UNION CITY, INDIANA.
At a Midwestern thresherman's reunion, he's the fellow with all the fancy cameras hanging around his neck. Back home on the high iron of the T. P. & W., he's the big fellow up in the cab racing to meet a schedule 'on the advertised'.
Whether it's at the National Threshermen's Association at Wauseon, Ohio, the reunion at Pontiac, I'll., The Old-Timer Threshers and Sawmillers near Fort Wayne, Ind., or at Mr. Pleasant, Iowa, the friendly 'Hello', the warm smile and horn-rimmed spectacles under the engineer's cap, the several cameras dangling from shoulder straps and press camera in hand all have become quite the fixture wherever men have gathered together to pay honors to 'King Steam'. And, likely as not, after briefing himself on the run's orders, comparing railroad Hamiltons with the conductor, stuffing his 'flimsies' into his engineer's bib, he might just find time to climb down from his locomotive cab with camera in hand to take an official photograph for The Toledo, Peoria and Western should the occasion demand.
Yes, you've guessed it. For that's been the work-a-day schedule as well as summer-fun pastime of engineer-photographer Leo Clark who's climbed down from his locomotive cab for the last time, after fifty-three years of service on The Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad.
'What I'll do now?' says Clark, pondering the usual questions friends always fire at one who retires. 'Well, as an engineer I was always in a hurry to get to the next station with my train. 'The Hurrier I go, the Behinder I get'. But now I might just get me a trailer and travel the more leisurely way and, of course, take pictures wherever I go.'
For Iron Man Leo Clark, taking pictures is like breathing. Whether it's been in the official capacity of railroad photographer or just sauntering over the grounds at some Midwestern threshermen's reunion to take a picture of an old steam traction engine, the worst problem he ever had to contend with was choosing which of his several fine cameras he'd use to do the job. Should the next photo be snapped with his automatic Rollieflex, an old Kodak folding camera, a modern Japanese camera with all the gadgets and high-speed aperture, or his trusty old four-by-five Speed Graphic 'blunderbuss' which he's often pressed into service for those official railroad photographs, upon orders from the 'top brass'?
Over the years there remains the wonderful memories of railroading, being the engineer of a fast passenger or hot-shot freight, winding its way over the high iron that stretched the length and breadth of the verdant Illinois countryside, the barking stack echoing its sharp exhaust from farm buildings, gullies and right-of-way bridges while waving at little boys and pretty gals who always waved back. But, while to most engineers, such must remain only in the memory of the subconscious, engineer, Leo Clark, can leaf through his family album to re-live many of the thrills.
For instance that snapshot his fireman took of him standing on the pilot of old No. 9, was the first engine he ever took out as engineer on the right-hand side of the cab of a locomotive. It was a much thinner Leo Clark that was proudly posing on the foot-step of the ancient reciprocating No. 9 back on August 10th of 1921 a Leo Clark we'd hardly recognize without his horn-rimmed glasses and the usual cameras strapped to his shoulders as we've come to know him in his more leisurely and lush days. But it nevertheless is Leo Clark, engineer on his first steam locomotive run which departed from Forrest, Illinois, and arrived back the next day on schedule.
''That picture was taken on an old 2-A Brownie camera which I still have, by my fireman, A. R. Parsons who now lives in Monticello, Illinois,' reminisces Iron Man Clark.
It was quite in contrast to the later day photo someone snapped of Leo handling the throttle of a huge, modern 4-8-4 steam locomotive as it was racing along the high iron at the head end of a meat manifest, near the Peoria yards back in '48.
'This train arrived at Fairburg about 2:30 p.m.,' says Iron Man Leo 'I was engineer of this fast Meat Run for several years. Meat had to reach its destination on time.' (No sidetracks for engineer Leo Clark here.)
Then came the diesel locomotive and Leo Clark had to make the switch like all the rest of those engineers whose first-love had been steam (next to their wives, of course).
'Steam was the most romantic,' sighs engineer, Iron Man Clark. 'The diesels were just too automatic to be fun in running.'
We all know the story about the conversion from steam to diesel. There were the memories no engineer could forget. Running a steam locomotive required art, like that of playing a fiddle. You had to acquire skill and 'feel' for the throttle. And there was the uncanny and unforgettable knack every engineer developed over the years in handling the language of the steam whistle, by manipulating the whistle-cord in such a manner that every trackside worker, every gandy-dancer and shop man along the way knew it was Leo Clark that was heading that particular train up the right-of-way that day. Even the farmers plowing their fields, little boys a-fishing the streams along the way they all knew it was Leo up there in the cab, and they waved back at his particular drawl on the long whistle toots that echoed throughout the rolling Illinois countryside.
