I. to r: Iron-Man O. W. Nichols and his Sassy Lady' of Pickerington, Ohio seals international friendships with Canadian, Charlie Spicer of Corruna Ontario, Canada. It's always like a UN meeting round Sawyer-Massey at National Threshers Association Wauseon, Ohio.
Well, it seems that Dad Nichols couldn't somehow satisfy sonny boy's desire for more and more horsepower by fetching home big enough steam traction engines. So sonny boy (O. W. Nichols to be exact) broke with tradition and, instead of staying down on the farm as the paternal Nichols had hoped, by baiting him with steam engines to run, left the quaint confines of the Canadian countryside and, like Horatio Alger, sought fortune across the border.
'In 1917 I came to the states and worked several years in a garage at South Charleston, Ohio, then in a garage at Granville, Ohio,' recalls Iron Man Nichols.
His sortie of several years' crack at working on old Model-T's in Ohio garages didn't however produce the 'cure' our youthful Canadian 'Iron Man' might well have experienced, had he been a less noble soul. For O. W. Nichols it wasn't a cry of 'Back to the farm and Dad's dinner table' for some of Mom's cooking. Instead, wandering even farther a field of such earth bound preoccupations as notching quadrants and easing throttles on such things as farm traction engines, O. W. Nichols sprouted wings.
'In 1923, at the age of 27, I began to fly', is the way Iron Man Nichols explains the unusual transition from threshing grain by steam on a Canadian farm to threshing clouds by 'prop' in the high blue yonder. 'I piled up a total of 650 hours of soloing in an old Curtiss Jenny OX-5 powered by a 90 horsepower water-cooled engine.'
'There were no regulations in those days,' muses Nichols with usual sly grin letting you know, by innuendo, that many a telegraph wire, tree limb and fence row owed its continued existence to his split-second, hairbreadth throttle-arm gleaned in those tender years atop the throbbing deck of Dad s old steamer. 'Later when I applied for a transport pilot s license number 3255. There weren't many transport pilots in the country then.'
'We did lots of barnstorming in those days. Soon I advanced from the old Curtiss Jenny to a Travel Air powered by a Wright Whirlwind engine,' says Iron Man (with wings) O. W. Nichols. 'In a couple of years I had a Tri-Motored Stinson powered by three 215 horse-power Licoming engines.'
'Then I bought a tri-motored Ford and went in strictly for barnstorming from 1936 to 1943, based at Columbus, Ohio. We barnstormed all over the country, taking passengers from town to town,' confides Iron Man Nichols. 'Then Uncle Sam stepped in and took our Planes for the war effort'.
For fifty years (that's half a century) I was completely without steam. Never even gave it a thought,' laughs O. W. Then one day about 1960, I went to a threshermen's reunion at Mechanicsburg Ohio, and smelled steam and smoke once again,' explained Nichols, casting a glance at the smoking stack of old 'Sassy Lady 'like the proverbial prodigal son who had just returned to his Father's abode.
The week following, the 'prodigal' aviator, his wing-feathers singed by steam forever, returned to the Canadian countryside of his youth - in quest of buying a Canadian-made engine.
'I remembered my experience with Canadian engines, and tried to find one for sale, but didn't succeed,' minds Iron Man Nichols. 'While there someone mentioned that Dan Heidle back in the states had a George White for sale and I returned by way of Sandusky and bought it.' (I have a good recording of that George White, O. W. You blew the whistle three times, and the hospital across the way called us down for it.)
'After owning and operating it for several years, I was able to acquire the Sassy Lady - er I mean this Sawyer-Massey from a cousin, J. W. Nichols of Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, manager of the new Woodstock Inn there,' points out Iron Man O. W. 'Guess she'll be my girl from here on out.
'Oh yes, I've still got my transport pilot's licence,' mused Iron Man Nichols, whipping out a faded card stamped with the low figure of 3255. 'But steam is better than flying for my book.'
'What's that? Which is safer - running a steam engine or flying barnstorm over fence rows and through trees?' echoed Iron Man Nichols to my question. 'Well, now that is the $64,000 question, and I don't like to answer it. Let's say it this way - flying's for a young man -steam's for an old man.'
Thank you, Iron Man, 'Diplomat' 0. W. Nichols, for coming back to steam after half-a-century of barnstorming up yonder. You ve just told us what we've known all along - that steam's better than airplanes, anyway you look at it, either up or down.
Hang onto that pilot s license, if for nothing more to give ol' Fidel the jitters that even steam threshermen can fly. But we hope you stay with your first love ol' 'Sassy Lady' whose boiler and piston have outlasted a thousand of Castro's paper planes.
United Nations take note! While you argue till you're blue in the face, Sawyer-Massey makes friends 'mong the human race.