127 South Douglas Street, Bronson, Michigan
Not all the old time threshing and allied experiences were galloping, rollicking days of pleasure to be long remembered with a desire to re-live as many are wont to believe, especially the younger generation, as evidenced by this experience from my storehouse of memories of my boyhood days. Looking back at it now, however, there was a thread of humor running through the whole thing.
Some time around about, or immediately following the turn of the century, there lived in our community, in the extreme northern part of Indiana, a big (for that era) farmer by the name of Ezra Keasey, who had recently had erected one of the community's first silos.
Ezra, now long deceased, was large boned and angular of build. He was, as I remember, around 65, about 6 ft. 2 inches in height, wore a goatee and somewhat reminded one of our emblematic 'Uncle Sam'. He, with a couple of other early silo farmers, had purchased a large size Cyclone ensilage cutter, which fed in from both sides. They had anticipated that my father, who was the local thresherman, would power the silo cutter when needed with his 16 H.P. Rumely engine.
When, however, the season arrived that the corn was ripe for silo filling, my father still had several jobs of threshing to do for customers, who were patiently waiting. Besides, clover hulling was near at hand, and my father had but the one engine. Due to this, after Ezra had contacted my father, it was decided that it would be necessary for him to look up another engine for the job.
Shortly before this, another man had moved into the near-by village of Lima (now Howe), who, Ezra thought had just the equipment he needed. He thereupon drove into the village to confer with one Mr. Al Storms, proud owner of a chain driven 10 H.P. traction engine of ancient vintage. I was too young to remember the make, but I do remember that when I saw it in operation it thumped, groaned and rattled, and leaked in every joint.
Al Storms had a build very similar to that of Ezra, though he may have been, if possible, a little thinner; although he may have just seemed that way because he was an inch or so taller and slightly stoop shouldered. He was about the same age as Ezra, near 65, his deep furrowed face was smooth shaven except for a short scraggly moustache and his deep hollow eyes were set beneath long bushy eyebrows.
Al had been a farmer, a logger, a rough carpenter and a fence builder. He had also sold nursery stock and sprayed trees, sold insurance, books and traveled for a rope manufacturing company. Later, he ran a country store, manufactured ink and dabbled in real estate. Now he had settled down in the village. As I remembered later, my father said Al had swapped a horse for the old engine, which he used to buzz wood and grind apples for cider. Then he had rigged up a feed mill and corn sheller in his barn and put the old engine in for power.
Ezra had seen the engine pull the corn sheller with ease and, to his notion, this would fill the bill handsomely. An agreement was reached in no time and so, on the appointed day, Ezra was up early and waiting. There were ten teams with wagons loaded high with green fodder and a man on every wagon. Besides, there were four or five men in the nearby field with plenty of corn down for the early start, as the big machine would be fed from both sides and the big silo was to be filled with ensilage by nightfall.
From Storm's position it now looked different. He got the pre-dawn start alright, but half a mile out of the village the old engine cast off the worn drive chain which wrapped up in the sprocket and broke in two or three places. This Storm repaired with extra links in due time by the light of a lantern and then he proceeded down the road another half mile where he stopped to get up steam. Here, while punching his fire with a length of galvanized pipe, his grates fell in so that he had to pull the fire to replace and temporarily block them up. Then he had to rekindle the fire and get up steam again.
This all consumed so much time that it was by then mid-morning and, Ezra, seeing all his help standing around, became fearful, sent word to the field to stop the corn cutting, hitched up his gelding to the family buggy, and took off down the road to see what had become of Storms. He met him a mile or so down the way and they came in on the run, governor belt off, smoke stack shimmying and Al trying to hold her back somewhat with the throttle.
It was mid-September, before our school had opened, so I was there early as always when possible for the exhilirating experience of watching machinery in operation in our neighborhood, especially an engine.
It was 10 o'clock when Al finally got his engine belted to the big Cyclone cutter with a loaded wagon on eitherside, steam up and ready for business. The safety valve was set at 90 lbs. which didn't allow much working margin and when the big knives began to bite into those bundles of tough corn stalks the power would start to sag, so it wasn't long until the blower became clogged.
