Iron Man Of The Month

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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.
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Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.
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Courtesy of Arlo Jurney, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Union City, Indiana.

Swartzendruber-a name to reckon with, let alone spell or
remember. It was three years after receiving a letter from Omar
Swartzendruber and two personal visits that I was even able to
mentally visualize the name sufficiently to register in my
memory.

And, when I did decide to seek out the natural habitat of this
man with the long, unpronounceable name, my task was made none the
easier, simply because I could neither spell nor speak the
nomenclature of the one for whom I was searching. Indeed, no one
thereabouts in ‘them thar hills’ could either elucidate
about the man with the long, unspeakable name, or guide to his
whereabouts, except to advise me to ‘bar to the left, then to
the right and ask the folks up the lane.’

Finally a pudgy little gentleman, leaning on a crooked cane
beside a little red country schoolhouse at the crossroads did
recall a certain fellow with a lot of old machinery out beside the
red bank barn further on up the winding road.

‘I rec’llec the opened up the road with a bulldozer
after the blizzard of ’50,’ quoth he. And on we went over
the winding, hilly country turnpike, veering to the right, thence
to the left, until the stench of piggy manure stopped the motor of
our little red truck right smack in front of someone’s hog
barn.

The bearded gentleman from within laughed at our dilemma, then
directed us to follow the winding path on the other side of his
barn to the haunts of the man whose name we couldn’t pronounce.
And even after visiting a couple hours with him, I still
couldn’t spell Swartzendruber until I had arrived back home and
read it printed in a book he had given me.

Iron man OMAR SWARTZENDRUBER and his 12-Horse Frick Engine. He
re-flued it, and welded and ground out new teeth all around the
bull-gear, and it’s run fine for over six years. So he thinks
he did the job right. It sits out right in front of his little
home, down around the winding path in Miami County, Troy, Ohio.

‘Yes-this must be the place,’ we mused. ‘There is
the old machinery, and the steam engine right in front of his
little house, the frog pond and the big bank barn just as we had
visualized it would be.’

We were afraid to get out because of the vicious dog that was
barking and racing around behind the strong, iron fence. Then the
friendly little man came out and smiled, beckoning us to get out
and come in.

‘You don’t remember me,’ I said, putting out my hand
to shake his. ‘I’m Joe-the fellow you sent a little tape
recording of your steam engine and the frogs croaking in your pond.
You remember you paid me a visit a year ago.’

‘Oh yes-now I remember. It’s Joe,’ he replied.
‘Come on in and meet my wife, Ruthie.’

‘I’ll try and quiet the dog,’ said he, yelling at
Princess but not succeeding. ‘Our house is like a jail with
these iron bars. We have to keep a vicious watch dog in order to
keep children from swimming in our frog pond which is twenty-two
feet deep in places, and we don’t want any drownings.’

It was a small, unpretentious home in which the Swartzendrubers
lived. There was the ancient brick fireplace and the old Detroit
pump organ that dominated the parlor and gave it a homey look.

‘When we moved into this house the fireplace had been
boarded up. We decided we wanted to use it, but felt it wasn’t
safe, so, after I got my steam engine, I acquired an extra water
tank, and we thought we’d put it in the fireplace as a sort of
substitute to the Franklin Stove we were going to use to hold the
fire,’ explained Omar. ‘We also relined the flue with a
steel pipe to make it safe for firing.’

‘We had a hard time finding your place,’ said I. ‘We
couldn’t very well pronounce your name when we inquired of
folks, but I think it’s pronounced something like
Swartzendruber.’

‘That’s right,’ laughed mine host. ‘You did well
pronouncing it. You know it’s as ‘Irish’ as sauer
kraut.’

‘The first thing we saw was your steam engine when we were
coming up your lane,’ I said, changing the subject from
household to machinery. ‘What kind of engine is it?’

‘It’s a 12-horse Frick Engine,’ replied
Swartzendruber. (I hope I’ve spelled it correctly-WOW). ‘My
Dad threshed and sawed out in Iowa. I grew up with machinery all
around me, learned to help him out, and by the time I was fifteen I
was pretty big for my age so my father felt he had trained me well
enough to run the engine myself.’

‘I thought I’d never own an engine myself, but the one I
have now had spent its life in the hills of Kentucky- shows pretty
well by the wear that it’s seen a lot of service. It was made
in May of 1902, and shows a serial number of 9933,’ explained
Omar. ‘I got it through a man at Greenville, Ohio, but
can’t recall his name right now. When we got it home, we
enjoyed about eight weeks of labor, both day and night, and got it
to running.’

