(Shirley is a staff writer for the Muncie Star, covering Jay County for the Star as a Bureau writer on full-time basis. She has had articles published in agricultural and horsemen's magazines-Farm Quarterly, National Future Farmer, Western Horsemen and Hoosier Farmer. She is a junior at Ball State University and she and her husband own a small horse farm where they raise Arabian and Part-Arabian horses at R. R. 1, Dunkirk, Indiana 47371.
We appreciate her efforts in bringing out the highlights of the 'Spark Plug' of the Month-I'm sure you all enjoy Joe's efforts each issue-and we're mighty proud to have him in the Spark Plug Column this month. He won't know about it until he reads the magazine, so our hats are off to our 'Joe Dear' as we surprise and thank you for all your efforts-GEM.)
You might find him out in the garage, covered with a respectable layer of grease, tinkering with his fondest creation which looks like a John Deere garden tractor crossed with five other things. Or he may be locked in what passes for a study, laboring over a new chapter in one of the books he is always going to write but never does. Or, he might be holed up in the darkroom making prints from the latest rolls of film he shot for a 'Sparkplug' column.
But if he's not busy at any of these things, chances are pretty good he'll be holding down a camp chair at the nearest tractor and engine show, peddling subscriptions to 'Iron Men Magazine' and gathering information for the winter's succession of columns. His name is Joe Fahnestock.
Joe, by his own admittance, is a better listener than talker and is a past master at the journalists' art of being a good audience. In fact, Joe doesn't seem to talk much. Probably because he's so busy thinking about so many things at the same time. But his wife and 'right-hand-man', Pat, is a fountain of information. Wearing a little sign that says, 'Joe's Shadow', Pat makes all the rounds with him to find his notes, hold his pencils, remind him of things, caution him, scold him, cajole him, and encourage him when things aren't going just right. He couldn't get a better helper if he paid one, he says.
The trouble is, Pat says, that Joe is so extremely talented in so many different directions that he's never been able to channel all that energy into one project. And she is right. Few people have equaled the many accomplishments Joe has made, or are as versatile as this stocky little ex-newspaperman. In his field (pick one), he's a virtual one-man band.
Joe is a writer, first of all, a craft he refined during 14 years on the staff of the Dayton Daily News and honed to near-perfection doing free-lance work for several magazines. He quit news-papering to devote more time to that first love, writing about engines and the people who make them. Pat's brown eyes will twinkle a little when she tells you that she urged him to quit, 'So he could spend his time doing what he really wanted to do.' Her steady income as a school librarian in Greenville, Ohio, where they made their home until recently, keeps things on an even keel between free-lance checks.
Joe Fahnestock practically IS The Gas Engine Magazine and Iron Man Album Magazine all by himself, submitting as many as two or three articles and columns to each publication every issue. On the side, he sells subscriptions to both and keeps a trunk-full of past issues on hand to peddle at shows or just for interested bystanders to browse through. He's been interested in engines for a long time, and likes to talk to people who are too.
Joe first caught the engine 'bug' way back after WWII, when his former in-laws used farm and garden machinery around the place. He perfected his hobby a few years ago, when he finished building a neat little 15-horse tractor out of an old Delco light-plant engine and parts from five different cars. A friend painted it for him, in John Deeregreen-and-yellow, but afraid of being sued, Joe dubbed the tractor the 'Joe Dear'. He uses it for garden work and just tinkering when the old gray matter gets too clogged up with ideas to work right.
Luckily, most of the talents Joe has seemed to fit right in with his interest in gas engines and people. He writes about them with ease, but he's just as much at home behind a camera.
After taking his own photos for all the material he submits to Gas Engine and Iron Men, Joe develops them too. He keeps a fully-stocked darkroom in whichever home they happen to be occupying ('We are originally from Union City but we've been living in Greenville and are now moving to Piqua but we keep houses both places and shift back and forth in a rather confusing arrangement,' says Pat in her typical breezy manner) and has built up quite a collection of blow-ups featuring men and their machines.
But that's not all there is to Joe. He is also an accomplished recording buff, another interest which he satisfies by making tape recordings of machinery and railroad sounds. Arranged on tape, the sounds are usually advertised for sale wherever Joe sets up his booth at an engine show.
'He made his first recordings on an old wire-tape machine, and they were pretty good. Since then, though, he's using a modern tape recorder,' Pat explains with a fond look in Joe's direction.
'He's such a talented person in so many different directions it's been hard for him to direct his talent into any specific field,' Pat sighs. She alternately coaxes and hounds him to finish work on a book, any book, which he's been meaning to do. He did one once, she tells, but it wasn't received with much enthusiasm by a publisher and Joe went into a bruised mood which was several weeks in disappearing.
'I try to keep his ego built up ... he discourages so easily,' says the Shadow. Since his real interest is in juvenile non-fiction she hopes Joe will eventually begin serious work on a history-type book for youngsters between ages 10-15, maybe a biography of some famous American for 'Middle-aged' youths who are too old for the average juvenile history biography and too young for adult works.
Whatever it is, Joe will eventually get around to it. He's already done more than most three average people, and he doesn't show signs of quitting yet. But his favorite past time still seems to be talking to, and writing about, people who like gas engines. If you happen to see a pair of glasses peering over a table-full of old magazines at the next engine show, pencil close by and searching for a pad of notes recently jotted down, walk up and say 'hi'. That's Joe Fahnestock.