Cleaning out the blower gave Storms a chance to steam up again, but it wouldn't last for more than 10 or 15 minutes, so the machine was standing idle more than half the time. Storms adjusted the safety valve to 100 lbs., which was probably over the margin of safety, but Al, not being much on technicalities and even less of an engineer, was frantic and willing to take a long shot on a gamble. Ezra was pacing in circles and looking madder by the minute, so now with Al, it was do or die.
Along about 3 in the afternoon Ezra checked the silo while the blower was being unplugged. There was 4 or 5 ft. of silage in the pit and nearly an equal amount on the ground, which had been cleaned out of the blower. There was plenty of black smoke funneling from the stack and his coal pile had more than half disappeared, while the teams of the idle loaded wagons were slumped in peaceful doze, and the help was all out leaning against the hog fence swapping yarns.
That was more than Ezra could stand. When the blower plugged again, and as Al was shutting down, Ezra threw off the belt and ordered Storms to get his contraption off the farm. I can see them even now, though I was but a small scared kid, frozen in my tracks. Al refused to budge on the grounds of a verbal agreement. His time, trip, expense and all. Ezra yelled, 'Get off, you've wasted my time, cost me my help, eat my food, burned my coal and you couldn't fill that silo in three weeks with twenty tons of coal. Get your junk off my farm.'
At that Al climbed off, or more nearly fell off, his old engine platform, rushed at Ezra and swinging a haymaker which missed by three feet says, 'I'm damned if I'm leaving -- I'll sue you.' Ezra pushed a fist, like a small ham under Al's chin and said, 'You couldn't win a suit if you was both judge and jury! Get out.' Al yelled, 'I'll break you in two.' Ezra snapped back, 'You wouldn't know it if you did because you can't even count two!'
At that they went round and round and, as I see it now, one was afraid and the other didn't dare. The only one who was really scared was me, and I was too scared to run. Finally, wheezing and puffing, they parted and as the old engine started popping off violently for the first time, Al, glad for the excuse, ambled over, closed the draft, and started off across the field toward town. After a few paces, he stopped, turned and looked back at Ezra, whose goatee was still flopping, and yelled, 'Remember I'm suing.' Then, from a distance, there were a lot of words that I never learned on my mother's knee.
Ezra then strode off, hitched his horse to the family shay and took a long drive in the opposite direction to engage another man by the name of Sam Chrystler, who had an old Gaar Scott, 10 H.P. engine, which had long been retired to wood buzzing and such menial tasks, to finish the job.
Sam must have fired up in the night for he was there bright and early along side the 'old chain drive' and belted up before breakfast. The help and teams were all there and the wheels started rolling right after breakfast was over. The giant cutter, however, proved too much for the leaky old 10 horse Gaar Scott, and in a couple of hours with the steam down the engine stood, it seemed, nearly ankle deep in water. Every tube in the boiler was leaking a stream and the water was running out of the ash pit. The silage was now only about 6 or 8 feet deep in the 35 ft. silo and Chrystler gave it up as a bad job.
My father came by in a few days and, having made arrangements with his next threshing customers, cut the separator loose at the road, pulled in and completed the job. With a few hours work he was coupled to the separator and back on the road. The only trouble was the help's inability to keep the corn up to the machine.
Some days later Storms took his engine home, and true to his threat, he started suit for breach of agreement against Ezra Keasey. The case was tried before the local justice and, as Al had been into most every kind of business and trade imaginable, he decided to act as his own council. As might have been expected and in line with the common results of all his previous adventures, he lost his case.
The trial occurred shortly before Halloween and it was the talk of the town. So much so, in fact, that a group of high school boys, on Halloween night, scrounged around and came up with an old '4x4 two-holer' which they dragged in and set up in the center of the village main street. One of the embryo artists attached a large sign to it which read OFFICE OF AL STORMS - ATTORNEY AT LAW.
As I recall, the building set there for several days while Storms was sleuthing to locate the culprits who did it. He never did.
This is a true story as I saw it when just a lad before my teens. There is no thought of disrespect toward either of these honest, hard-working pioneers. Both, of course, have long since gone to their reward and may it be bountiful. Only the humor of the whole thing, as I saw it in later years has kept it alive in my memory.