‘We re-flued it, the valve was out and we fixed that. The
bull-gear was pretty well gone, so I welded three days on that then
ground the gears down to size for two days, using a jig, with
advice from other welders,’ says Swartzendruber. ‘I’ve
used it now for six or seven years and it hasn’t broken, so I
thank the Lord it’s in pretty good shape yet,’ chuckled the
plucky sauer kraut Dutchman with the Yankee ingenuity.
‘I’ve never had it on the belt, but when I got the valve
set I wanted to hear how it sounded, so I improvised a Prony Brake
by placing a board under the flywheel and applied pressure
alternately by a hydraulic jack to make it bark. I ran it that way
once at the Darke County Threshers, Greenville, Ohio, and many of
my friends got a bang out of its bark.’

The old Cat 60, of 1929 vintage which Iron Man Omar
Swartzendruber bought back in ’45. He kept the roads open
during the big blizzard of 1950-dozing three days and nights
without letup. Whenever a part would break, he’d weld it back
together-everywhere there’s a place to take weld-and it still
runs fine.

The old Marion Roller which Omar Swartzendruber made look and
sound like a steam engine, by separating the exhaust and adding oil
and water.

The old Frick stood gaunt against the overcast skies and the big
frog pond behind it, directly in front of the little Swartzendruber
home-as resolute as some fabled and legendary iron sentry guarding
the entrance against all invaders. Its tall black stack, steam gage
and steam dome lent a stark contrast to the lovely natural
background of cattails lining the water’s edge, framing the old
dock and wooden rowboat while on a grassy knoll jutted a very
ancient and country-fied springhouse of many years’ vintage.
One was pleasantly reminded of Thoreau’s ‘Walden’. What
a wonderful place for a tired old Iron Horse to pasture. And we are
quite sure that, whenever our Iron-Man Swartzendruber gets tired of
throttling his Frick, for change of pace he sneaks away with rod
and line to the old boat nestled among the reeds, to row across his
big pond and drop a hook for a fresh water bass or two for Ruthie
to fry for supper.

Omar Swartzendruber says his machinery is only a hobby. His real
‘business’ is making up religious tapes from bible lessons,
delivered by eminent theologians, and giving them to anyone
interested in studying to better themselves. Although he lives very
humbly, he once gave two fine tape recorders to missionaries that
couldn’t otherwise afford to purchase them for their mission
work.

But there come those days, now and then, when Swartzendruber
fires up his engine and invites the neighborhood kiddies over to
ride the hay wagon, or even run the Old Frick, just to give the
younger generation the ‘feel of a steam throttle’. For Omar
Swartzendruber, with twenty-eight grandchildren and some
great-grandchildren for descendants, is a very religious,
public-spirited fellow-a rather unique off-shoot from the usual run
of steam engineers whose minds and hearts are circumscribed by iron
and steel, reciprocating pistons and barking smokestacks.

Of all the changes and repairs he’s had to make on his
engine and other machinery, says Omar, ‘Most of my junk is the
product of hardship, as I say. If you don’t have it and
can’t afford it you have to make it. My family has a
‘dig’ they throw at me- that if Dad could buy something for
twenty dollars and make it for thirty, he’d make it,’
laughs he.

Like Thoreau’s ‘Walden’-when Iron Man Omar
Swartzendruber gets tired of engines, he saunters out to his wooden
boat to do a little fishin’ for bass in his deep pond. What an
idyllic setting in nature-the cattails and reeds lining the pond,
the ancient spring house in background. The natural springs furnish
wonderful drinking water for our Iron Man and his Iron Horse.

For instance there was the matter of not enough clearance
between the throttle linkage and the engine to protect the fingers.
Whereupon Swartzendruber added a length of rod here and a bit of
welding there to widen the gap. The way it was originally
constructed an engineer could mash his fingers while working the
throttle.

‘We simply couldn’t have some of these little neighbor
kids get their fingers mashed-or anyone else for that matter, when
running this engine,’ he explained.

Showing me some indentations in the flywheel spokes, Omar
Swartzendruber figured that the original owners in Kentucky must
have had clutch trouble, using a chain to keep it from
slipping.

‘And by the way things look, they must’ve rolled it over
and down one of those Kentucky hills,’ says he.

