Iron Man of The Month

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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Box 47, Union City, Indiana. Veteran Sawmiller and Thresher, John Limmer and grandson, Frank Johnson at throttle of 20 hp Russell. Neighbor boy on rear of deck also runs engine. 'A familiar fixture at Reunions'.
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Box 47, Union City, Indiana. Typical Sawmiller and Thresher, John Limmer reads Joke Menu on 'Demonico V Restaurant actually old red barn where threshers ate at Elmer Egbert's 'Buckeye Steam Threshers' near Anna,


never as yet admitted to making a mistake in life the fact remains
that once in a rare while the ‘memory diodes’ of my
automatic, computer-operated typewriter get to writing things
backward such as that Iron Man, Percy Sherman, is 76 years old when
actually he is only 67 years young (he was born the year the first
Baker was out-shopped) all of which amounts to adding 9 glorious
years of throttle jerking to this tireless giant of energy at the
midwest reunions. And to Jack Tucker ‘the undertucker’ an
apology for calling his whereabouts down Lexington-way when
Georgetown would have gotten him better. I don’t want the
‘hot breath’ of the Iron Men breathing so torridly down my

He looks like a burly, brawny-armed sawmill man, standing on the
vibrating deck of his pulsating Russell Engine at the National
Thresher’s Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio, where he often shares the
job of yanking whistle cord and throttle with his grandson, Frank
Johnson, who’s learning to fill grandpa’s shoes.

Wherever you may happen to roam over the grounds of some
mid-western steam threshermen’s reunion, you can pick John
Limmer out of the crowd over by the sawmill either helping the boys
adjust the big saw-blade or a-standing up on the deck of his
beloved Russell, awaiting the go ahead from the head sawyer for the
next log coming up. The proverbial engineer’s cap, the
tell-tale moustache and day’s growth of chin beard, the oily
overalls and heavy clod-hopper shoes, the leather watch strap
tucked into his overall bib, a heavy wrench clutched in his horny
hand it wouldn’t be a typical thresher’s reunion without
John Limmer, old-time sawmiller and thresherman milling about the

Whether it’s lining up for the big belt, climbing up to oil
the valve gear, or standing on the deck with eagle eye for the go
ahead with hand on the throttle, John Limmer is always one of the
main fixtures at ye olde time threshermen’s shindig. And when
the big engine begins pulsating and saw bites into log, if big John
Limmer isn’t satisfied with the available performance of
fly-wheel on belt, he has his trusty grandson by his side to take
over while he climbs up with wrench in hand to coax a little extra
yank from the governor of his 20 horsepower Russell.

‘My grandson, Frank Johnson can run this engine as good as
grandpa,’ yells John over the hiss of steam and bark of stack.
‘He’s getting to that age in life where he usually gets
whatever he wants from his grandpaand sometimes he gets to
thinkin’ he knows a little more. But it’s a fine thing to
have a young fellow learning to like steam engines and be able to
take over when we older fellows will just have to sit by and

Been sawmillin’ for years, has big John Limmer over
Perrysburg, Ohio-way always by steam until recently when he
switched over routine operations to diesel.

‘One of the things I miss most are the steam locomotives
over on the railroad near where I live,’ says John. ‘I used
to lie awake for hours at night and listen to the heavy steam
freight drags pulling out of the yards. Now the only way I can hear
such sounds is to put one of your records of steam freights on and
play it by my bed while I lie there, imagining that steam is still
king of the rails, as it should be,’ drawls John Limmer.
‘Nothing can do the job on the railroads as well as

For John Limmer, the threshermen’s reunion always fetches
back those memories over the years when going from threshing job to
threshing job meant throttling the big Russell engine many a mile
up muddy, dark roads and over creaking wooden bridges, with but the
glimmer of the faint kerosene headlight to guide the way. Knifing
through clusters of roadside trees, past the gaunt dark forms of
the farm houses and barns along the way, it was always late at
night or in the wee hours of the morn that John Limmer and the
‘ring’ arrived in time to bank down his fire and grab a few
needed winks in the hay-loft before the breakfast call sent them
rambling out in the fields to begin the day’s work.

It was my fortune, one morning in the men’s room at
Montpelier, to observe sawmiller – thresherman, John Limmer, going
through one of the standard routines of preparing himself for a day
of steam engine work. With overall galluses down, moustache,
chin-whiskers and eyes plastered with soap, John was
‘freshening up’ for the day’s labors . As I watched him
the thought struck me of how many times he had gone through this
necessary routine of beginning the day’s work over a farm
building up throughout the winter, so in the spring as the snow was
settling and wash-pan full of hand-pumped well water washing away
the smoke and chaff of the day before in preparation of the morning
sun rising in the eastern sky.

And I’ll never forget the day that John Limmer emerged from
the little red barn eating stand at Elmer Egbert’s Buckeye
Reunion recently, near Anna, Ohio. John was just picking his teeth
with a twig, after indulging in a generous threshermen’s
repast. As a joke we had just tacked a sign on the door, entitled,
‘Delmonico’s’ (as used to be done so often in wild west
mining towns years ago). Our sign featured ‘Buffalo Steak,’
‘Prairie Pie,’ and ‘Buckeye Salad’ as the menu for
the day. And big John Limmer’s moustache and overalls seemed to
tit ever so perfectly into the scheme and decor as we snapped that
picture without him being ever the wiser.

Our hat is off to you, John Limmer, sawmiller and steam thresher
over the years man of the moustache, overalls and engineer’s
watch lover of the reciprocating steam piston and valve gearing on
every steam thresh engine and railroad locomotive that ever yanked
a belt or sped cargo over the high iron of our great nation.

May the midwestern threshing reunion ever see you and your
beloved Russell, which incidentally will be featured on the badges
at this year’s National Threshermen’s Reunion, Wauseon,

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