Iron Man of The Month

1 / 5
Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana ''Eyes to the front'' President LeRoy Blaker of National Threshers, heads into the big afternoon parade at Wauseon, Ohio fairgrounds, throttling his spic 'n span Port Huron compound.
2 / 5
Courtesy of R. Dayton Nichols, 6128 Route 5, Stafford, New York 14143 April 1910 - Huber Sales Demonstration at Claredon, New York. R. M. Nichols, Engineer on Huber M. Cole is Engineer and owner of Avery. Town of Claredon bought Huber Roller and 3 years l
3 / 5
Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana Always the impeccable engineer President LeRoy Blaker makes final inspections on his beloved Port Huron compound, prior to entry into grandstand parade at Wauseon, Ohio fairgrounds. It's his job to keep ever
4 / 5
Courtesy of Lawrence Barber, Belfast, New York 14711 This is my 18 hp. Frick Steam Engine, serial No. 18773, taken August 1965 the day I was bringing it home from Canandaigua, New York.
5 / 5
Courtesy of R. Dayton Nichols, 6128 Route 5, Stafford, New York 14143 1908 Waterloo Traction Steam Engine, 16 hp. Serial No. 832. Made in Waterloo, Ont. Canada. Owned and operated by Kenneth C. McCormack, Jordan, New York.

UNION CITY, INDIANA.

Whether it’s supervising the degree of incline on the
hill-climb, deciding the position of the Prony Brake Wheel,
checking out last-minute inspections on the big sawmill, calling up
the order of the afternoon grandstand parade or presiding at the
evening conclave of the annual National Threshermen’s Reunion
the slight, be-spectacled man in the polka-dot cap must be
‘Johnny on the spot’ to add his final blessing.

For the agile, 78 year old non-drinking, non-smoking and
God-fearing LeRoy Blaker, host to thousands each year at the big
National Threshermen’s Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio, the
challenging job of being president means being everywhere, shaking
hands with everyone, preaching boiler-safety, keeping engines
smoking and engineers happy, as well as coaxing all the horsepower
he can get out of that mighty Port Huron compound of his. Little
wonder I understood all this, the day I arrived at my first
threshing show at the LeRoy Blaker farm, near Alvordton, Ohio, back
in 1948, and, thrusting my paw out to get acquainted, said,
‘You’re President LeRoy Blaker? Could I get you to explain
one of these engines for a recording?’ To which, replied he,
mopping sweat and coal-smoke from his brow, ‘I’m too busy
to help you now. Get Ormann Keyser, over there. He can explain the
engines.’ Thus was my ‘baptism of fire’ into the busy
life of one LeRoy Blaker who, with his capable wife and secretary,
Lucille, has been president and guiding spirit of the National
Threshermen, ever since its humble inception on the Blaker farm,
back in 1945.

‘I don’t know why I became so interested in steam
threshing outfits when I was about knee-high to a grasshopper,’
says LeRoy Blaker. who has been hopping up and down on steam engine
decks ever since. ‘My father was a farmer and carpenter when
our family lived near Minden, Nebraska, prior to the
1900’s.’

But we’re willing to wager that young LeRoy’s eyes must
have taken in the grand and glorious sight of someone’s steam
threshing rig in operation, sometime, somewhere, during those
precious boyhood years out on the Nebraska plains.

For at a very tender age he was quite preoccupied in making a
boiler out of a tin can, and a whistle from a brass rifle cartridge
generating steam and tooting that whistle from an improved firebox
atop Mom’s kitchen range.

‘A few years later, I bought a book, entitled, Young
Engineer’s Guide, reminisces LeRoy. ‘But, after studying
it, I felt that steam engineering was too complicated for me. as I
was only a lad of thirteen back there in 1902.’

Four years later young Blaker bought a two-horsepower vertical
boiler and made a single-acting steam engine to run his little wood
lathe in his woodshed workshop. Proving quite a boon over his old
foot-powered treadle, the youthful and budding steam engineer
became thoroughly convinced of ‘steam’s esteem.’

‘But the highlight of my steam carrier came when I ran my
first steam traction engine just fifty years ago,’ ‘minds
LeRoy Blaker. ‘And I’ve been actively engaged in operating
them, every year since.’