Speaking of his experiences with his old ’29 bull-dozer, a
‘Cat-60’, which he bought in ’45, says Omar, ‘I was
the only thing you could get during the war. I rebuilt it, we made
the blade for it, and during the big blizzard of 1950 we bull-dozed
for three days and three nights. When the snow banks got as much as
eleven feet deep, I took it myself, and when they were down to
eight or nine inches I let a less experienced man take over. By the
time we got the snow cleared, we had ground three inches off the
center of the blade and a couple rollers were beat out, so it
wasn’t so exciting, profit-wise. I told the fellows if we’d
just have waited and let the Good Lord bring out the sunshine and
melted it down, we’d have been ahead. But it did let the people
get out and get the necessaries.’

‘It was one of the first ones built in Peoria, Ill., No. P.
A. 6591. Naturally a young squirt just starting in the bulldozing
business got all the jobs that others didn’t want. I broke it
in about every imaginable place and welded it. Finally where some
of the castings have cracked, I’ve just welded heavy strap
metal around it to hold it together, (like a bundle), but it still
works fine, and it’s paid for its fixin’ as it
went.’

Engine on left is a 1920-40 x 140 Cross Compound Reeves. Engine
on right is a 1915-32 x 110 Double Simple Reeves. Both engine have
Canadian ‘Alberta Special’ boilers. Owned by W. H. Jurney
& Sons, taken in the early 1920’s at Vulcan, Alberta,
Canada.

‘I used a Ford F-8 motor in it for quite a while with two
transmissions and I had a Cadillac Hydramatic water-cooled
transmission out of a 31-ton Sherman Tank which cost eight hundred
dollars. It worked fine, but the roller chain I was obliged to use
made so much noise that it made me deaf. So I took it out and put
the Ford back in. Now I’ve acquired a General Motors Truck
Engine, Chevrolet 409, with a truck transmission and it has more
horses than I need and it works beautifully. But it’s old and
ugly, like its owner,’ chuckles Omar-which in our opinion makes
it look pretty nice.

Omar took me over to another part of his barn lot to show me an
old Marion Road-Roller which he had worked over. The stack looked
like that of a steam engine. And he had separated the exhaust of
the four-cylinder engine in order to make it chuff and puff very
much like a traction engine, emiting exhaust like steam whenever he
added oil and water to create the effect.

But taking me into the house, Omar Swartzendruber showed me the
other side of his life, quite different from his machinery. In his
farm studio were several high-quality tape recorders.

‘The machinery is only my hobby. This is my ‘real
business’ and I don’t get paid for it either,’ he
explained. ‘Over the years I’ve made it a point to record
over seven hundred, twenty-four minute Bible Lessons of such
eminent Bible scholars as Dr. Donald Barnhouse and others. I make
up these tapes, and give them away to anyone interested in getting
a good education in the Biblical Scriptures, but I don’t sell
them. My problem is to find people who are sufficiently interested
to want to listen to them and study to better themselves.’

‘The late Dr. Barnhouse was one of the greatest of Bible
scholars,’ points out Swartzendruber. ‘Although I never met
him, he was a twin brother of mine, in years.’

‘For over thirty years I used to work on automobiles for
people. It didn’t matter what they thought of their cars, it
was my job to fix them so they’d work, although I always
listened to what they had to say what they thought was wrong with
them,’ he added. ‘And it’s the same way with our own
lives. It’s not what our own opinions are about our lives that
count, but what is wrong with them that needs fixing.’

‘Do you call that a ‘business’- making up expensive
religious tapes and giving them away free to others who will
benefit by them?’ queried I.

‘Well, I call it a ‘business’, although it’s
really a privilege to do so and help others who honestly want to
study to improve themselves,’ replied Omar.

For your tireless efforts at repairing the old machinery to help
your neighbors and keep the old-time Americana alive-and for your
selfless charity in wanting to better your fellow men by
propagating the Good News of the Gospel free and without charge, we
offer you, Omar Swartzendruber, a prominent seat of honor in our
Hall of Iron Man Fame.

‘God gives us so many blessings, and I don’t want you to
leave without a blessing,’ said Omar, handing us several
wonderful books of religious subjects-one by the eminent Dr.
Barnhouse, and other fine authors, including nature stories to be
read or given to children we know.

‘And God bless you, Iron-Man Omar Swartzendruber’ said
we, as we waved goodby and wound back over his hilly lane-toward
home.

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