UNION CITY, INDIANA.
He's the typical American thresher man. And to hear him laugh and blow the whistle on his counter-flow Baker, you know he's enjoyed every minute of it, come good times or hard times down on the farm.
Whether it's helping out at the Darke County 'Steam Thrashers' at Greenville, Ohio, each summer, as one of the organization's directors, pulling on the big Baker Fan or taking his place in the annual parade on the reunion grounds or at various civic organization she's always the one that can be counted on with the old 21-75 to help fill the gap. And wherever you may be standing, should he happen to know you, you'll suddenly become the object of all eyes. For Hugh Hartzell will give you a generous toot, a hearty wave of the hand and call out your name as he rumbles by on the swaying deck of OF Baker from wherever it happens to be in the passing parade.
He's a big man is Hugh Hartzell wears his overalls well, as a farmer should. No scrawny, horny-handed type of thresher man he, with baggy trousers, wrinkled shirt or sagging, oil-soaked gall uses like we too often are prone to visualize the average steam thresher man. Even in sports clothes which he often switches to, the white shirt, the neatly pressed pants, the natty straw hat and long fresh cigar clamped firmly between his teeth all let you know he's the farmer and steam thresher man who wouldn't trade a day of it for the highest office in the land-including the Presidency. His executive suite is the swaying deck of a Baker Engine, his business house, over which he rules as undisputed captain of industry, is the typical red barn and he wouldn't swap a minute of it for the thrones of Popes, potentates or kings. Everything about him is typically Buckeye born in Ohio, runs a steam engine made in Ohio and has lived, farmed and threshed all his days in Ohio. What greater honors could anyone boast of. (Except for his sins of slippin' off to Canada or Florida to do his fishin'.)
'If I had my life to live over, I wouldn't change a bit of it,' says Hartzell who loved the challenges of bad times as well as the affluence of the prosperous years.
Born in Richland Township, near the little village of Beamsville (some call it Beamtown), in Darke County, western Ohio, Hugh Hartzell helped his Dad farm till he was twenty-one.
'Dad lived eighty rods back from the road,' says Hugh. 'When I started farming on my own, I just rented forty-eight acres out by the road, married Gladys, and from then on we were on our own.'
'I started farming and threshing back in '27. We were three years on that forty-eight acres. Then we moved over by the village of Coletown, northwest of Greenville, just a few miles away,' explains Hartzell, thumbing back through the pages of his memory. 'I rented eighty acres for two years, then moved over by Elroy, (a few miles farther north), where I farmed twenty acres, five of tobacco, and started threshing on my own with a half interest in partnership with Willard Hart. '
After three years the partnership was dissolved and Hugh Hartzell began straight farming which he continued to do till the coming of the threshing shows.
'I kept my old 18-horsepower Advance Engine at that time, which I had used for threshing, and used it for five years steaming tobacco bedsthen I junked it,' pines he. 'I've been sorry ever since I didn't hang onto it. '
It was thirteen years ago that Hugh Hartzell began going to a shindig called 'The Darke County Steam Threshers', out at the old Harve Estey woods, east of Greenville, Ohio. Here it was that he began re-living the good old days, helping with the steam threshing and saw-milling, and envying Uncle Charlie Ditmer who commandeered the growing show from the deck of his 12-Horse Advance. So much did Hugh Hartzell's conscience cringe at having junked his old Advance Engine that he did the next best thinghe up and bought himself a twenty-one, seventy-five Baker counter-flow two years later just to get back into the swing of things and ease the pangs of remorse.
But ever since, Hugh Hartzell has been more than making up for that one bad decision he made in his lifejunking the old Advanceby participating more and more in the activities of the Darke County Steam Threshers, as well as contributing to other area reunions and to various civic parades, programs and functions, all in the interests of preserving agricultural history on the American farm.
Serving on the board of directors of the Darke County Threshers for eight years, a position he still holds to the present day, Hugh Hartzell has taken his Baker Engine to the Miami Valley Threshers for three years and to the Mansfield Steam Threshers when it was held on the beautiful and picturesque Logan farm outside of Mansfield, Ohio. In addition he has been contributing to the steam segment of the big Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Shows at the Portland, Ind., fairgrounds. Here it was that he has participated with the annual cooking of apple butter by steam engine in copper 'kittles', with Uncle Charlie Ditmer and his inevitable cigar presiding as 'chief cook' and head culinary artist in the copper coil and vat dispensary.
