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Iron-Man, Joe Harlan, operates some engines for Francis Bell at the Platte City, Missouri show. Wherever steam doth blow there's Harlan Joe''. Picture from Joe Harlan. Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390
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A corner in Joe Harlan's well-ordered farm workshop. I see plenty of tools I'd be ''borrowing''. But, like most experienced shop men, he's got ''special loaners'' no doubt, like loose-jawed left-handed monkey wrenches, hammers without handles and reverse
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Iron-Man, Joe Harlan of Independence, Missouri shows off his ''Little Mo'' at the Stover, Missouri Fair. Note the saw mounted on the front and belted to the flywheel of the 4 x 5 Case engine. Picture from Joe Harlan, Independence, Missouri. Courtesy of Jo
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This photo shows Joe Harlan making an adjustment on ''Little Mo'' while a member of the younger generation looks on. This is at the Boonville, Missouri steam show. The way the camera's hanging from the kid's hand - it looks like he's already shot up his w
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Before he even has made the canopy, Iron-Man, Joe Harlan, sets out to do some chores with ''Little Mo'' on his Versailles, Missouri farm. Pictures from Joe Harlan. Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390 for above pictures.
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Iron Man, Joe Harlan seems to be pulling a cement mixer with his ''Little Mo''. Could he be putting in a new walk to that privy?
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Joe Harlan ''got religion'' again on steam, when he began running Del Seuser's Case at the McLouth, Kansas Fair. We'll grant he looks ''right at home'' on that vibrating deck. ''Mo'' steam, Joe''. Picture from Joe Harlan. Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union

Union City, Indiana

Coming into this world around the turn of the century might well
have portended a very bleak life, indeed, for the average Missouri
farm lad even at the very most. News of what happened in the big,
wide world beyond the line fence barely trickled through. And even
if it did, it was at best a week or two late. But nobody cared, for
there were the manly chores a little boy had to face up to, such as
helping Dad milk the cows, chopping kindling and lugging it in for
Mom’s big wood range to boil the coffee and fry the bacon
‘n eggs in time for breakfast with just enough time to run back
and crank the DeLaval cream separator and wash up in time for
breakfast. And then, with lunch pail in one hand and bookstrap over
shoulder, it was off to the one-room school, down the mud road,
trekking ‘cross field ‘n glen and fording ‘cricks’
to lug in the fire wood and stroke the classroom fire and yank on
the belfry rope in time for teacher to begin the morning class.

It was a long time before the era of the fabulous luxury of
rapid communication known as the crystal radio. Only a few of the
more affluent boasted investment in such cultural extravagances as
a tin-horn crank Edison talking machine or foot-pedal reed organ to
entertain their guests with an Uncle Josh cylinder record or gather
round and sing hymns in the front parlor. Certainly there were no
such things as daily newspapers, for the mails barely trickled
through, fetching at best only a weekly gossip column from the
country seat and a farm magazine or seed catalog or two. Indeed,
the only efficient and rapid ‘news editing’ was done around
the pot-bellied stove down at the country store with a generous
spicing of florid accounts and personal opinions tossed in for good
measure. Nobody ever heard of an A.P. or U.P.I. by-line. And who
cared anyhow what with the constant relay of village gossips
dropping by, grinding out their verbal ‘newsprint’ from
morn till night, world without end Amen?

Oh yes, someone had mentioned that, in the big cities, there
were such contraptions called ‘telephones’. But it was a
long time before the country store would up-grade its
news-gathering media and editorial potential by having one of the
new-fangled hand-cranked models installed on the center post, over
by the gossip bench beside the pot-bellied stove.

‘I was born back in 1901, and that was really back in the
horse and buggy days,’ says J. W. Harlan of Independence, Mo.
‘By the year of 1972, I think I have seen more so-called
progress than since the beginning of time.’ (And who’s to
doubt your claim, Joe? Not I.)

‘The rural mail routes had just been established and our
only contact with the outside world was a weekly newspaper, or some
farm magazines,’ says J. W. ‘I recall the first gasoline
engines that came out, but the steam engine – the only power except
man and horsepower was just getting a good start.’

