Many of our readers have expressed an interest in learning more about the members of the Stemgas Family the faces and personalities behind I.M.A. and G.E.M. Starting with this issue and continuing over the next several issues, we will publish personality profiles of each.
Anna Mae has been associated with Stemgas Publishing Company for 19 years ever since September 16, 1957 when the Rev. Elmer Ritzman, founder of the firm, came to see her to ask her to help him.
'It will only take 15 minutes a day,' said Elmer as they sat on Anna Mae's front porch in Enola, Pa. It was a pleasant late summer day and Anna Mae remembers it as if it were yesterday.
He explained that Iron-Men, his only magazine at the time, was being printed in Port Royal, and the man who kept his books was very ill.
Anna Mae assented, and the '15 minutes a day' became hours and hours, and days and days, and 19 very full years of doing all sorts of work on both I.M.A. and GEM, and developing a warm and human touch with readers all over the world.
'Ed (her husband) and I cranked envelopes out and filed them on the floor by states,' she recalls.
'We only had I.M.A. then, and there were only 5,500 subscribers. But that was still a lot to do by hand.
'I worked in the dining room first, and then we moved everything to our basement. I had shelves-one for each state-and then we started to address by addressograph.'
Rev. Ritzman, whom many of our readers know, was a highly energetic man, full of ideas and always ready for innovations.
He handled most of the stories for I.M.A. himself, and then also for GEM after he started it in 1966. He had so many acquaintances, that stories and pictures flowed to him as if he were a magnet. A true pioneer, he opened up the field for both magazines and brought hosts of readers the publications no one had ever offered before.
Gradually, however, he gave more responsibility to Anna Mae. He paid tribute to her in the March-April 1958 I.M.A. for all her services to the publications, as well as to her role as homemaker, PTA president and in other community activities.
She handled all the things that went with the company receiving photos and articles, writing, handling all ads, cutting and running address stencils for subscribers, keeping the card files, selling jewelry and books, and handling complaints (there were very few).
She also hand lettered Elmer's mailbox with his name and Iron-Men Album Magazine, hand painted several signs for him to be used at the stands at reunions, and lettered and drew the Russell Bull for Elmer on a block of wood someone had given him from the Russell Company floor, and made up poems to go with the gift subscription cards just a few secretary side jobs.
Here are some of her reminiscences which she gave us while we visited at the 1976 Rough and Tumble Reunion at Kinzers, where Elmer was a charter member:
'I had encephalitis in 1966. I wasn't supposed to come back. But I never missed an issue with my column.
That was the year we started Gas Engine. We used to have one page for gas in Iron-Men, and Elmer saw the need for another publication.
The day I came home from the hospital Elmer came in with the typewriter and I kept up the column. Then he asked, me to do stories, which I finally did. And then I took over the whole makeup.'
Anna Mae continued to expand her work for the magazines when Elmer became ill.
When Elmer's widow, Earlene, operated the enterprise after his death in 1971, she relied on Anna Mae to keep handling the articles and ads. By that time, an office staff was taking care of subscriptions and sales of books and jewelry.
When Mrs. Ritzman sold the business to Gerald S. Lestz in 1973, he asked Anna Mae to stay on, and she did. She handles the articles, pictures, ads and correspondence for the magazines, as well as her columns; the work of gathering dates and places for the annual Stemgas Steam & Gas Show Directory, and the collection of recipes for a Stemgas Cookbook which is on the way.
'The people who write to the columns are like personal friends,' she comments. 'I know them right away when we meet, from their names. They say, 'I know you,' yet I never met them.'
She has attended a few shows throughout the years, mostly local ones, and usually runs into a few 'old acquaintances' known through the medium of the magazines.
'We've brought a lot of people together with the columns,' she feels. 'We've always tried to consider people as the Stemgas family.'
'What started as a little part time job has become an important part of my life. I believe I have benefited as much as the readers.
'They are wonderful people.'
'We have never had a check that bounced - that is just one thing about our readers.'
Anna Mae is a deeply religious person, as all her column readers know. She finds response to what she writes. And she finds the readers like to hear about her family, and what goes on with them.
Her interests are YOU and all people she claims she is a very, very amateur artist, has always liked to toy around with painting and drawing and writing. Loves flowers and plants, and CHILDREN, is interested in her community and country and any activities in which she can participate. She likes to hit a tennis ball around now and then not for long and likes swimming, dancing and handicrafts of all kinds.
Ed, her husband, shares in Stemgas interests-he sometimes receives letters from readers addressed to him. The Branyan family includes five sons and daughters-Eddie, 33, married with a boy and a girl; Dana, married, one son; Donnie, 22, single; Keli, 19, just married and Tommy, 12, at home.
Anna Mae often works far into the night, especially when deadline is near.
The thousands of readers of Iron Men Album and Gas Engine Magazine consider Anna Mae Branyan a personal friend-even though most of them have never seen her.
They keep in touch with her through her columns, in which she refers to scores of letters, and passes on news and views of the subscribers.
The columns are just a part of her work-but they are the only pieces of writing which she signs.
A touch typist herself, she has learned to cipher out all kinds of handwriting. Mail for Stemgas 'comes in on anything-pieces of cardboard and odd pieces of paper,' in addition to handsomely typed letters on executive stationery.
Articles have been submitted from all over the world-from old time threshermen, from beginning collectors, from men who are experts on all kinds of engines, from people asking information or seeking parts-from the great family that keeps I.M.A. and GEM and the Steam & Gas Show Directory going.
It all comes together at Anna Mae's home, where she assembles the articles and the listings and the ads. And it all comes out to you, wherever you are, with every issue just as full of information and pictures as Anna Mae can make it.
'The thousands of readers of Iron-Men Album and Gas Engine Magazine consider Anna Mae Branyan a personal friend even though most of them have never seen her.'