Courtesy of Lucille Blaker, Alvordton, Ohio The Avery 20 and the crew who restored it. Left to right: Robert Gerki, owner Earl B. Davison, Robert Zeller, Willis Boitnott, Joe Boitnott, Clarence Pittenger.
Secretary-treasurer of THE NATIONAL THRESHERS ASSOCIATION, INC.
Long-time readers of the Iron Men Album will perhaps remember 'The Story of the Big Avery 40' which I wrote for the July-August issue in 1953. As they will recall, I began by saying that reports had come to Louis David of Northville, Michigan, of a giant steam traction engine hidden in the sand hills of Nebraska. The story told of the exciting discovery of the engine, hidden by the sands around it in the course of years; of its purchase and subsequent transport to the Blaker farm near Alvordton, Ohio. Many were the difficulties encountered, including several brushes with the law, but it was finally restored to its original condition and shown at more than one of the Reunions of the Association, of which Louis was a very active member.
History doesn't exactly repeat itself, but here, for what it is worth, is the true story of another steam traction engine of the name of Avery.
All who knew Louie David, 'The Little Giant', were stunned at his sudden passing in 1958, at the age of 56. His large collection of steam engines was scattered, since, as so often happens, his son Gerald had no interest in them or in anything powered with steam-gas was his interest. The Avery 40 of the story was purchased by members of the LaPorte County Historical Steam Society, where it may be seen during their annual shows. Another of Louis' engines was or is the 1965 HP Port Huron, purchased by the National Threshers Association in 1958.
In addition to the engines mentioned above, Louis had acquired two other Averys'. Since he stood only about five feet tall, it was inevitable that he should be fascinated with these Avery engines, to my knowledge among the very largest steam traction engines ever built. One he found near Innisfail, Alberta, Canada, (after his death, a Mr. Hartley of near Janesville, Wisconsin, purchased this particular Avery to show at the steam show near his home.) For some unexplained reason, LeRoy and I had never known where the other Avery 20 had gone until two years ago. By chance, we learned that a retired Detroit insurance man, Mr. Earl B. Davison, had bought it to add to his considerable collection of antiques, engines and farm machinery, being assembled at a farm he owned near Plymouth, Michigan.
Now it should be mentioned that after the untimely death of Louis David, another young man, Robert Zeller of Medway, near Dayton, Ohio, had offered to operate the Avery, at that time still stored at the Blaker farm. With the help of a friend or two, he ran the engine at the NTA Reunions, which had outgrown the Blaker farm and were held at the Williams County Fairgrounds, from 1953 to 1964. So it was perhaps natural that after the discovery of the whereabouts of this other Avery, it occurred to the writer to enlist the services of Robert Z., provided Mr. Davison would allow the Avery to be transported to Ohio. To make a long story short, Mr. Davison, Mr. Zeller and the NTA came to an agreement and we confidently set out to have the engine trucked to the Fulton County Fairgrounds near Wauseon for the 23rd annual Reunion of the National Threshers Association of 1967.
But 'there's many a slip' and to begin with we couldn't find a trucker willing haul this oversize engine. When we did finally locate a man willing to undertake the job, the weather was so wet that Spring that he was unable to get on the grounds where the engine was stored. Time for the Reunion drew near and it wasn't until a very short time previous to that the engine was at last unloaded at the Fairgrounds. Here again was difficulty and as Paul (Bud) Gar-man can testify, getting that giant off the low-boy was almost the last thing he participated in at the Fulton County Fairgrounds-or at any other grounds, for that matter. Time was now so short that we all knew that little could be done to the old giant before the Reunion, but plans were made to have it in shape before the 1968 Reunion the last of June.
'Greater love hath no man' than that of a truly devoted steam engine fan in remaking a dirty, greasy, unsafe old steam traction engine. Such a man is this Robert Zeller, a good-looking, good-operating engineer. (He is only one of a legion, as readers of The Album well know.) He is also a persuasive man, as he proved by the number and caliber of men who rallied to his support as he began the tremendous job of refueling, re-finishing and painting the big Avery.
Indispensable in this program was the old school bus, which Robert has ingeniously turned into a shop on wheels, with space for cooking and sleeping. Week after week he drove this big bus up from Medway, accompanied by four or five steam enthusiasts. But again the weatherman seemed determined to prevent or at least hamper these efforts, as torrential rains fell each time they came up to the Fairgrounds.
It was decided by Mr. Davison to authorize the installation of a complete set of new flues, and LeRoy went to Toledo to place an order for them. Imagine the disgust and surprise when after making a second trip to get them and unload them before the 'Medway crew' arrived, to find that they were inch short, and definitely not the length ordered! So back LeRoy took them, bringing back a new set, which were eventually installed. But by now time was growing so short that to get the grease all scraped off, the new paint on, and all else that was planned to be done, appeared to be impossible. But by working even after the official opening of the 1968 Reunion on Thursday, June 27, the impossible was accomplished and the Avery was steamed up and driven proudly from the work spot at the west end of the grounds onto the infield, where of course, it was the immediate center of attraction. It was driven in each of the three parades during the 1968 Reunion and participated in as many other activities as were possible because of the wet condition of much of the infield.
I think it was Napoleon who said that an army travels on its stomach, and it was no less true that the good meals cooked for the men by Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson supplied the energy they needed for the monumental task. They made four trips of 230 miles each, and put in over 300 man-hours, in addition to the considerable amount of time spent repairing parts at Mr. Zeller's home shop. But Robert says they all enjoyed working on the Avery and hope to do more on it next Spring.
When the other engines and machines were put in the big storage barn rented by the NTA at the Fairgrounds, this behemoth was also put in, but through another set of doors, being too high to go in through the same doors as all the others. 'It looks pretty good to see everything in out of the weather' says LeRoy Blaker, when he visits the Fairgrounds every once in a while. Mean while Mr. Davison, Robert Zeller and his valiant crew plan ahead to the Silver Anniversary of the founding of the NTA. 'We will all, God willing, be on hand next June to help make the 25th the Greatest Reunion of all, but I have enjoyed every one for the past 22 years, 'says Mr. Zeller. To which I, as a mere woman, would like to add that though for the life of me I can't understand why men like to work so hard and get so dirty as these steam men do. It is their faithfulness for 25 years that has brought that first small gathering on the Blaker farm in 1945 to the present, when many thousands will help celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the National Threshers Association, Inc. June 26-29 at the Fulton County Fairgrounds, two miles north of Wauseon, Ohio, at Exit 3 of the Ohio Turnpike.
P.S. It occurs to me that I have omitted what is possibly the outstanding feature of this story. It is the fact that Mr. Zeller and his 'crew' were paid in money not one cent for all their hours of work and miles of driving, by either Mr. Davison or the NTA, in accordance with their wishes. It was all ' A Labor of Love'.