When young Joe Harlan was ‘borned into this old world’,
the steam engine still had many of its best and finest years ahead
of it. For instance, the Baker engine was still being experimented
on by its designer and chief engineer, Abner Baker, at the Baker
Factor in Swanton, Ohio. Old Baker No. 1 had been pretty well
perfected back in ’98. But it was only a horse-drawn portable,
and yet to follow would be the moble line of Baker self-propelled
steam traction engines with such innovations as the distinguished
Baker Valve Gear, the Uniflow principle and many others. All of
which lent that well-known sharp cut-off which has endeared the
Baker engines to the men who owned and ran them, and to the many
fans who now hear them with delight at the numerous steam threshing
shows throughout our land. Not to mention the fact that the
efficiency of the Baker Engine Valve Gear was later adapted over to
some fifteen thousand railroad locomotives throughout the United
States and Mexico, hauling both freight and passenger trains to
their daily destinations.

‘I can recall the upright engines and the hand-fed
separators and horsepower feed grinders,’ recalls Joe Harlan.
(Being from Missouri, maybe Joe meant mule power.)

But power it was whether mule or horse. And it and manpower were
the only forces of energy available to man to get his work done on
the American farm until the advent of King Steam.

‘The few small gas engines that came out in the teens were
for wood saws and other farm chores,’ says Harlan. ‘By the
time I was ten or twelve years of age, I was doing a man’s work
in the field with a team of horses. We cut and stored ice for
summer use, when I was a teenager. The first automobiles came to
our community about 1910 or 1912. We bought our first car in 1918 a
Model-T Ford, during the First World War.’

‘Our fuel was wood or coal, and I remember the first
kerosene (better known as coal-oil) stoves,’ ‘minds Iron
Man, Joe Harlan. ‘We had no bath tubs, no running water, in
fact, we had to haul water for washing for miles in dry winters,
and it would freeze in the barrels.’

‘There were no hospitals, no dentists, (OUCH!) and no
undertakers,’ says Harlan, ‘Until about 1920.’ (Feller
didn’t dare to get a toothache, or even die, eh Joe?) ‘Of
course the cities had electric lights, and some of these services,
but none of these were in the rural districts.’ recalls J.

‘Trucks with solid rubber tires followed shortly after the
cars,’ says Harlan, ‘And the small steel-wheeled tractors
also came along. But they were not very practical for some

After Joe Harlan finished his stint in high school, being
mechanically inclined he enrolled in a mechanic’s course at the
Rahe Auto School at Kansas City, Mo. Feeling he’d had enough of
farming in his young years, he decided to settle there rather than
return to the farm.

‘I entered the postal service at Kansas City in 1922 and
retired there in 1964,’ says he.

But that’s only a part of his story. For the great evolution
of power, both on the farm and in the city left its indelible mark
on his memory.

Along with the early crystal sets and radios the electric iron
soon followed, as well as sweepers and washers, powered by electric
motors. But these modern refinements were still mainly confined to
the cities far away.

‘My wife, ‘Lib’ was teaching in the country
schoolhouse,’ says Joe Harlan. ‘Along with her school work
and my serving as deacon and teacher in our Southern Baptist Church
circles, as well as repairing old-time cars and gas engines, her
house work and my garage shop were still being run without benefits
of electricity. Everything was by hand the hard way.’

‘It wasn’t until the REA came along that we purchased
our first electric washer, in 1929,’ recalls Harlan. ‘That
was my first electric motor and I would change it back and forth
from washer to work bench. Now I probably have twenty-five such
motors in my shop.’

With the new-fangled washer came such other modern refinements
as an electric refrigerator to help ‘Lib’ with her
household chores, while the both of them enjoyed the early farm
radio programs without the radio batteries always running down just
as Lum ‘n Abner or Amos ‘n Andy were coming on.

