Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
It is always easier -- and much more fitting -- to give flowers to the living. But Elmer Ransburg wasn't the talkative kind, and getting information out of him was much more difficult than taking his picture reminiscing beside an old Rumely Oil-Pull basking in the line-up at The National Threshers at Wauseon, Ohio, a year ago.
Oh yes, everyone at the National Threshers seemed to know Elmer Ransburg -- his name, that is, and possibly a thing or two -- but certainly not enough to write a story about.
'You know, Elmer Ransburg was a fine fellow to work around,' said Iron Man Percy Sherman, 'but I've worked with him when he wouldn't say more than two or three words the livelong day.'
From N. T. A. secretary, Lucille Blaker, came little more than the fact that, ''Elmer Ransburg lives in Quincy, Mich. He's been helping us here for years.'
But then, during the ensuing months, the sad word arrived by grapevine that Elmer Ransburg had passed beyond, and our attempts to honor him while living just couldn't be met. Thus it was that, the following year, the story about the hard working but sparse worded Elmer Ransburg was divulged by his lovely widow, the faithful Naomi who, always at reunion time took her seat at the National Threshers' secretary's desk to take memberships and fill out cards -- the one whose brown, piercing eyes always seemed to look right through to your soul when asking, 'Name, please!'
They were always a fixture at the annual N. T. A. reunions -- Elmer and Naomi Ransburg -- Naomi always occupying her usual place at the Registration stand, Elmer more often than not out with the tractors and engines, but now and then sitting straight and sober as a judge beside Naomi for those brief respites from the summer's sun.
'When Elmer was a little boy, and the threshing rig came to their farm, he used to pray that it would rain so the threshing machine would have to stay over the weekend,' muses Naomi Ransburg. 'He'd go out and sit for hours on the big engine, pulling all the levers and dreaming of someday running one himself.'
'Elmer was raised on the farm where we lived,' says Mrs. Ransburg. 'The farm had been in the family for one hundred and four years. In 1870 a new brick house was built where Elmer was born.'
For a period of twenty years, Spark Plug ElmerRansburg left the family farm to eke out his youthful fortune beyond the line fence. For a while he worked in the Studebaker garage, repairing those rather unpredictable contraptions of the urban nobility known as Studebaker Electrics, often as eccentric as a Metropolitan Opera soprano, and as balky as a Missouri mule. At nights he worked on generators.
For a while Elmer worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Company, manufacturers of a product somewhat unbefitting our Noble Spark Plug's mechanical status but nevertheless requiring the same full measure of acumen and genius to keep them functioning as did the 'eccentric Electrics'.
SPARK PLUG ELMER RANSBURG, a fixture at the annual National Threshers, Wauseon, Ohio, contemplates an old Rumely-Oil Pull. For years he was head salesman for the plant, as well as representative and trouble-shooter when things went wrong. It was one of his labors of love at N. T. A. to stick the name tags on the engines, but he always paused longer before the old Oil-Pulls. Later he got oil smudges on his clean trousers, when at 82, he climbed up onto the big fly-wheel to show us how he used to start the things. He loved big engines, ever since as a lad he used to pray it would rain so he could sit on the threshing engine, and pull the levers over the weekend.
But it wasn 't until he began an eight year stint, working for the Advance-Rumely Company out of St. Louis, Missouri, that our Spark Plug, Elmer Ransburg, returned to his first love of being around the big tractors and engines he so admired in his boyhood. As a salesman for the company, Elmer Rans-burg delivered Oil-Pulls to many a midwest farm that had established itself in the fabric and pattern of an expanding American agriculture. But best of all he was sent out as special factory repairman and trouble-shooter whenever anything went wrong with an Oil-Pull backed by the Rumely guarantee, to the extent of dispatching their ablest representative to remedy whatever the situation.
'When the combines came in and replaced the threshing rigs, Elmer went to work for The Imperial Clock Company of St. Louis,' recalls Naomi Rans-burg. 'Then he went to work for a company out of Minneapolis, installing burglar alarms and bank clocks. Many a time he told about getting claustrophobia (fear of confinement), when locked in those big bank vaults installing time locks. Believe me, I wouldn't have trusted any of those fellows locking me up in some bank vault!'
