It was a lovely spring day. I had just checked in at the local offices of The United Telephone Company of Indiana in Union City to chat with Wayne Whitenack—amateur mechanic, engine collector, and the next Spark Plug of the Month. He was not in.
"I don't know where Wayne is," said the comely blonde secretary. "Wait here a while and I'll phone his favorite haunts to see if he's out on one of his coffee breaks."
"He's not on his coffee break," sighed 'blondie,' banging her receiver down and apparently giving up the hunt. "I really don't know where he is—it's such a beautiful day outside."
"Just a minute," I replied. "The weather being so balmy, I'll bet Wayne's slipped out for a spell and is down at his barn working on his engine collection. I'll just make a run down there and see."
Sure enough, as I rounded the turn into gasoline alley, there stood an old McCormick-Deering tractor out in the spring sunlight, the doors of a backlot barn were thrust wide open, and there was a fury of activity and engines popping within.
"Your secretary and I have been phoning all over town to see if you were out on a coffee break," said I to the lanky figure of a Spark Plug tinkering with the carburetor of an ancient Economy with all six horsepower rarin' to go.
"You know, workin' up there with all those automatic relays clattering and all that wire around you is like being penned up in a chicken coop," smiled Wayne. "Once in a while I've just got to slip off and come down here with my engines. In a short time everything lets loose, and I'm all right again. These engines are better than medicine—better than all the nerve tonic in the world." (No health spas needed here, no rush to beach or mountain resorts to clam the frazzled nerve. Mechanic therapy is all he needs.).
Too, in the matter of family get-togetherness, I could readily see that old-time gas engines had a way of cementing father-son relationships more expertly than the scholarly diagnoses of ivory-towered family counsellors or the psychoanalyst's bench.
"My son, David, and I have been collecting old gas engines now for three years," explained a justly proud Dad, Wayne Whitenack—Spark Plug of the Month. "This old Economy Engine we discovered along a river bed southwest of Hartford City, Indiana. Got a farmer to pull it out on a mud sled with a team of horses."
"She really runs now—just a three-quarter turn of the fly-wheel," said Wayne, adjusting the carburetor while son, Dave, tugged on the wheel which started the big Economy to firing fit as a fiddle.
"Boy, if you'd seen that old engine when we got it!" explained Wayne. "Mud all over, and rust, after we got it here in the shed, it took us three hours, Dave hitting the stuck piston with a sledge-hammer while I held small tractor weights in place to keep from damaging the piston head."
"Altogether we've got around eighteen old engines, the most unusual of which are the Foos 1 1/2 hp, Tom Thumb International I-horse, (very old), an old 7 hp Fairmont, an Ingeco 1 1/2 horse, Worthington 1 1/2, a rare upright Maytag of about three-quarter horse and a 1907 Waterloo Associated which we discovered on top of a 25-foot junk pile in Muncie, Indiana (a real collector's item, too)," expounded Spark Plug, Wayne Whitenack. "And these aren't all. There are more engines on the other side of the barn."
Over to the side was the tiny, Briggs and Stratton powered red kiddie's tractor, which Wayne had made for David when he was a little fellow. As a one-time neighbor of the Whitenack's, I quite vividly recall young Dave puttering past the home place, taking his neighborhood friends a ride astride the little red coaster wagon, in tow behind his 'mighty one-lung monster'.
But now David had grown up to a high school senior. And Dad had souped-up a Lambert Special garden tractor for Dave, who's already amassed some seven shining trophies at midwest tractor-pulling contests, while up-coming Terry Joe, age 13, has latched onto the midget homemade tractor to putter up the village sidewalks.
"David's real pride is the McCormick-Deering, though,"' explained Wayne. "He's gotten a job in a supermarket, after school hours, and has saved his money to buy this 1926 chugger."
"I'm going to take it to the Darke County Threshers and the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor reunion at Portland, Indiana, this summer," said Dave as he proudly lugged a bucket of water out and began slopping it into the ancient McCormick-Deering radiator.
"Give it a turn, David, just to show him how nicely it runs," fawned Wayne.
While Dad held the carburetor at just the right mixture, David, gave the necessary quarter yank on the crank and old McCormick-Deering was chugging 'em off— one, two, three, four—nice and slow with every plug a-firin' on order.
"Isn't that music to your ears?" snapped Wayne, as he and Dave hopped astride the ancient chugging agricultural wonder for a spring sortie down gasoline alley.
And not to be outdone by Dad and big brother, young Terry Joe was right out there alongside with his older brother's pint-sized chugger that he has recently become heir to. It was even too beautiful a spring day for Mrs. Murphy to complain that gas fumes and carbon might be smudging her pretty white Irish laundry hanging on the line across the alley-way, what with the meadow lark heralding the arrival of spring, the robins making nests, and Jenny Wren chirping her joyful song.
Here indeed was the veritable "haven of rest" for Spark Plug Wayne Whitenack, veteran of twenty years's service to his community's communication system, climber of ten-thousand telephone poles both day and night in all kinds of weather, wire-chief to thousands of miles of modern electrical circuits and maintainer of numberless automatic key-sender equipment units—a most vital link in America's overall communication system.
But as all good things must come to an end, it was back to the daily grind at the local telephone company that Spark Plug Whitenack went—to check in after his unofficial "coffee break" down in his back alley gas engine barn.
Fortunately everything was clicking off fine at United Telephone. The wires were all humming and the lights were flicking on and off the switchboards with the same deadly precision that old McCormick-Deering and one-lung Economy had exhibited moments before, thanks to Spark Plug Wayne Whitenack's genius at his regular job.
"Coffee break's over," said Wayne, winking to his secretary who had been phoning desperately to locate his whereabouts, an hour before. "Blondie usually can get in touch with me whenever I'm out, but this time she failed."
Our eternal thanks to Spark Plug of the Month, Wayne Whitenack for his tireless efforts at keeping America's vital communications humming quite as well as his ceaseless efforts at restoring old-time Americana in way of internal combustion that future generations may know what made our nation great.
For his secret at finding new and wholesome relief for knots in the stomach from modern technical gadgetry, by delving into the richness of our past, we salute Wayne Whitenack, Spark Plug who has learned the secret of knitting the home lies between father and sons: the grand and ennobled internal combustion way.
You've earned a well-deserved niche in our illustrious array of Honorable Spark Plugs. And if there be any so ignoble as to challenge what we say here, let him speak up now, or forever keep his peace.
May no one henceforth ever complain of the medicinal values or ethnical virtues derived from one short visit down "Gasoline-Alley"-way.