But, during the influx of the new electrical innovations and the
inroads being made throughout the rural areas, out Missouri-way,
Joe Harlan still thought that steam was the best power regardless
of the new tractors and gas engines that were replacing it on the
American farm. Despite the fact that, living in Independence, Mo.,
he and his family often rubbed elbows with a certain Harry Truman,
who would someday be President of the United States, the ‘Glory
Days When Steam Was King’ kept nudging him for that backward
glance. Joe Harlan had steam in his veins!

And the steam pressure wasn’t reduced a bit in Joe’s
boiler-head by taking those nine trips out to Mt. Pleasant over the
years. In fact it blew the safety-valve right off his steam dome
when Del Seuser let him run his 45-Case at the McLouth, Kansas,
steam show every year and then started him on the big engines at
Mt. Pleasant. (Now we know, Joe.)

Then it was that all those boyhood memories, when Joe was a
twelve-year old lad, helping his ‘Uncle Sam’ Broaddus on
his threshing engine at Huntsville, Mo., returned with a full head
of steam to haunt him. Along with his bee-keeping, and his
preoccupation at gobbling up two and three-wheel garden tractors,
including a stint at selling the Indianapolis-made Unitractors
and/or repairing gas-powered lawnmowers, our Iron Man just
wasn’t satisfied at all. Joe Harlan just had to have his own
steam engine. So he made one.

Locating a 24′ by 20′ upright steam boiler, Joe Harlan
mounted it onto a steel frame, piped in a 4-Horse, 4′ by 5′
Case Engine which he chained by sprockets to the rear wheels, added
some power shafts for buzzing wood and running the cement mixer,
and topped it all with a neat canopy to cool his dome in the
summer’s sun. It all sounds like making a ‘tossed-up
salad’. But it’s a steam engine, instead. And Joe Harlan
uses it for about any kind of chore requiring power down on the
Harlan Family Farm, near Versailles, Missouri. In fact it’s
really his steam-powered version of the fabled Missouri Mule. (Too
bad old Harry Truman didn’t get to see this one.)

‘I’ve pulled this engine about five-hundred miles behind
my car, but it has no springs and it’s sort of rough on
it,’ says Joe, who’s been taking it to such local shows as
Boonville, Stover, the town fair at Versailles and the like all in
the ‘Show Me State’ of Missouri. But the most showing that
Joe Harlan’s steam engine gets is right out at the farm buzzing
firewood, yanking belt on the cement mixer, over by the family
privy, or just giving off the pungent aroma of cylinder-oil and
coal-smoke while lending sweet stack-music to engineer Joe Harlan,
sitting in his easy chair. Which, if we know anything, is about the
best show of all.

‘Whenever we take the engine out ‘Lib’ always likes
to go along, but she goes more for the fancy work,’ pines Iron
Man Joe. ‘We have three ‘children and eight grandchildren
who are all proud of it, but especially my little grandson, Mike
Lamb, likes to pull the whistle,’ fawns Grandpa.

‘We are both Southern Baptists. My wife has been active in
women’s organizations and a teacher most all of her life,’
says Joe Harlan. ‘And I have served as teacher and deacon for
many years.’

‘I think we, as a generation, have lived through the most
wonderful and wasteful generation of all time and I think we are
going to suffer for such waste,’ says Joe Harlan. ‘I often
think of these words, ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart
and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways
acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths’.’

But throughout the many changes that Joe Harlan has witnessed
over his long and experienced life, along with the wisdom he’s
gleaned from scripture, there remains that river of honey
that’s flowed through it all.

‘I still keep bees, and have for thirty years,’ says he.
‘And I think honey is the best and most natural sweet of

It must be, Joe. It’s kept you and ‘Lib’ ‘n all
the kids and grandkids sweet over the years. And the thoughts of
it, on our breakfast toast, sort of sweetens us, too. For life,
without honey, can be just ‘one sting after another’.

Three toots on the Iron Horse whistle make ‘er really blow
for Iron Man Joe from the State of Mo. Throttle-jerker, friend of a
President, too. Really his name should be page one in ‘THE TOOT

And now a whistle-toot from ‘Little Mo’, Joe?

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