Letting Off Steam


| July 2006



Richard Backus

Sixty years ago, Rev. Elmer Ritzman launched The Farm Album, the precursor to Steam Traction. Ritzman, who uniquely combined the qualities of a dyed-in-the-wool steam man with those of the ministry, wasn't just looking back at lost glory days; he was looking forward, because he knew there were many good days still to come.

Along with a small, but celebrated, group of ardent steamers like Arthur S. Young, "Steam Engine" Joe Rynda, Titus Brubaker, LeRoy Blaker and Chris Busch, Ritzman was in the thick of what was then a renaissance of interest in agricultural steam.

In 1946, the timeline to the working days of steam was short. World War II was a fresh wound, and before the war, steam had still been a fact of life on many farms. But after the war, the agricultural landscape was changing, and quickly.

Gas powered tractors were the order of the day, and modern combines did the work of several machines. The old days of the harvest, of steam engines belching smoke into the sky as wheat was fed into the thresher, had drawn to a close.

Ritzman, and people like him, was determined to make sure the old ways and the culture of steam were kept alive

Steam and threshing reunions were popping up literally overnight, and in 1950 The Farm Album, a quarterly, became The Iron-Men Album and started printing six times a year. That schedule has been followed for 56 years.