Iron Man Of The Month

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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390. Engine wheel plaque commemorates founding of the National Threshers at the Blaker Farm, Alvordton, Ohio. Gathered to celebrate the. revival of steam are I. to r. Elmer L. Ritzman, editor of Iron-Men A
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390. ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS DURING THE FIRST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF THE NATIONAL THRESHERS was the arrival of Louis David's big 22 ton undermounted Avery. The late Louie. David can be seen standing on the low
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390. CULMINATION OF A LITTLE BOY'S DREAMLONG LIVE STEAM! - LeRoy W. Blaker is readying his faithful Port Huron for the celebration of National Threshers' Silver Anniversary. He will lead the Silver Anniver
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390. MUCH OF THE SUCCESS OF N.T.A. IS DUE, IN NO LITTLE PART, TO THE SECRETARY, LUCILLE BLAKER. (A man may run an engine, but it take a woman to run the man). At the close of last year's NTA Sunday service

UNION CITY, INDIANA. Of DAYTON DAILY NEWS AND RADIO’S
‘JOES JOURNAL’

When the National Threshers Association convenes for its Silver
Anniversary this year at Wauseon, Ohio, June 26th through the 29th
an eighty year old engineer-farmer, whose name resounds from coast
to coast as founder of the revival of steam engine threshing
throughout the nation, will for the last time be wielding the
presidential gavel.

For LeRoy W. Blaker it will be the culmination of a life-long
dream far beyond the wildest imaginations of a small Nebraska farm
lad whose earliest impressions of a growing America were sparked by
the Westward-Ho of covered wagons across the wind-swept plains back
in the !80’s.

And then came the threshing machine wending its way slowly like
a juggernaut over the dusty, deep-rutted wagon trails, thence up
the long, winding lane to the bleak Nebraska homestead, come
harvest time to separate the chaff from the golden grain. Sneaking
a ride on the feed-table, whenever possible, the little lad, LeRoy,
watched wide-eyed in wonderment, the smoke-belching iron monster
hissing steam and blowing its whistle as if bragging that is was
indeed the most powerful thing on the broad, western plains. And
the man who was running it certainly he was the most powerful, most
envied man in all the world!

It was with the first few pennies he earned, helping the
threshers in his tender years, that young LeRoy Blaker sent for a
much-coveted copy of ‘The Young Engineer’s Guide’, in
order to learn the secrets that made steam run an engine as if by
magic. But the text was too complicated for so young an engineer to
comprehend and LeRoy laid the book aside in utter despair.

Conjuring up a more youthful approach to his dilemma, young
LeRoy’s busy imagination ferreted out an old empty one-gallon
tin can from the family cast-offs which he envisioned might well
serve as a boiler. To this he fastened an old faucet which a school
chum had swapped him and an empty rifle cartridge which he used as
a whistle. Fashioning a simple crank-shaft from the treadle of an
old foot-powered sewing-machine, and a cylinder from a tin can,
LeRoy was soon engineer of his first steam engine, using his
mother’s cook stove as firebox and an improvised old nail-keg
as separator.

Yes, it was a simple beginning, like many another boy might well
have experienced except for LeRoy Blaker, the interest in steam
threshing engines would never abate, but keep right on growing the
rest of his years.

It wasn’t until boyhood had given way to young manhood that
LeRoy Blaker, then seventeen, began to do something really serious
about steam. Purchasing a small two-horsepower steam boiler, he at
once set about building a single-acting steam engine with which he
ran his little wood lathe in his woodshed workshop.

However, all of these were but stepping-stones to the big day,
some fifty years ago, when young Blaker stepped up onto the deck of
his first man-sized engine and began running it. Finally he had
become the engineer he’d always dreamed about. And over the
ensuing years, having owned a total of some fourteen steam traction
engines, seven simples and seven compounds not counting the
acquisition of such accoutrements as eight grain threshers, four
clover hullers, three corn-husker-shredders, a silo-filler and a
large sawmill he still operates it can well be said that LeRoy
Blaker has well earned the combined titular honors of steam
engineer, steam farmer and steam saw miller.

With a vivid memory belying his years, LeRoy Blaker only too
well recalls many of the Herculean achievements in the halcyon days
of steam threshing in rural America. During the year 1924 he
threshed over 125,000 bushels of oats besides other small grains.
And some years he hulled as much as a thousand bushels of clover
seed with but a single huller.

For a while, after the modern combines had invaded the wheat
fields of our nation, it looked like steam, indeed, was dead. But
those who already prophesied its deminse had yet to figure with one
LeRoy W. Blaker. And to this day, both LeRoy W. Blaker and steam
are still doing fine.

However, the resurrection of the steam corpse didn’t really
get underway until Blaker attended the world-renowned wheat tithing
experiment which one Perry Hayden was conducting at Tecumseh,
Michigan, in the year 1944. Here it was that but a few grains of
wheat, planted and harvested from the good earth, a tenth of each
succeeding crop given to the Lord, and the rest planted and
harvested again and again, resulted in such thriving yields that
the sponsors of the project could no longer handle it. But it had
proved its lesson namely that, after giving the one-tenth to God,
the nine-tenths remaining has a way of multiplying far beyond the
plans of man.

