Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana Spry as a cricket, 78 year old Carlton Felger hops atop an ancient separator to make final adjustments for N.T.A. threshing. Felger, a charter member, is an important liaison of goodwill betwixt men and mach
Not always is ye Iron Man the beefy, bulging-bicep kind of critter bedecked in oily overalls, cheek pouched with leaf-scrap and chewing on a 'two far'. Sometimes he is the little, sinewy fellow who mingles quietly with the crowd at the summertime thresherman's reunion as he goes from job to job doing what comes naturally.
But let an engineer any engineer belt up to a separator any separator, somewhere on the reunion grounds and it will be ready to whir, because the quiet little fellow has been there before, greasing, oiling, making all the necessary repairs and adjustments.
Let the engines bark, separating the golden grain from the chaff his hand is on the blower, heaping the straw stack higher and higher into the summer-blue sky.
Let the noontime crowds swell till the gate keeps can't keep apace of the free-for-all scramble to snatch a prize seat at the grandstand parade. A spidery little figure steeple-jacks his way down from the machinery and hops like a cricket, dodging engines and tractors as he bee-lines it to the ticket booth across the way. With the wave of an arm and a sly, friendly grin from ear to ear, you know you are welcome because Carlton Felger, charter member of the National Thresherman's Association, has already punched your ticket and waved you on.
He's one of the right-hand men of President LeRoy Blaker of N.T.A., is Carlton Felger, rare admixture of the diplomat and mechanic, spreading oil on troubled waters as he goes from chore to chore, smoothing out difficulties between engineers and engines, armed with nothing but pliers, pipe wrenches and a smile.
One of the most unobtrusive, unassuming of men, Carlton Felger can bring the sunshine to any steam threshersmen's reunion even on a cloudy, rainy day. The slightly stooped but always meditative figure of Iron Man Felger, like a spirit of goodwill among iron men and iron monsters, lends proof sufficient that everything at the National Thresher-men's Reunion is running well or soon will be.
And when does this 'whisper of a figure' ever tire of the many reunion tasks that might well weary a more robust soul? Never, you sigh, as you watch him, sun-up to sundown, serving as liaison 'twist coal pile, slab-stack, water tank and engine always the helping hand filling the many gaps that haunt any steam threshermen's shindig.
And, when the day's work is finally o'er, and the shades of evening lengthen, comes the time for reminiscing. And to him who bends an ear, Carlton Felger always has a story to tell 'bout the good old days of threshing by steam so turn your hearing aid up, brother, and listen.
'Never forget how our National Threshermen's Association got started,' says the little fellow from Waldren, Michigan, just turned 78. 'Only sixty of us gathered at the LeRoy Blaker farm home where LeRoy had three of his steam engines fired up all Port Hurons. We did everything we wanted to with those engines that Saturday,' reminisces Felger. 'At the end of the day we said, 'What'll we do fellows meet again next year'?' 'Well we all voted to meet again next year, and LeRoy said, 'Come ahead'. And the next year we had 130 more than double the year before.'
'The third year the fellows brought in more engines and the crowd more than doubled again with 300 attending,' grins Felger, rolling his convincing eyes in your direction. 'The fourth year we invited fellows to fetch along some old-time tractors and we got a Prony Brake to test the engines.'
'I had a John Deere, an International and a Massey-Harris and my son, Carlton Felger, Jr., hit forty-two-and-a-half horsepower on that brake test with the Massey-Harris, winning over all the other tractors,' muses Felger with a glint of pride in stride. 'As the crowds kept growing, I began dividing my time between the machinery and helping out at the gates often parking cars and taking tickets from 7 a.m. till 9 or 10 at night as long as they kept coming.'
But enough of this story-telling and reminiscing there's a job to be done. For in those serious, brown eyes, that lined and weather-beaten visage of Iron Man Felger you note there's a forgotten chore somewhere untended.
'So-and-so's engine might be getting low in fuel and he asked me to watch it.' he mumbles quietly as out of his chair he hops, sprinting toward the infield once more.
Unconsciously you follow him, zigzagging around brakes, belts and machinery to catch a glimpse of this spry little Iron Man in action.
His gnarled farm hands blend ignominiously with the knurled bark of the slabs being tossed into the hungry, gaping firebox door whose flame emblazons the character of his countenance in the cool night air.
You've watched him in action, you've listened to his tale and you're convinced his soul is not wanting.
'May heaven, as well as thresher-men's reunions, be peopled with such,' you catch yourself thinking as Carlton Felger, with a smile and a wrench, takes his place on the Iron Man bench.