Before Steam Engine Joe Rynda or LeRoy Blaker, Threshermen Shows were Held on an Ohio Farm
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org