Not only that, but the wheat-tithing project had once again
sparked a renewed interest in steam threshing among LeRoy W. Blaker
and his friends.

‘It was on June 30, 1945 that a group of us fellows got our
engines together and held the first thresher’s reunion at my
farm, near Alvordton, Ohio,’ says 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.’

‘So many kept coming each year that we decided, in 1948,
that we’d better organize,’ explains Blaker. ‘So we
decided to call ourselves The National Threshers Association,
Incorporated.’

There was organizing to be done, among the imposing register of
charter members listing such names as Merl Newkirk, Dan Zehr,
Forrest Williamson, Clyde Felger, Mac Kellar, Forrest Newberry and
Ernie Hoffer. Dignity and heritage with the glorious past were lent
by such outstanding giants as Abner D. Baker, manufacturer of the
Baker Engine, who brought along the No. one Baker Engine and the
Prony testing brake from his plant at Swanton, Ohio. Operations
such as threshing and sawmilling under the supervision of such
veterans as John Limmer, LeRoy Blaker and Percy Sherman brought
hundreds, then thousands over the years to bask in the memories and
nostalgia thereof. While from such throttle artists as Ashbaugh,
Sherman, Blaker and Gilbert Enders came the old-time thrills as
each vied against the other at getting the most horsepower out of
the Prony Brake tests. Too, there were the historians of
agricultural Americana, such as Ormann Keyser and Harry DeArmond to
lend background and fibre to the growing organization. For
entertainment there were the Blume Brothers. And not to be
overlooked was a certain impressive, rather righteous-looking
Pennsylvania Dutchman, solid of stature and somewhat balding, who
came year after year to pitch his little tent and hawk a leaflet
entitled THE FARM ALBUM. Leaving his pastorial robes behind him,
but carrying his convictions with him, the Rev. Elmer L. Ritzman,
editor of that little magazine, the organization’s first news
letter, now the thriving IRON-MEN ALBUM, was called upon to deliver
the first sermon and ask God’s blessing in the first prayer.
And he’s been preaching to, and praying for the National
Threshers ever since.

Thus the dynamic revival of the steam engine, under the
leadership of LeRoy Blaker, his many friends and associates was at
hand an accomplished fact that over the years has been growing to
such proportions that folks from every state in the union have
sometime or other attended. Having expanded beyond the
accommodations of the Blaker farm, the 8th reunion in 1952 found
the National Threshers beginning a new era at the beautiful and
sprawling fairgrounds at Montpelier, Ohio. Here it was that such
international dignitaries as the famous Edgar Bergen of Charlie
McCarthy fame, came to stay a few days, run some of the engines and
give a few performances of his well-known ventriloqual characters.
It was during this era, too, that ex-President Truman planned to
pay a visit and bask in the memories of his youth at The National
Threshers, but at the time more important business with the new-bom
United Nations held priority on his schedule.

Not only from the Midwest states, but from such Atlantic coast
areas as New York, Washington, D. C. and the state of Georgia came
such regular and noteworthy members of The National Threshers as
Lynn Langworthy, Frank McGuffin and George Newnan, while the
Pacific far west contributed such notable worthies as L. K. Wood of
Mendon, Utah and Ralph Lindsay of Beverly Hills, California.

But the greatest reward of all to founder LeRoy Blaker were the
hundreds, even thousands of average visitors the Holps, the
Limmers, the Egberts, the Knapps, Kleopfers and Curtisses and many,
many others who participated in the grand old American custom of
stoking fireboxes, belting up to separators and sawmills, yanking
throttles and whistle cords in a mighty reincarnation of the era of
steam.

The latter years have witnessed the National Threshers bringing
their big engines and regalia of old-time agricultural Americana,
as well as the crowds, to the spacious Wauseon, Ohio, fairgrounds
where the accommodations where more adequate. And it is here that
the president of the National Threshers, LeRoy Blaker, will be
wielding his gavel for the final time as he presides over the
Silver Jubilee of the Revival of the American steam engine.

For him it is the culmination of a boyhood dream, made possible
by the tireless cooperation of the lovely and capable Mrs. Lucille
Blaker. For her, the humble beginnings of the National Threshers on
the Blaker farm, where the first reunion organizational plans and
publicity were formulated ’round the kitchen table the annual
task of addressing thousands of memberships and mailing them,
including leadership in the National Thresherwomen has been
staggering indeed. Keeping both engineers and their wives, as well
as everyone else who annually attends the National Threshers, happy
and contented each year would, for a lesser soul, have been an
impossible task.

Indeed, without a good wife for secretary, President
Blaker’s dream might never have come true. For Lucille Blaker
not only helped organize the National Threshers, but over the years
she’s cooked for LeRoy, patched his overall britches, darned
his socks, greased his chest, tucked him into bed at nights and, oh
yes, kept all the records straight for the past quarter-century. (A
man may run an engine, but it takes a woman to run the man!)

‘Since this will be the last year that LeRoy and I will
serve as President and Secretary, we do want all our friends to
come to Wauseon,’ says Lucille.

To which, replies Elmer Ritzman, ‘Amen come hail or high
water, I’ll be there!’

For those of us who didn’t help at the planting of the tiny
acorn, but have enjoyed the shade of the mighty oak we’ll come
too and help celebrate a threshermen’s dream Long Live
Steam!

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