Iron Man Of The Month

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Up the Hill goes Harry Woodmansee, Pipe, red polka-dot cap and old Case No. 9. These are sights that thrill the throngs at midwest reunions, matched only by performers at the Old Big Top years ago.
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Better say 'Hello' to the Lord while you're up there,'' yelled Jay Gould over the WOWO radio mikes at the Ft. Wayne, Ind. Old Time Threshers and Sawmillers Show.


‘Running a thresh engine is more difficult than that of
handling a railroad locomotive,’ is the way Iron Man Harry
Woodmansee puts it. ‘Railroads are usually level, whereas
running a traction engine a fellow has hills and valleys to go
over, and he has to keep stricter watch on water levels and the
loads he’s pulling.’

But Harry Woodmansee, once the proverbial farm lad who looked up
from his horse-driven plow to wave at the passing train – and who
dreamed of someday becoming a locomotive engineer has realized the
fruition of all those boyhood ambitions, coming of course in their
proper order.

‘I was about six or seven when I began pestering my father
around his steam threshing engine,’ muses Woodmansee. ‘From
that time on I had steam in my blood. When I grew up, I signed up
with the Grand Trunk Railroad as a fireman, but though I ran some
of the engines now and then, I never actually was promoted to the
right side of the cab.’

Some of Harry’s fondest, most colorful memories were the
years he helped the late Louie David work on some steam traction
engines at Northfield, Mich., shop.

‘Once Louie and I got the job of rebuilding, from the ground
up, a 40-horsepower Avery undermounted. It was a wreck, but after
thirty days of making rods, crosshead guides, injector, drilling
out broken lugs and installing another boiler, we had this Avery
performing in mint condition, and then it was taken clear up to
Alberta, Canada, to a big show,’ reminisces Woodmansee.

‘Yes, I always get scared, so many things could go
wrong,’ confided Harry, later after descending from the high
blue yonder.

From watching in engine shops as the professional boilermakers
caulked boilers and observing the innovation of tools fashioned
over the year, to tackle every kind of ensuing mechanical problem.
Harry Woodmansee acquired most of the shop know-how to fit right
into the busy schedule of the hard-working perfectionist, Louis

But working on steam traction engines was but a sideline to the
spirited Louie David, whose day-to-day livelihood was working on
professional racing cars, some of which he drove in races.

‘Many a time I’ve gone along with Louie, and while
he’d be getting ready to enter the race, I’d be out on the
track warming up his racer,’ explains Woodmansee.

However, the culimination of the career of this plow-boy, steam
thresherman, railroader and race, track co-pilot has more recently
flowered into a steam engine showmanship bordering on the
spectacular, shared once by only the Big Top circus performers.

For wherever there is a midwest steam engine reunion, and Harry
Woodmansee is announced ready to climb the big hill with his pipe,
red polka-dot cap and old No. 9, there the crowds converge, to
cheer and applaud – whether it’s at the Ft. Wayne Old Time
Threshers, out in Nebraska, up in Minnesota or perhaps the

But asked why he seems to prefer the Case over all other engines
on which to perform his dangerous daily dozen, says Woodmansee,
‘Some years back, while I was working for the Minneapolis
people, I kept watching those wonderful engines coming out of the
Case factory just across the street. Their later models appealed to
me as a fine engine. They were an assembled engine, and in my view
far superior in lasting qualities to those of the bracket type
which seemed to develop failures over the years.’

One of Harry Woodmansee’s happiest memories is the time his
son, Carroll, a budding young engineer, began inspiring his other
friends in the classroom to build up little steam engines just like
Dad’s so they could display them at the school.

‘I began missing parts in my shop –whistles, oil drums,
injectors, so many things,’ chuckles Harry. ‘But I knew
where they were going. One day the boys came out with their little
models, and you never saw such an array of steam engines that those
kids had made up. I guess that was the first steam engine reunion
that ever was held.’

Harry Woodmansee has the picture of those little engines his son
and the other neighborhood boys made, long ago. Since then Harry
went through the losing that teenage son in an automobile accidnet.
But Harry will proudly whip the tattered and frayed old photo of
that ‘First steam engine reunion’ out of his overall bib
pocket and show it to you, if you ask about it.

To Iron Man Harry Woodmansee, engineer in the strictest
tradition of his profession, his faithful old pipe, and old Case
No. 9 — we nominate a niche in the front row of the Iron Man Hall
of Fame.

For the thousand, hair-raising thrills you’ve given the
cheering, hat-waving crowds, for the faith you’ve kept vigil in
steam, for the hours of thankless work done on old No. 9 while
folks weren’t watching,a nd without bragging, for the guidance
given youth toward an understanding of steam locomotion both in the
past and the present – we thank you, Iron Man Harry Woodmansee.

Keep climbin’ those hills with old No. 9 and scarin’
folks – even if it does scare you, Harry. Well be watchin’ from
down below, while you, scary Harry, say, ‘Hello’ to the
Lord up there.

And oh yes, Harry, that time you came shuffling in like an old
mud turtle, rather late, and plopped down in the straw stack to
snooze the night out at the Old-Time Threshers – my wife was the
guilty one who planted the pitch fork with that sign, ‘Here
Lies Harry Woodmansee — May He ‘Rust’in Peace’ by your

‘Sort o’ gives a fellow a funny feelin’ wakin’
up and readin’ his own epitaph,’ chortles Iron Man

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