The following story appears through courtesy of Tex Co-op Power of Texas.
Time passes slowly at the Ole Tic Toc Ranch, hidden on a rolling prairie between Floresville and Pleasanton, south of San Antonio. The buildings here are actually big treasure chests full of jewels from earlier days. A gentleman sage named Erwin Kretzschmar is the proprietor. He is a jewel himself, with eyes that sparkle with the clear knowledge of a world that has mostly passed on.
Kretzschmar calls himself a 'collectaholic' and warns that the disease is contagious. He started out collecting clocks in 1965 when his oldest son, Erwin Jr., sent him an antique clock from Germany, where the younger Kretzschmar was stationed in the service.
Somewhere along the way senior Kretzschmar's clock collection hobby turned into a passion for collecting any object that recalled earlier times-mostly early 20th century America.
The collection grew from a few rooms full of clocks to several barns full of tractors, old engines, tools, and antiques of all kinds, such as hand-cranked coffee mills, hay balers, pump jacks, wagons, plows, washing machines, cream separators, grindstones, meat grinders, corn shellers, spinning wheels, and on and on.
As Kretzschmar's reputation as a collector grew, people from all over the country started calling him and telling him about items he might be interested in.
Sometimes the information was from a collector who knew of an item in an antique store. And sometimes the information was just a vague tip- like someone saw an old tractor out in the pasture in such and such county.
Many times over the years the Kretzschmars have hopped into the truck and driven however many miles to check out leads. Mrs. Kretzschmar (Tillie) usually went along for the ride to help and enjoy the search. Usually they came home with some kind of prize and usually at a bargain price.
The clock collection grew to over 100 clocks of all kinds. Kretzschmar's favorite, called a French Repeater, is a huge grandfather clock with a colorful, hand-painted pendulum. He says the name comes from the fact that the clock strikes on the hour and then repeats the same strike two minutes later.
Clock collecting became a popular hobby in the 1970's, which caused prices of many clocks to skyrocket. So Kretzschmar started collecting tractors and engines instead.
He has about 50 tractors with brand names like Allis-Chalmers, Avery, Case, Coleman, John Deere, McCormick Deering, Massey-Harris, Moline, Oliver, and Stroud (circa 1920, built in San Antonio).
His pride and joy is a 1919 Advance Rumely Oil Pull tractor, which he has hauled to many a tractor show around the country.
Kretzschmar has restored many of the tractors to operating condition, choosing to work on tractors in the worse condition first. He likes a good challenge.
His engine collection numbers about 50, ranging from two big 80 HP Tipps engines removed from feed mills to old water-well pump engines and electric light plants.
Collecting engines began four decades after Kretzschmar's first encounter with an engine from Sears.
'Back in 1926 when I was 14 years old, we farmed with mules and horses and there was nothing mechanical on our farm except for a rather new 1925 touring car. As we needed some power to grind corn for the chickens and power to run a pump jack on the well to pump water, my dad took the big step and ordered an Economy engine from Sears and Roebuck in Dallas.
'That was my first step as an engineer, to keep the cistern pump full of water, and keep enough corn ground for all the chickens.'
One of Kretzschmar's favorite engines took him 30 days to remove (with a lot of help from Tillie) from a cotton gin in La Grange.
He says he wasn't interested in the old Bessemer engine at first, but it grew on him after visiting the cotton gin several times.
Many of Kretzschmar's engines were found in poor condition and almost all required mechanical overhauls to get them running.
But even today, when he starts up one of the old engines, he gets a kick out of watching the old pulleys (some of them wooden) turning and giant smoke rings floating to the sky.
For Erwin and Tillie Kretzschmar, seeing an old engine come to life again is like 'the fussing of parents over their first born,' he says.
Seeing the wonder in Kretzschmar's eyes when he talks about his collection and growing up on a farm before 'REA' electricity and imagining the human labor necessary to operate all the hand-operated devices makes one realize how life is truly different from those days.
He married Tillie Matheaus in 1937, a couple of years before Karnes Electric Cooperative brought electric power to the tiny community of Black Hill, where the young couple started their farm.
The young farmer was excited about the co-op bringing electricity to the area. 'I couldn't wait to get electric so I heard on the radio that a man in Bulverde had a plant to sell for $25.00 with all 12 glass batteries. He sold it because he was on the REA line. I took it home and without too much trouble got it to run.'
'He used the light plant for light so he could thresh and grind at night. Later he hooked it up to the house for indoor lighting.
'Then one night we went to a dance, 'came in a little past midnight, and about 3 a.m. it went up in smoke.'
By that time central station electricity was only a few months away, thanks to local farmers who organized Karnes Electric Cooperative in 1938. So Kretzschmar waited it out.
'We really got fancy after we got on the Karnes Electric line.' The couple bought an electric washing machine and a long list of appliances.
Electricity helped Kretzschmar operate his successful chicken business and his diversified farm on which he raised peanuts and other crops.
Recently, the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures chose Kretzschmar to interview for research on ranch life in the early 20th century. The interview is a part of the permanent archives at the museum.
And Kretzschmar's collection has been featured on television shows like the Eyes of Texas and in numerous magazine and newspaper articles.
He also has written a book on his collection and has written articles for technical publications such as Engineers and Engines and the Gas Engine Magazine-not bad for a man with a seventh grade educas
Although he may not have had a whole lot of formal education, Kretzschmar has been a student and a teacher all of his life. He has spent a large percentage of his time traveling with Tillie to Europe, Mexico, and throughout much of the U.S. searching for old pieces of the past.
Since a cardiac arrest in 1979, Kretzschmar has slowed down somewhat. He says traveling around is more difficult now. So he believes that everyone should travel when they're younger, while they can.
But the Kretzschmars still travel some and they have plenty to do. Together they are working on collecting photographs and historical information on all the old courthouses and jails in Texas. And he still has tractors, clocks, and engines that he hasn't gotten around to fixing yet and exhibits to host at the farm or attend elsewhere.
They also spend a lot of time visiting folks who come to see the remarkable collection. Those interested in seeing the collection can call Erwin or Tillie at (512) 393-2925 or write: Ole Tic Toe Ranch, Farm and Museum, Rt. 3, Box 157, Floresville, Texas 78114.
Meanwhile if you are driving through the countryside and happen to see an old tractor or an old engine that's been left for the elements in a ravine somewhere, you might think of Erwin and Tillie Kretzschmar and may be let them know about it, if only for old time's sake.