UNION CITY, INDIANA. of DAYTON DAILY NEWS AND Radio’s
‘And may this day be both pleasant and profitable to both us
and to Thee, in Jesus name and for His sake we ask it, AMEN.’
Thus prays the Rev. Elmer L. Ritzman at each and all the numerous
steam thresher-men’s conclaves and reunions throughout the
length and breadth of this land of ours, whenever and wherever he
is called upon to serve as honorary chaplain.
It isn’t until the official Ritzman blessing has been asked,
following the raising of Old Glory to the strains of our National
Anthem, that steam engine stacks begin barking, whistles begin
blowing and belts start to flopping ushering in another beautiful
and glorious day of old-time American threshermen’s
get-together, reminiscent of the days when ‘steam was
And, as the day wears on, should you happen to stress a point
most pleasing in the course of your conversation, don’t be
surprised if a resounding, ‘A-MEN’ comes forth from a
certain distinguished-looking Pennsylvania Dutchman of sparse mane
who happens to agree as a sort of official emphasis to the
correctness of what you are saying.
‘Elmer Ritzman has done more than any one man to revive and
keep alive the interest in the steam engine throughout
America,’ confided Lyle Hoffmaster of Worthington, Ohio, after
hand-shakes and well-wishes that sent the preacher-editor back to
his Pennsylvania homeland at the close of the 1967 National
Threshermen’s Association. ‘Next to him, the credit must go
to LeRoy Blaker,’ summed up the Hoffmaster appraisal.
The entire N.T.A. 1967 steam threshermen’s conclave
experienced a moral and spiritual resurgence when the usual
traveling van arrived at the grounds and chaplain-editor Ritzman
and his entourage began spreading out their numerous issues of IRON
MEN ALBUMS, GAS ENGINE MAGAZINES and related books and pamphlets in
the grand old manner. For folks had heard of his siege of illness
throughout the long winter months, and were wondering if their
beloved Elmer would make it this time.
‘Elmer has never missed a single year here at the National
Threshermen’s and he just had to come, ‘explained Mrs.
Earlene Ritzman, a bit jubilant. ‘For a long time we wondered
if we could come, but Elmer just wouldn’t miss it.’
It was indeed a time for reminiscing and the renewing of old
friendships, for the Rev. Ritzman both among the engines and the
engineers amongst whom he sorted on his many jaunts out across the
infield, shaking hands, riding here and there an engine, and
otherwise basking in the pleasant aura of steam cylinder oil, coal
smoke and the June sun. And, like the tonic it was, every time he
returned the stronger and happier he was for the experience.
(Couldn’t keep ‘im off that Kitten Engine).
And, to me, the experiences of the past two years have been even
pleasanter, with editor-chaplain Elmer setting up his official IRON
MEN stand beside my humble recording abode ‘neath the sprawling
N.T.A. grandstand a feeling that I believe has become quite
And even more pleasant was the reminiscing of years gone by when
Elmer Ritzman swapped me a Floyd Clymer Steam Engine Album for a
copy of my first recording of an old Aultman-Taylor Gas Tractor
back in ’48. And his reply, saying he liked it and inviting me
to come to the LeRoy Blaker farm to record more engines. How green
I was to learn I didn’t know a Baker Engine from a jack-ass,
but soon learned after making a recording of such sterling figures
as Abner Baker and visiting with editor Elmer who was then taking
subscriptions for his humble FARM ALBUM in his tiny tent.
It all started in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, where Elmer
Ritzman grew up on a farm near Port Royal.
‘My father first had a Nichols and Sheppard engine, then
later he got a Case,’ reminisced Elmer. ‘I didn’t get
steam in my blood it was already in. I began running the engine for
my father’s threshing rig when only a young man of about 14.
Outside of the steam threshing engine, everything else we did by
hand. We had no refinements like the windmill or gas engines we
pumped our water by hand, the ‘Armstrong’ method.’
Of those early years, Elmer Ritzman retains the most vivid
memories of the bounteous threshermen’s dinners spread out for
the hungry threshermen as they went from farm to farm.
‘And what, in your memory, was the main dish around which
the usual threshermen’s dinner was spread?’ queried I.
‘Oh, it was always fried chicken,’ remonstrated brother
‘And, since you have now been a preacher, I presume you know
that well-worn cliche about ‘fried-chicken-eating
preachers’?’, continued .1, pressing the reverend for more
‘Yes, I am well-acquainted with that also,’ replied
Elmer. ‘But by the time I became a preacher, I was already so
well-filled with country fried chicken that I was ready for
It was when the National Threshermens Association became
organized that the Rev. Elmer Ritzman began feeling the need for
some kind of publication to keep engineers informed of the
activities and unify them into some form of a national nucleus.
‘I remember Elmer wrote me a letter, at the time, asking
what I thought of some kind of letter or pamphlet for the
organization, and I told him I thought it would be a good
idea,’ injected President of N.T.A., LeRoy Blaker, who had just
come up to join our conversational reminiscing. ‘But I told him
he wouldn’t become a millionaire over it.’
For some years the sparse sheets of the little magazine,
including photos of old and historic agricultural machinery and
especially steam traction engines, was known as THE FARM ALBUM.
Then editor-Elmer got the bright idea of changing the tite to IRON
I reminded Elmer that I had congratulated him upon the name
change, the last year we met at the Blaker farm. But his reply was
that no one else had so complimented him, but he still preferred
the new nomenclature.
Soon after, the layout of the little magazine changed from the
glossy to the more familiar pages and clearer photos we have been
enjoying ever since, thanks to a switch to the off-set press method
of publication. And over the years Elmer’s little FARM ALBUM
has now grown up to become the nice, plump, very readable and
photogenic magazine that, in any threshermen’s and
historians’ heart takes second place to none.
Indeed, Elmer’s brain-child, THE FARM ALBUM, has come of age
in the well-laid-out format we now enjoy as THE IRON MEN ALBUM,
And now, what of your latest brain child, the Ritzman
Agricultural Korn-Krib Museum, Elmer?
‘Ever since 1902 I’ve been buying up old magazines and
posters of threshing and agricultural interests and related
subjects,’ explains Elmer. ‘I also have my Burdsell and
4-wheel drive Lansing Engines, as well as numerous models. Some of
the models, like my road-scraper and others are what are known as
I wanted folks to be able to see these historic things, so I had
a concrete block building erected to house them in,’ says
Elmer. ‘After I brought everything out of the house and attic,
we had more living space to spread out in.’
‘I also have some of threshing rigs which Joe Ernst,
engineer on the Grand Trunk, has made for my museum,’ adds
Ritzman. ‘Everyone is invited at any time to come and see my
collection in ‘Elmer’s Korn Krib’ for free.’
And what of it all these 42 years of preaching the Good Word in
Pennsylvania Methodist pastorates, as well as reviving the interest
in American steam engine heritage and serving as chaplain and
spiritual guide to the thousands that read his pages?
Like the humble bumble bee, which aerodynamic theorists say
couldn’t possibly fly, but it does simply because it
doesn’t know it can’t says Rev. Elmer, ‘I’ve just
gone along and done things without knowing I couldn’t.’
And to you, brother Elmer, though your stature has grown, your
halo still fits. From us, one and all, an eternal gratitude for all
you’ve done and are doing.
May God grant many more years in your mission among us. For I
recall you said years ago, Had these thresher-men not united to
save our fine old engines they’d have long ago been melted into
bullets to damn Mankind.’
And now, brother Elmer do I hear a resounding ‘A-MEN?