Iron Man of The Month

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Inside Steam Engine Beauty Shop, Son Sylvester chisels dirt from nameplate of rare 13 Hp. Robinson Engine. Here all kinds of engines are ''beautified''.
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Old negative that I resurrected from my files shows Charlie Ditmer making some of his famous steam engine apple butter during happier days out on Ditmer farm, east of Hillgrove, Ohio.
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The theme is ''engines'' - at Greenville's ''Steam Engine Beauty Shoppe''. 1. to r. - cigar chewing Charlie Ditmer, Heath Paulin and Sylvester Ditmer, pres. Darke County Steam Threshers'. From the largest to the smallest, they love 'em all.

That elusive, overalled vertebrate known more commonly to
devotees of the threshing ring circles as Ye Iron Man can and
oftentimes does wind up as a sort of superman, or titular head of
his own ‘cult’.

Though in the eternal realms of theology there exists such
divine allusions as Wise Men bearing gifts of ‘incense and
Myrrh’, a Promised Land laden with ‘milk and honey’ and
a Triune Deity revealed in ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ we
of the more earthy sort have quite capably incorporated a
terminology most suitable to our own.

Indeed there are those who have expostulated quite lavishly upon
the ‘heavenly aroma’ of hot cylinder-oil and coal smoke,
others the ‘divine symphony of stack music’ and still
others the ‘soul satisfying wail’ of the thresh engine
whistle, not to mention those to whom the sight of men threshing
the golden grain is assurance that God is on the Throne and
all’s right with the world.

But when it comes to a certain cigar-chewing Iron Man, his son
and their two engines, I am moved, though not irreverently, to
refer to this trinity as none other than the earthly triune of
‘Father, Son and Holy Smoke’.

For when the senior patriarch and ‘godhead’ of his cult,
the cigar-chewing Charlie Ditmer yanks whistle cord and throttle on
his mighty Advance Rumely, followed suit by son, Sylvester, on the
deck of his barkin’ Baker and the twain head down the village
streets and highways for the Darke County Threshing grounds, the
‘chosen people’ begin following the ‘pillar of
cloud’ to the ‘promised land’ like the Bible story of
old.

HOLY SMOKE TRINITY of Ditmers does everything by steam around
Greenville, Ohio. Father Charlie (right) chews furiously on his
ragweed as Son Sylvester yanks throttle on his bark in Baker
belching ‘Holy Smoke’ to the high blue heavens. Verl
Lawrence helps supervise (left). The old shed screeched puny
defiance to the mighty Baker. Luckily a railroad strike was pending
on the. PRR tracks reducing the danger of oncoming trains.

The sights, the sounds and aromas of the mighty Ditmer caravan
leading the big Sunday parade of threshermen under a halo of steam
and smoke is sufficient to fetch thrills to both young and old as
well as headaches to state patrol cars should they ponder the
strange, slow-moving panorama snaking its way along the busy
highway.

With smoke belching heavenward and flags waving in the morning
breezes, town folks gathered curbside to view the awesome sight,
exclaim, ‘Here comes Uncle Charlie and Cousin Sylvester
a-heading the big parade’ whether that august occasion happens
to be the up-coming Darke County Threshermen’s Reunion, come
July, or any of the other civic extravaganzas this ‘Father, Son
and Holy Smoke’ trinity is called upon to embellish.

It was some years ago, when the Miami Valley Threshers moved
headquarters to the Mechanicsburg-Urbana area in central Ohio that
Father Charlie announced to Son Sylvester, ‘Holy smoke
we’re not movin’. We’Jl just keep our engines here and
start our own show.’

The ‘trinity’ having spoken, the die was cast, and the
famous Darke County Threshers Association was born, a thriving
western Ohio steam show with Father Charlie serving as vice
president under Son Sylvester as president ‘neath halos of
steam and smoke overhead.

Visiting their headquarters, located in a huge frame building,
formerly a coal office beside the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks in
Greenville, I was quite impressed at the wonderful work of
restoring and beautifying that Father Charlie, Son Sylvester and
others of the organization were doing to the various old engines,
separators and the official sawmill all to be exhibited in the big
annual Darke County Steam Threshermen’s Reunion.

After snapping a few pictures for a newspaper feature story, I
suddenly announced, ‘This is really a ‘Steam Engine Beauty
Shoppe’.’ How surprised I was to discover upon my next
visit to the Darke County headquarters that the ‘Steam
Trinity’ had indeed taken me seriously for over the entrance
hung a sign, ‘Steam Engine Beauty Shop’.

It was quite another occasion that I once visited the Ditmer
farm, near Hillgrove fortified with camera and flashbulbs to write
up the strange spectacle of old-time apple butter making the
Charlie Ditmer way.

As I drove down the dirt country road, an animated tin model of
a Baker Engine whirring in the breezes atop Uncle Charlie’s
mail box assured me I had arrived at the proper place.

