| July/August 1974

Union City, Indiana

Bert Johnson the very sound of the name suggests steam engines 'n threshing. Tall 'n slim, the better to slip into his overalls and climb aboard an engine deck, his long, thin fingers fitting the throttle and yanking the whistle cord with utmost ease. What a physique divinely designed, no less, minus pot-belly and external flab which prevents most engineers half his age from dodging fly-wheels and valve-gear when oiling up and/or popping into firebox doors for the job of re-fluing.

And yet the sparkle of the eye, the kindly, dignified features and condescending aura that endears him to all reveals a demeanor more human than mere engines. In other words, Bert Johnson, the nonegenarian, not only loves engines like people, but is dedicated to the needs of his community and its welfare like the great soul he is.

Though, in my knowledge, I've never met Bert Johnson, I felt I knew him the moment I saw his picture. For he personifies the rare qualities of dignity and stature we most admire among engine men, Kentucky's Forrest Cunningham notwithstanding. Yes there are enginemen and enginemen all with outstanding conduct and performance and the high character that exudes from laboring with steam engines. And then we have those who tower, like pillars, above the rest.

It was back in 1904, at the age of twenty-one, when Bert Johnson struck out as a young man in his very first business venture which was to become his life's work. With his first rig a 13-horsepower Garr Scott engine, a hand-fed separator and an independent stacker, young Johnson was already in the steam threshing business. In his first year of adulthood he felt the importance of being sought after and depended upon by other farmers for the final processing of their crops from field to bin.

'At one time I owned eight complete threshing rigs and furnished power for four others,' recollects Bert. 'I could stand on an engine and, looking around at all the black puffs of smoke, I knew they were all mine. Even though it kept me hopping from morning 'til night, keeping the engines in repair, the separators running, and the crews in the fields, I guess I can say those were the happiest years of my life.'