‘All told, I have owned fourteen steam traction engines
seven simples, and seven compounds in addition to eight grain
threshers, four clover hullers, three corn-husker-shredders, a
large silo-filler, and my present sawmill that I’ve owned and
operated for the past forty years,’ quote the astute president
of N.T.A. ‘During this time I’ve also owned nine gasoline
tractors that I have used in my farming and threshing operations.
And I’m still farming one-hundred and twenty acres, doing
custom sawing with both gasoline and steam but I much prefer my
Port Huron steam to all.’

During the year 1924 alone, LeRoy Blaker threshed over 125,000
bushels of oats besides lots of other small grain. And some years
he hulled as much as 1,000 bushels of clover seed with but one
huller.

‘After the modern grain combines became popular, I thought
the public would be pleased to see some of the old machines in
operation again, so a group o f us fellows held the first
thresher’s reunion in the U.S.A. at my farm, June 30,
1945,’ recalls Blaker. ‘Although there had been a few
threshing demonstrations elsewhere in the country, we felt this was
the first attempt to bring together a big old-time threshing
operation where good engineers gave good engines a good
workout.’

Each year the reunions kept growing in attendance as more and
more steam threshermen and the grand old men of the steam
engineering era congregated to jerk throttle, spot engines, belt
separators, pitch bundles, blow straw, listen to the barking
stacks, pull the whistle cords and talk about the good old days
’round the ever-lengthening threshermen’s festive
board.

‘Finally, in 1948, we decided we’d better organize,’
explains LeRoy Blaker. And, with a host of steam farming engineers
and visiting dignitaries from many states around, all deciding on a
national charter, The National Threshers Association, Inc., was
born. In such grand personages as Abner Baker, designer and maker
of the famous Baker Engines, they had expert engineering guidance;
in preacher-editor, Elmer Ritzman, they had spiritual guidance to
give blessing, and publicity from the sparse pages of his
brain-child, The Farm Album (Later Iron-Men Album); from such as
Ormann Keyser was lent historical background while the old-time
enthusiasm of the steam thresherman was personified in such figures
as Percy Sherman, Gilbert Enders and a host of others. From such as
Mac Kellar and Forrest New-berry came saw-milling know-how and a
public address for the grounds. To Merl Newkirk and Dan Zehr there
is credit for guiding the little nucleus into solid fiber, while to
the indefatigable LeRoy and Lucille Blaker goes eternal credit of
stoking the fires that make the steam that keeps the organization
rolling.

It was a proud event when every member present (many of whom are
still beating their ‘charter member’ chests) was asked to
line up before the old Blaker sawmill to have their official
‘pitcher took’ by the official photographer, a picture
which is among the most cherished in the holy archives of The
National Threshers art gallery.

And, just as soon as the camera clicked, the engineers began
scrambling back to their engines, cracking throttle, pulling
whistle cords and belting up the power. I’ll never forget those
early days, at a Blaker farm reunion. One after another the engines
belted up to the Prony Brake, each to outdo the other. And always
in the finals was pitted the tousle-haired, stout-armed Gilbert
Enders jerking throttle on his 50-Case against president LeRoy
Blaker and his mighty Port Huron compound, all being duly observed
under the watchful eye of the dignified figure of Abner Baker,
seated comfortably under the canopy of one of his beloved Baker
engines.

It was back on the pages of an old Ohio Farmer Magazine that I
first read a little story about an Ohio farmer and his wife who
were organizing what was called some kind of a threshermen’s
shindig. There was the tiny photo showing a Mr. LeRoy Blaker, and
wife, Lucille, looking over pictures of old steam thresh engines,
at their kitchen table. That was all. A correspondence from
preacher-editor, Elmer Ritzman, urged me to attend one of these
meetings to do some recording which I did, not knowing, as I first
set the needle onto the disc, the difference between a Baker, a
Case, a Port Huron or a jackass. But I soon learned brushing elbows
and mopping coal-dust and sweat amongst such a gentry as was
congregated there.

To LeRoy and Lucille Blaker (Iron Man of the Month, and spouse),
we doff our hat, exposing our bald pate, to such as you and yours
for having the faith and courage to envision and labor that lesser
ones like me, along with thousands of others, can once again glory
in the aura of steam engine farming. Without the noble efforts of
such as you, where would those engines be today? And where would we
go for our summer’s fun?

A halo to you, and you and you and you. And from brother Elmer
‘Amen!’

‘When The Average man thinks of home he has in mind an old
pipe, an old pair of slippers, an old chair, and Grandma.’

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