135 W. Dinehart Avenue, Elkhart, Indiana 46514.
Sometime ago Mr. Robert Ehret of Route 5, Goshen, Indiana, who is interested in, and has some old steam and gas engines, gave me a copy of your November-December 1971 issues of your Iron-Men Album Magazine to read. He knew I was interested in old engines since my early life was in the era of the development of steam and gas engines, as well as many other mechanical labor saving machines. Enclosed is the picture of an old engine and the story which should be of interest to your readers.
First, going back to your magazine which I read with interest, you mention events at White Pigeon and other areas near where I was born and raised. There are quite a string of small prairies in this area starting north of Pigeon and Sturgis Prairie in Southern Michigan, then Northern Indiana running southeast. Next is Lima Prairie, Pretty Prairie, English Prairie and last, Brushy Prairie. These prairies are not large and extend probably 25 miles in length. They were very productive in corn, wheat and oats which farmers raised. They also bought much stock such as cattle, sheep and hogs to feed during the winter months. This used up most of their grain. Work was mostly done by hand and horsepower at that time. Corn was cut by hand and placed into shocks. After it was dry it was husked by hand and put into corncribs. The fodder was used for feed and bedding of stock. The grain binders had just been developed and put into use and were drawn by horses. After it was cut and bundled the bundles were put into shocks for drying. After they were dry, they were hauled by wagon with hayracks to the barn or put into stacks until the threshing rig got around to thresh it out. There were many stack yards with 4 to 6 wheat stacks. The straw was put into stacks in the barnyard and used to bed the stock.
This goes back to Pretty Prairies near Lima (now Howe, Indiana) to 1887 where I was born and grew up until 1900 when we moved to Elkhart, Indiana.
My father, Jacob Mast, was a farmer and had a small blacksmith shop where he sharpened plowshares and did other blacksmith shop work for the farmers. He was rather a 'jack of all trades' which was almost necessary in those days. He was in partnership with Isaac
Lehmer, who was a farmer and had a small sawmill. The partnership was a small threshing rig consisting of a portable engine and a machine with a cylinder and spikes to thresh out grain. The engine was conveyed about with horses and after the grain was threshed out it was separated by hand, using large wooden forks to shake it out. Later they worked out their first separator using mechanical shakers and a blower. Mr. Lehrner was quite a genius and worked out and developed quite a few labor saving devices. First, was a picket fence weaving machine. This fence consisted of four strands of wire, two at the top and two at the bottom, which were twisted and a wooden picket inserted between twists. This machine twisted the wires by turning a crank ready to insert another picket, etc. Later, Lehman and Mast took their old horse drawn engine and converted it into a traction engine whereby it was driven by its own steam power. As you will see in the picture this was done by belt pulleys and gears, with the first friction clutch ever used which Lehmer and Mast developed and put into the large pulley. The drive wheels were widened as shown with lugs for traction. This was done in Father's blacksmith shop. This engine was used by them a few years and abandoned after new and better engines were made. I saw this old engine setting in the barnyard many times. About the year of 1898, two engine companies, Nichols and Shephard Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan and the Rumely Company of LaPorte, Indiana got into a lawsuit on patent rights on a friction clutch. Finding out about this old engine of Lehmers and Masts, with its friction clutch, the old engine was bought for $1200. It was reconditioned and taken to LaPorte, Indiana to prove in court that a clutch similar to theirs had been developed and put into practical use prior to theirs. The picture was taken on the loading dock of the Rumely Company with Mr. Lehmer with cap and beard, and officials of the two companies.
Gasoline engines were also being developed at this time. Mr. Lehmer worked out and made a one-cylinder gasoline engine. He mounted it on a frame on three bicycle wheels, using a bicycle chain and sprockets whereby the machine was driven down the gravel road on Pretty Prairie, as I saw it being done. The rocker arm and shop work were done in Father's blacksmith shop. A few years later, Mr. Haines of Kokomo, Indiana came out with the first horseless carriage as they were called then. Father then later acquired a 10 horse upright boiler engine and thresher which was used mostly to shell corn and shred fodder. When I was 11 or 12 years old, Father used to take me along to fire and tend this engine. In 1900 it was brought to Elkhart, Indiana where we moved.
There was lots of grain threshing on Pretty Prairie at this time and Uncle Daniel Plank had acquired a good up-to-date threshing rig and did threshing for most of the community. At first the separator had a straw carrier and was hand fed. Later the straw blower and self-feeder came into being. At 13 years of age I went back to Pretty Prairie working for Uncle Dan on his father's farm (C. J. Plank). There were interesting days with the incoming of much farm machinery. The grain binder, manure spreader, corn binder, hay loader and many other new and improved machines made farm work much easier. The gas engine was soon developed, then the automobile which changed our way of life completely.
The 'good old days' as they are sometimes called were very important days. There was little education, but people had vision and energy. They worked hard and were self-sustaining. They didn't have too many comforts of life and money, but were content and happy helping each other in their work. They were not confronted with the many complications of today which we in our modern way of life have, and are creating.