But Elmer Ransburg was a real genius with electricity as well as machinery. When Elmer came home to take care of his mother, after the death of his father, he set up his own farm workshop, made his own tools and had his own power saws as well as all the necessary machinery for the well-equipped farm of that day.
'We took care of Elmer's mother for twenty years, and farmed his boyhood family farm,' says Mrs. Ransburg. 'We farmed the eighty acres -- a small but good farm in Branch County, Michigan. Elmer was industrious and thrifty -- we weren't rich but we were happy and we made that eighty acres pay.'
'Elmer always wanted to buy an Oil-Pull, but whenever he tried someone always beat him to it,' reminisces Naomi. 'Around the farm we always had two small gas engines -- a Witte and a Cush-man which were used a lot, pumping water and doing other jobs until we got rural electricity.'
MADAME SPARK PLUG - a perennial fixture at the National Threshers asks, 'What's your name?'. Mrs. Naomi Rnasburg always had a soul-searching way of asking, 'Name, please!' One almost felt she knew your name before she asked. She survives her husband, Spark Plug of the Month, Elmer Ransburg, who long sold and serviced Rumely Oil-Pulls.
'We had a John Deere tractor to farm with. I hated to see it go at auction,' says Mrs. Ransburg. 'Elmer and I did so many things on the farm together with it, and he always kept it in tip-top condition. He knew how to take care of it and overhaul it. It ran perfectly.'
'Elmer and I were always sorry we didn't join the National Threshers the first five years. We just didn't know about it till later,' recalls Naomi, the epitome of dignity and charm, whether making out your membership badge or conversing nostalgically about Elmer. 'For years my husband did about everything for the reunion here, such as building this platform for our secretary's desk where we've taken registrations every year or whatever he was called on to do.'
But most important of Spark Plug Elmer Ransburg's contributions to the Annual N. T. A. reunions was) licking the stamps to put identification tags on the engines. There he was the most familiar fixture on the National Threshers grounds -- going from engine to engine, tractor to tractor -- with always a bit longer pause before some ancient Rumely Oil-Pull which inevitably fetched back those memories of boyhood when he used to sit for hours on the big threshing engine rig, and the ensuing years when he served as master salesman and trouble-shooter for the Rumely Oil-Pulls which were threshing the golden grain and feeding a growing America.
'I still have one of the big eight-foot electric wall regulators which was made by the Imperial Company Elmer worked for years ago,' explains Naomi. 'It was shipped as a master clock to some school, but got damaged and was returned to the factory. Elmer repaired it and had a floor stand made and I have it in my home as a grandfather's clock.'
To the Ransburg man-and-wife team who's done so much over the years to enhance our visits at the National Threshers -- in solemn respect and memory of a towering genius to the honored line of Rumely Oil-Pulls which he's made to function so perfectly over the years, and his widow, Naomi, now retired from the N. T. A. registration desk -- we honor these two for having made the world better for their being with us.
To Elmer Ransburg, our belated thanks for having done so much without embellishing the deed in bragga-doccio and burdensome words, the honor of becoming Spark Plug of the Month is but our maudlin and ignoble efforts at recompense. To the widow, Naomi, for nurturing the aspirations of the man in the noblest traditions of the American farm wife -- we repeat our chorus of praise.
For the Ransburgs -- Spark Plug Elmer and wife Naomi -- the world has been blessed by your being.
And Elmer (if you can hear) -- our apologies for those oil smears you got on your clean trousers that Naomi had just pressed when, a year ago at the National Threshers we asked how you used to start a Rumely Oil-Pull and all eighty-two years of you climbed up onto the spoke of that big fly-wheel to show us.
It is indeed noble for a man to be a good citizen, pay his taxes, feed his family and go to church. But Elmer Ransburg did all that, and much more -- and never talked about it.