'I have had lots of fun with this Baker Engine,' laughs Hartzell. 'It's my only hobbyoh, outside of a little fish-in' down in Florida or up in Canada. We've even had our own little shows on my farm, threshing grain and making apple butter. We made apple butter once and had three hundred people there. Could've sold a hundred gallons, but made only thirty-six. Charlie Ditmer was chief cook always at these functions, too.'
To Hugh Hartzell there are the memories of the many thresher men's dinners over which he's stretched that long threshing arm o' his to get at the 'vittles'.
'YesI like fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy, and I've eaten my share, you can betcha,' says he. (And his wife, Gladys, has had her share at rattling the pots 'n pans, frying chicken, making noodles, stirring gravy, hurrying to get it all on the table in time.)
'Never forget the second summer I farmed. Had lots of oats. We threshed for three days. Gladys cooked six meals in those three days.' reminisces Hugh, (And from us, may no soul be ever so crass as to overlook those feminine heroines of the skillet and dishpan who kept vigilance over the hot wood ranges during the July harvest seasons, getting in the grub, whipping up the 'vittles', peeling the 'taters' baking pies 'n cakes and wiping the silver and dishes to a spotless sheen to appease the gnawing appetites of the men folk and keep 'em happy. Alas, man would have perished long ago, were it not for they.)
But life for the Hartzell'sHugh and Gladys was not always a bowl of peaches and cream prosperity, high prices for crops and big dinners down on the farm. Like most young couples, marital bliss had its ups and downs for them too, right from the start. Marriage brought the usual desire for freedom and independence from the paternal household the longing to strike out into the world of industry to seek one's fortune or the futility of it.
'After I got all the crops in, the Fall of '26, I told Dad I was going out and get a job,' says Hugh. 'I applied at the Dayton Rubber Company, but they told me they were all filled up. So I went to the National Cash Register and they hired me on. I worked in the parts department, filling baskets of parts for the fellows to assemble in the cash registers. But in February of '27 I quit and went back to farming.'
'We've seen rough times, but never regretted it a minute, going back to the farm. The Big Depression came, but we raised hogs, farmed and threshed,' recalls Hugh. 'Hogs sold at two-cents a pound then. We raised six acres of tobacco, one ton to the acre, and sold it for seven cents a pound. We milked our own cows and separated the cream. Sold a ten-gallon can of cream to the grocery store for only a dollar and a half.'
'We sold eggs for seven cents a dozen,' reminds Hartzell of those not-so-good Old Days. 'You could buy an awful good milk cow for forty dollars.'
With hard work and an eye to the future, the Hugh Hartzells, like the nation, began recoiling from the blows of the Big Depression.
'In '41 we bought our first farm one-hundred and thirteen acres at sixty-four dollars an acre, just two miles north of the old Hunchberger Corners Store, six miles northeast of Union City,' says Hugh. 'We still live here today, and now have two-hundred and forty acres.'
To Hugh Hartzell, the running of a steam engine at a thresher men's reunion need not be the grimy, dirty job it is often made to be. Neatly attired throughout the working day, his immaculate white-cuffed gloves present a cleaner throttle-hand reaching across the table for the noon grub, when Gladys rings the bell for dinnertime. An impressive, well-liked steam thresher man with commandeering voice (well vocalized on hog-calling of yore)a man with a grand sense of humor and impeccable Buckeye vernacularan engine man who leaves his dirt outside and walks clean into the kitchen what more could a farm wife desire of her hubby?
For all this and much more for the friendly handshakes and calling our names out from your Baker as you pass by in the big parade and for keeping the grand tradition of American farming alive today we offer you Hugh Hartzella front seat in our vaunted Hall of Iron-Man Fame. (And, who knows you may someday be eligible for a fresh two-fer from the pocket of Uncle Charlie Ditmer as recognition for highest award.)