There was the big copper ‘kittle’ into which Mrs. Ditmer
was pouring copious quantities of apple ‘schnitzes’, with
Uncle Charlie wielding the long wooden paddle while Uncle Willis
supervised from his straight-backed chair the old Advance Rumely
12-horse providing steam heat to the vats in the background.

It all looked like the proverbial Rube Goldberg contraption and
that it was what with the womenfolk fetching more
‘schnitzes’, all of which poured into vat A, were stirred
by Uncle Charlie with paddle B, under the watchful eye of
supervisor Willis as operation C, Son Sylvester stoking the fires D
while out in the woodshed Ira Edger and Tony Paulin were snitching
tincup samples of cider E. All of which, after the whole blamed
contraption had finished with the processing, what was left after
the sampling was an apple butter spread fir for a king. In fact
Charlie Ditmer’s fame as ‘Apple Butter King’ has spread
to other midwest reunions and his annual Fall apple butter
rendering down at the Steam Engine Beauty Shop fetches folks with
empty jars from far and wide.

But just the showing of steam engines and using them in the
rendering of apple butter is not enough for this ‘Father, Son
and Holy Smoke’ three. For the Ditmer philosophy still holds to
the premise that steam engines were made to do work. Such as the
time that a friend wanted a small frame building moved down the
city streets and across the railroad tracks to a new location. And
how convenient it was that a railroad strike happened to be pending
allowing plenty of time should the shack get stuck on the railroad
right-of-way with Sylvester yanking throttle on his big Baker and
Charlie chewing nervously on his well-worn cigar till everything
was safe on the other side of the tracks.

The ancient woodshed ‘screeched’ puny defiance to the
barking Baker while Charlie chewed ever more furiously his ragged
weed and soon all was well with the new owner admiring his purchase
dragged to the back of his lot by steam power.

It’s a real summertime treat, watching a work-a-day schedule
of Uncle Charlie Ditmer, ‘godhead of the steam trinity’
’round the clock at an average sun-up to sun-down Darke County
Threshers. Rising at the crack o’ dawn when Ezra the Rooster
crows from his roost atop a tree limb, Uncle Charlie lights up,
then is off to fill the water wagons before sitting himself down to
a real threshermen’s breakfast of ham ‘n eggs. After which
comes the oiling and coaling up of his beloved 12-horse Advance
Rumely, tossing in a few slabs of wood, stoking the fire and noting
the water gage and injector. Then there are the orders to
‘flunkies’ to fetch up more logs while Uncle Charlie goes
over the fine points of getting the big Darke County sawmill in
order, following which comes the

placing of the engine, the belting up, the tooting of the
whistle, the barking of the stack and whine of the big saw blade.
The pungency of fresh-sawn lumber it smells so delectable with
Uncle Charlie at the throttle working up a real lumberman’s
appetite as the dinner bells clangs away from the threshermen’s
shack nearby.

(It resembled a Rube Goldberg operation Mrs. Ditmer pours in
apple ‘Schnitzes’ (A), Charlie Ditmer stirs brew with
wooden paddle (B), Uncle Willis supervises from chair (C), and son
Sylvester Ditmer stokes fires in Advance Rumely (D), furnishing
steam heat for brewing vats.

Then there’s the full afternoon of more oiling, coaling and
watering of the big black monster, the belting up to the grain
separator across the field to separate the golden grain. It’s
all so thoroughly reassuring, so utterly American and Charlie, well
into his seventies never tires till the sun comes down on another
day and for any hard-working thresherman it’s time to
retire.

During the winter months I’ve often seen Charlie Ditmer at
the crack o’ dawn, creeping at snail’s pace in his little
red pick-up truck down to his Steam Engine Beauty Shop. How often
I’ve remarked that Charlie drives his truck as slow as his
engine. And sure enough one day we read the announcement in the
local paper, ‘Charlie Ditmer hailed into city court for driving
too slow.’ But the mayor wouldn’t fine him good character
that he is just reminded him to speed up a little so as not to slow
down traffic enroute to his engine shop. Now Charlie doesn’t
have to drive to his beloved Steam Engine Beauty Shop. No sirree
for Charlie now has taken up residence in the front offices of his
engine shop replete with all the household accoutrements of
dishpans, kitchen sink and color T-V, embellished by window boxes
of petunias and geraniums framed by percale curtains.

Charlie Ditmer Heads Annual Parade to Darke County
Threshers’ Grounds, Greenville, Ohio. A thrill to the
spectators, a headache to state patrol cars in traffic on a Sunday
morn. Here Charlie tows water wagon, separator and little red
pickup truck down busy highway.

To you, Uncle Charlie Ditmer, patriot and godhead of steam
trinity we thank you for all you’ve done to preserve the
wonderful dynasty of steam and old-time country ways in our midst.
May it ever be to your

glory that you have served well in your capacity as head of that
noble earthly triune, ‘Father, Son and Holy Smoke’. A halo
of coal smoke and steam to you and yours forever Amen.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment