The First Reunion?

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The 1939 Field Day. Mehl Young’s father, Francis Young,
acquired this photo in Florida from Roy Tribby, who thought it
showed an early reunion at Kinzers, Pa. On seeing the picture
Francis told Roy; ‘No, it couldn’t be. My mother was never
out of the state of Ohio in her life, and she is in that
picture.’ The dark haired woman to the right, at the end and
just under the feeder of the steel separator looking at the camera,
is Mehl’s grandmother.

In the December/January 1999-2000 issue of Engineers &
Engines,
Menno L. Kliewer discussed the great heritage of
enginemen and the beginnings of the steam and threshing hobby,
mentioning several men who were instrumental in organizing the
original ‘reunions’ or shows. This included men such as
LeRoy Blaker (father of the National Threshers Association), Henry
Ford (who is said to have encouraged LeRoy Blaker) and Chaddy
Atteberry.

It is not my intention to discredit the author, the article or
any of the persons mentioned therein. I know several of them
personally and have a high regard for their abilities and for the
effort they have put into making the hobby what it is today.

Instead, I would like to provide additional information about an
event the author of the E&E article undoubtedly would not have
had access to, seeing as how it happened quite a few years ago in a
very ‘out of the way’ place in rural Ohio.

1939 FIELD DAY

My father, the late Francis Young of East Sparta, Ohio, saved
two newspaper articles out of The Canton (Ohio)
Repository, the first from June 26, 1939, and the second
from June 30, 1940. The articles give detailed accounts of the
first and second ‘Field Days’ held by the Stark County
Threshermen’s Association at the F.E. Slutz farm near the
little crossroads community of Battlesburg in Stark County,
Ohio.

Over 250 people attended these first two events, many of them,
as the 1940 article noted, ‘Old timers, who gathered to see
implements used by their forefathers and to revive memories of
their own apprenticeships on the threshing circuits, when they
operated steam tractors and the first wooden frame separators, most
of them made in Stark County.’ (A reference to the Russell Co.
of Massillon, Ohio.) I believe this direct quote from the 1940
article pretty well identifies the source of the enthusiasm for the
early reunions.

From the June 26, 1939, issue of The Canton (Ohio) Repository.
Mehl’s great-uncle, A.Z. Young, stands in the foreground at
top right. At lower left J.C.
Bixler (any relation to Dr. Lorin E. Bixler?) watches his daughter,
Pauline, as she tries out a new tractor. Reunion site owner F.E.
Slutz is shown in the photo at lower right, to the
right.

F.E. Slutz (left) and A.Z. Young with Slutz’s 1919 12 HP
Russell, serial no. 16632. This engine is currently owned by Doug
and Mike Scheetz, Massillon, Ohio. The Russell portable once owned
by Francis Young, Mehl’s father, is just visible in the
background

From the June 30, 1940, issue of The Canton (Ohio) Repository.
F.E. Slutz (right) is in the far left photo. At
far right A.Z. Young is shown inspecting a
two-tine fork brought to Ohio in 1806 by his grandfather. The young
man in the upper, center photo is Dale Fasnacht,
who still lives on the family farm in Massillon, Ohio. Frank Klick,
owner of the Russell engine shown on a truck frame in the
lower, center photo, still lives in Richville,
Ohio.

The articles and their accompanying pictures indicate that the
now traditional requirements for a good steam show or reunion were
met at these ‘first’ exhibitions. There were steam engines,
threshing machines, models, horses, demonstrations, old and new
machinery displays, old timers, good food and kids.

I can’t say that Henry Ford or LeRoy Blaker did not come up
with the idea of a thresher’s reunion on their own. History
shows us that people working in widely separated locations have
developed machines, ideas or processes almost simultaneously,
though unknown to each other. I will say it is possible that both
Ford and Blaker heard of the demonstrations at Battlesburg due to
the obvious and rather widespread interest these reunions created.
That 250 people attended a one-day event of this type in 1939 is,
to me at least, impressive.

Many of those attending were not just ‘local folks,’
either. Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, is even today a
hard, two-hour drive from Battlesburg, and these days Interstate 77
is only 15 minutes away from the Slutz farm. But the old roads
didn’t keep the chairman of the agricultural engineering
department at the university from traveling to the first Field Day
in 1939. And it would have taken attendees from Akron, Wadsworth,
Alliance and Newton Falls, Ohio, an hour or more back then to get
to the Slutz farm. Apparently the word got around, as attend they
did.

Additionally, I have heard through conversation with some
longtime, family steam friends that LeRoy Blaker and Orman Keyser,
mentioned in the articles as one of the event organizers and a
county agricultural agent, were more than just passing
acquaintances. They evidently knew each other well.

The Field Days were held again in 1941 and 1942. I don’t
have any documentation of these shows, other than several photos
that were taken of my father moving his portable Russell to the
Slutz farm and his comments about displaying there in 1942. The
Field Days were discontinued after the onset of World War II, and
were never revived once the war was over.

The Russell portable in front, serial no. 15568, belonged to
Francis Young. It is currently being restored by his grandson, Todd
Young of Strasburg, Ohio. Frank Klick owned the Baker in the
background, which now belongs to Clarence Gerber, Kidron, Ohio.

While the Battlesburg event certainly does not qualify as the
oldest continuous reunion, it could cause one to wonder which
reunion was really the first. I am proud that several of my
ancestors, F.E. Slutz and A.Z. Young, and several years later my
father, were part of the very first years of the hobby. I was born
in December of 1941, so I didn’t attend any of these shows, but
I do know several men still living who did. Two are Dale Fasnacht
and Frank Klick (another relative), who are either in photos or
mentioned in the articles.

The late John Griffith of Carrollton, Ohio, prompted me to write
this shortly before he passed away almost three years ago. He had
read the article in E&E and remembered attending at
least one of the exhibits at Battlesburg.

John and my father were great steam friends and often talked
about the 1939 newspaper article. John was pretty sure I knew where
the clippings were, and felt it was time to ‘stir the pot’
a little. Enjoy the photos of the early days – when was the last
time you saw men in suits at a steam show? And what about those bib
overalls with white shirts and ties? The end of an era, in more
ways than one.

Contact steam enthusiast Mehl Young at: 1151 Nottingham
Square, Bolivar, Ohio 44612, or e-mail:
mehlyoung@juno.com

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