Yet, some engineers managed to work out their own particular art and language on the diesel locomotive horn and still the folks knew it was Iron Man Leo Clark blazing and growling his way along up in the head end of that manifest or hot-shot, day after day.
Then came the last trip August 26th, 1969 and the usual ceremonies and photos inside the cab, and standing beside the engine, with official blessings of 'Well done, Leo,' coming from Charles Pattison, President of the T. P. and W. Railroad, as he congratulated him for his long service at the end of the final run. Altogether it had wound up fifty-one years and two months as fireman and engineer for Leo - forty-eight of these years on the right-hand side of the cab as engineer and head man.
But, along with his railroad memories, there are the many happy summertime steam threshing reunions that Leo can ponder over whenever he leafs through his thick family photo album. And therein will most of us among the steam threshing brethren also remember Iron Man Leo Clark - the man with the friendly grin, the engineer's cap and the cameras strapped to his torso.
They say an engineer is married to his engine. May we respectfully remind our readers that they are more often than not also married to a woman. And Spark Plug-Engineer Leo Clark is no exception.
It's always a reassuring and welcome experience at a threshermen's reunion to have the familiar, rotund engineer with his usual bevy of cameras a-dangling, step right out of the big crowd and greet you for the first time. It is then that you are suddenly aware that the Leo Clarks have arrived on the grounds. And the usual procedure is for Leo and his Goldie, once they've stepped onto the reunion grounds and locked their car, to go their separate ways. In other words, Goldie goes 'this-a-way' to do whatever she can to help out with the ladies' reunion projects and Leo goes 'that-a-way' to mingle among the engineers and snap pictures of the engines.
Should the occasion be at The National Threshers Association in Wauseon, Goldie immediately ensconces herself into the annual programming of the National Thresherwomen's afternoon teas, organizing and decorating the parade floats and serving at the exhibit stands, like the mainspring that drives the works of a fine watch. If you ask her where Leo is, she'll say, 'Somewhere out there,' with a broad sweep of her arm toward the engines. And should you be lucky enough to locate Iron Man Leo Clark, somewhere among the engines, you'd no doubt discover him focusing his inevitable shutter box on some human antic, such as Mac Keller sawing watermelons on the N.T.A. sawmill, trying to corral the ever-dwindling group of charter members into the annual grandstand pose against a late afternoon sun, or possibly coax the parade queen into a bit of cheesecake atop an engine deck.
It's all just a small part that Iron Man Leo Clark and his Goldie do to help shape the big Midwestern steam shows they always attend. For they are the kind of folk fixtures, if you please, around a steam engine reunion that make it what it is.
But alas, like most shutter-bugs, Leo Clark (like the rest of us) is always hard-pressed when it comes to getting into the picture himself.
When asked why he didn't include Goldie in their 40th wedding anniversary picture which shows Leo standing alone on the observation platform of a T. P. & W. Railroad car, the inevitable dilemma of the lonely photographer was explained thusly, 'Well, no one else was around, so Goldie had to get out there and take my picture.'
For once the poor and unrewarded photographer the one who never gets in the family picture because he's always behind the camera got his 'picture took' in this, marking their fortieth year of connubial bliss. (I know how it is, Leo either you get out of the picture to take a 'family portrait' of your Goldie or Goldie steps out of the 'family portrait' to take her Leo. Sad, indeed, is the plight the hapless shutter bug and his faithful spouse that never the twain shall meet in the same picture! (Just you wait, Mr. Clark. I'm gonna get you 'n Goldie if the two of you can stay together long enough for me to snap my shutter, come Wauseon-time.)
And even worse, when I asked Leo for a picture of him in his engineer's cap with cameras strapped about him, I was informed he had none.
'I'm always behind the camera, never in front of it,' he answered. Then, too, how in the world could Leo hand Goldie the camera to take his picture and still have the camera strapped on his shoulder? (Cameras, like photographers and their wives, can't be taking the picture and be in the picture, too.)
So we'll just settle for those rare shots when someone else was gracious enough to snap Iron Man Leo Clark's picture like the one of him and his friend, Ronald Reagan, the Hollywood star and now Governor of California, or the one posed beside a pork-snouted engineer caricatured on a concrete wall or the above-mentioned 'family group' of Leo enjoying his wedding anniversary alone.
But we thank you, Leo Clark, for the many fine photos you've taken for us to reminisce over at the various reunions, the mile stones as they've passed, the ones of human interest as they've transpired. For this, and for getting all those trains in on time (with Goldie's help cheering and feeding you), we honor you, IRON MAN OF THE MONTH.