Iron Man of the Month: Ormann Keyser

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Ormann Keyser, of Canton, Ohio, former Stark County Agricultural Agent, includes steam engines in his lectures and courses on historical agricultural implements and the development of mechanical farming.

“Ormann Keyser’s the man who can explain the engines for your records,” said LeRoy Blaker, president of the National Threshers Association meeting at Alvordton, Ohio, that year.

“You’ll find him over there among the engines. He’s well-versed about the history of steam traction engines.”

“Mr. Keyser, I presume?” yelled I over the barking of stacks and hissing of safety valves at that busy reunion where every engine was getting its licks in. “Mr. Blaker said you could help me explain some of these engines for my recordings.”

“Well, now, I don’t know whether I can furnish just what you want or not,” replied Ormann Keyser trying to out-shout the steam whistles and exhaust.

But before he could back out I had my disc recorder turned on and spinning and was asking Mr. Ormann Keyser every question I could think of about the mighty Port Huron engine that was yanking the long, flopping belt to the Prony Brake at the other end.

I didn’t have to ask many questions, for I soon found out that the versatile and well-informed Mr. Ormann Keyser, once he got started, began telling me the history and specifications of that engine like a college professor lecturing before a class. The pulse of the stack, the yank of the whistle cord, all seemed to time out perfectly with the expert expostulations of the astute Mr. Keyser and, when we had finished that disc and began playing it back, we were happy to learn that we had one of the finest recordings of a steam engine I ever made the first time we had tried.

A Minneapolis engine was next on the brake and Mr. Keyser went right on explaining about the mighty Minneapolis almost like a schoolboy delivering the Gettysburg Address, word-perfect at the head of his class.

A Baker engine followed next and Keyser was not wanting for background material which seemed right on his tongue’s tip as the mighty Baker barked its sharp and square-cut exhaust that hot, murky summer afternoon, while its venerable creator, Mr. Abner D. Baker, sat nostalgically in the swaying, vibrating cab.

And then came the big afternoon parade of steam engines, along with the Baker Engine No. 1 from the Swanton Shops, the lengthy gamut of reciprocating steam traction engines all household names that made America great followed by the famous historic coal-fired steam calliope of the Fort Dearborn Museum and Mr. Ormann Keyser hung onto that microphone from the beginning to the end.

Those were historic reunion days at the LeRoy Blaker farm at Alvordton, and Ormann Keyser helped to make them so. For not only was the loquacious Mr. Keyser a genuine steam engine man who knew the innards of boiler and piston, steam gauge and injector, but in addition he was the scholar who was able to convey his thoughts into words.

For many years the agricultural agent of Stark County, in eastern Ohio, Ormann Keyser was constantly thrown into circles which required a man to not only know his agriculture and its history, but to also explain it to both the satisfaction of the common man and the scholar. Not only was this man conversant with the problems and trends of modern-day farming, but his passion for the history of American agriculture kept him close to the throttle of steam-belching, pulsating steam traction engines quite as well as his bent for learning and historic fact led him to the university classroom where he also lectured profusely on the passing parade of the great names in American agriculture that have enabled our nation to become the breadbasket of the world.

For his many years of devoted service to the farmers of Stark County, Mr. Keyser was awarded a brand new automobile — a most befitting gesture to one of his stature and leadership among farm groups and circles in the great Midwest.

It was my privilege and fortune, a few years ago, to pay a short visit to the home of Mr. Ormann Keyser in Canton, Ohio. There he sat in the nostalgic atmosphere of his study, surrounded by numerous historic prints and lithographs, drawings and photos of his beloved steam traction engines, an intellectual giant among the iron giants he loved so well.

To Ormann Keyser who has worked so hard, labored so tirelessly to make the history of the American Steam Traction Engine and Agriculture to literally speak for us, we doff our hat most humbly in respect as we nominate such a one as the unchallenged “Iron Man of the Month.”

May your throttle hand never waiver and your tongue never want for words in making the great days of steam agriculture live again for us. Ormann Keyser. And now, Ormann, if you will reach up and yank that whistle cord on your beloved Port Huron, calling us all ’round the well-laden threshermen’s festive board. I will plop a “period” to end this long diatribe to sit by your side, so that I, too, can get in on the fried chicken, the noodles and mashed ‘taters along with the rest. IMA

Joe Fahnestock lives in Union City, Ind., writes for the Dayton Daily News and has the radio show “Joe’s Journal.”
Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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