And yet this horny-handed, teeth-clenching cigar-chewing Iron Man Percy Sherman is as sensitive about his age as any spinster of 39 his eternal energy and vigor belying the 76 years he revealed to me during an unguarded moment of secrecy and confidence.
It would require volumes of encyclopedic proportions to record the years of experience of one Iron Man Percy Sherman the nights he's slept in the hay-lofts of midwest barns after rumbling his Iron monster for miles down dark and muddy country roads with only the flickering glimmer of the coal-oil headlight to be ready at the crack-'o-dawn to start the day's threshing.
And the expert 'maneuvering' an old-time thresherman had to indulge in, like a United Nations diplomat, to get out of eating at a thresherman's dinner where the farm wife lacked those necessary culinary accomplishments sufficient to whet ye thresherman's appetite.
Like this one Perce often tells about. 'This particular farmer's wife wasn't a very good cook and I dreaded sitting down to her table when the dinner bell rang,' says Percy, shifting his cigar to the side of this mouth. 'A lady I knew across the road just invited me to sneak over to her table to eat. She knew I didn't relish the grub at the other woman's table and she was a real cook, too.'
And when it comes to telling 'em about his mighty Russell Engine well, Perce Sherman simply can't be outdone swappin' stories 'round the old shop pot-bellied stove with the rest of the throttle-jerkin' boys.
'Never forget the time I was work-in' my Russell at a big tractor-pullin' contest,' muses Perce. 'The tractor men watched my Russell perform, then they challenged me to hitch-up to one of their big tractors for a tug-o'-war. Well, I out-pulled the first one, then they wanted to hitch on two and I out-pulled them. Before it was over I had five tractors hitched on the other end of that chain and still the old Russell inched 'em backwards. Were they ever a disillusioned lot when I got through workin' 'em over with the Russell.'
And then there was the time when Perce and Billy Benner ganged up to drive Billy's wonderful Baker to do a hitch at plowing with 8-bottoms at Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The Baker snorted forward effortlessly under the expert throttling of the indefatigable Sherman. But Perce suddenly stopped the Baker, grabbed his big wrench and began working around the governor before the hundreds watching with their jaws hanging in wonderment at what had stalled the mighty Baker. 'We're just playin'', said Perce to me, riding atop the engine to get a good recording. 'Makin' 'em think we're stalled.' In a moment Perce was back at the throttle and the mighty Baker snorted effortlessly forward to complete some 600 feet of plowing the dry, hard Allen county ground, to the resounding cheers of the crowds following along.
It's always with the greatest sadness that one says 'Goodbye' to such as Percy Sherman, come the close of the summer's threshing reunion season. But he always has a way of injecting the usual bit of mirth so characteristic of his Iron Man's philosophy, born of his many years of out-foxing Nature's vicissitudes to get the threshing and/ or sawmillin' done in spite of the 'devil'.
'I've been invited to. visit with Jack Tucker, the undertaker, down Lexington-way,' said Perce. 'He promised that, if I died down there at the throttle, he'd embalm me free,' laughed Sherman, waving goodbye. And how happy we were to say to Percy Sherman, at the very next reunion, 'Well, we're glad that Jack Tucker the 'undertaker' didn't get you embalmedeven if it was 'for free'.'
There's nothing that can get to the soft-spot of ye Iron Man, Percy Sherman, as to present him with a birthday cake, such as my wife did, while he was standing on the deck of a Russell engine at the Darke County Thresher's at Greenville, Ohio.
'This touches me I don't know, for once, what to say,' replied Perce.
And all we can say in reply is, 'Keep right on havin' em' Perce, and the cakes will keep right on comin'. Even if those Keystone Kops get you and we have to fetch your cakes to jail.'