy. Think of it, I didn’t have to walk
to church anymore.’

But argue as he did, he couldn’t convince the paternal ruler
of the McGuffin household to invest in a steam threshing rig just
so a certain little farm lad could brag to his school mates about
how he could run the big engine.

‘Dad wasn’t a steam engineer he just decided to help
along with the threshing by running the separator as he’d done
in the past and no more,’ reminisces McGuffin.

Meantime rumblings were heard across the Big Pond the
Kaiser’s armies were on the march. The youth, Frank McGuffin,
donned Uncle Sam’s khaki to help make the world safe for
democracy and peaceoverriding temporarily that farm lad’s
proverbial ambition to someday become a railroad engineer.

‘On April 13,1917, I made the greatest mistake of my life,
when I joined the army to go to France and twist the Kaiser’s
mustache,’ is the way Frank says it. ‘It was a foolish
idea, for the slug of mustard gas I got forever closed the door on
my becoming a locomotive engineer on the Rock Island Railroad.’
Returning from the Big War, Frank McGuffin served as engineer on
the Graveyard shift in the Horton, Kansas, Municipal Light and
Power Plant. But he was caught napping one time and promptly fired
from his position. So it was ‘back to the farm’ for young
Frank once again.

Over the years the value of ‘perfect combustion’ kept
bugging him. It would be impossible to install a wind-box or a
pre-heater on a threshing engine to improve combustion, so Frank
conceived the idea of using the principle of the old
‘Hot-Blast’ coal stove. Drawing up his plans he had
patterns and castings made, the results of which culminated in an
improved fire door which, on tests, proved a 50% saving of coal on
threshing engines.

Meantime, the old World War One mustard gas was kicking up its
heels once again, and from 1929 to 1933 Frank McGuffin languished
in veterans’ hospitals and the only hope the doctors could give
him was that he had six months to live. But Frank, well and happy
today, better than he ever was, won this liar’s contest

It was in the late fall of 1933 that Frank McGuffin, still
feeling around for a rung on the ladder to success, engaged in a
bit of aerial photography at Miami, Oklahoma and then ‘went

‘From ’33 to ’36 I was in the ‘Woodpecker
Army’ – the C.C.C. – at Ft. Bliss, Texas, where I served as
ambulance driver.

‘I drove ambulance during the day and attended The El Paso
Vocational School at night learning to become an acetylene
welder,’ says the ever-ambitious McGuffin.

It was in ’38 that Frank McGuffin passed a civil service
examination in Los Angeles, thus opening the portals of the
government printing offices to his newly-acquired genius.

‘When I retired in ’60, I was serving as off-set
photographer in the Publications Division of the Civil Service
Commission, Washington, D. C,’ explains McGuffin. ‘By
living carefully, I got around a heart condition and today am
better than ever.’

But that old bug, the urge of the steam engine, keeps gnawing at
Frank McGuffin. And that gnawing has brought forth a published book
on steam engine valve gears that has settled many an argument at
the threshermen’s reunions which Frank ‘tends over the

It was during one of the trial runs of his recently-perfected
‘sniffter valve’ that I met Frank McGuffin for the first
time at Wauseon, Ohio, National Threshermen’s Association

‘This is the first time a ‘sniffter valve’ has ever
been put on a traction engine,’ explained Frank, of the gadget
so well-known and much-used over the years on railroad locomotives
for the releasing of excess back-pressure in the opposing end of a
steam cylinder.

‘We’re trying this sniffter valve on John Limmer’s
Keck Gonnerman engine,’ yelled McGuffin, over the pulsating
exhausts of the stack and the hissing echoes of the newly-created
sniffter, screwed in at the far end of the Limmer-Keck

The sniffter valve was working perfectly, and its creator, the
ingenious one-time farm lad and aspiring railroad engineer, had
finally bridged one of the principles of his one-time love, the
railroad locomotive over to his first love the steam traction

Our hat off to you, Frank McGuffin, for that matchless scotch
wit, the mechanical creative genius, and the aura of Washington
officialdom which somehow shines through those crumpled overalls
and that wrinkled engineer’s cap which is your trademark at
every threshermen’s reunion.

Keep those Scotch jokes coming and those inventions of yours
humming. Like that inspiring message you gave Elmer and me fresh
from your Washington off-set press about the dauntless bumblebee
which the aerodynamicist claim is made so cumbersome by Nature that
it can’t possibly fly, but nevertheless does fly because
it’s too dumb to know it can’t by the same token you fly,
and in turn inspire us to spread our wing and fly.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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