Iron Man of the Month: Harold Fleisch

| July/August 1971

If the Almighty ever needed any repair work done on this old world, He might well have to wind up down at the old Pence Machine Shop in West Alexandria, Ohio, to get the job done.

For, though there may well be shade-tree mechanics, strip-shed machine shops, back-alley garages and village smithies still a-plenty throughout the length and breadth of this land of ours, there is only one last place you wind up at to get that certain piece fabricated for your old steam engine or gas tractor. Yes, it’s the old Pence Machine Shop where Harold Fleisch presides as high priest, supreme authority and final judge at the vortex of the manifold mechanical problems that daily wind up at his doors.

You’ve tried everywhere else, and failed. So you go to Harold Fleisch with your problem. He makes a few quick measurements, rushes into the office and has a huddle over the pencil-scrawled time-and-order book beneath a low-hanging shade with his male secretary, tells you to leave the piece and call back in a couple of months. You feel lucky you got in, and go away with that satisfied confidence the piece will be made. Fortunate for you the Lord didn’t beat you to Harold Fleisch with some of His big problems or you’d never get that blamed steam engine or tractor fixed for the summer reunions.

There’s always been a legend about the old Pence Machine Shop that’s lingered throughout the Great Miami Valley in Buckeye-land — a legend that’s gathered moss over the years, instilling fear and trembling to lesser mechanics who’ve only wished they could do what is done within its vaunted portals. Merely mentioning the name Harold Fleisch to an engine man conjures the kind of respect usually accorded only the Deity. Whenever you and I have problems that nobody else can solve, we take them to God. When engineers have engines that no other shop can fix, they take them to Harold Fleisch.

So strongly has this legend gripped me that, for a long time, I kept putting off the challenging burdens of attempting to even evaluate it in story and picture. For years I have been haunted by the illusion that the dedicated shop man and mechanic is a hard guy to penetrate. It was with fear and trembling that I approached the portals of the Pence Machine Shop, unlatched the imposing wood door and walked in with my camera and tape recorder to see what might happen.

But, instead of having a wrench thrown at me, I found the busy little Harold Fleisch one of the most affable and genial of men with an out-going personality that belied former impressions of crusty old machinists and shop men. Instead of grunting or growling as if I was a nuisance, he spoke fluently and explained graciously anything I would ask.

If my question pertained to an old Frick engine on which he was repairing the flue-sheet and flanging the flues at the smoke-box end, he even hooked up his air-hammer to show me how the job was done.

If I asked him about the giant shop lathe, he immediately assumed the typical shop-man’s pose for his picture.