An Old Iron Adventure (Aren't They All?)

Les Brantingham And Dan Ehlerding

Les Brantingham (left) and Dan Ehlerding (right), surveying a small portion of the 'find.'

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Brantingham 10634 Oakford White lake, Michigan 48386

Did you ever notice how it's always the 'other guy' who always manages all the good luck and you always seem to be the one with what's left? I know the feeling. I'm the one the bank clerks wait for to get to their window before closing for lunch break. I'm the one who drives 300 miles to an auction on Thursday, only to find out that all the hit-n-miss engines are going on the block on Saturday (the day of my son's piano recital!), and I'm the one who missed all the numbers in the Michigan lottery by one number because my mother-in-law gave birth to dear Phyllis one day late! And I'm the one who scrimps and saves to buy my son a Michael Jordan rookie basketball card for (never mind the price!) his birthday. And on the day in question, he pulls one out of a 50 cent pack of bubblegum! Do these stories sound familiar?!! Well, guess what, that luck doesn't last forever as you are about to learn.

To digress for just a moment, you may have noticed that my last name is part of an agricultural machinery company name which, in its day, was a fairly large business concern. And until 1928 when Case acquired it, the Emerson-Brantingham Company of Rockford, Illinois had made significant contributions with their product line of EB, Peerless, Geiser, Osborne, and Newton equipment. We'll discuss the rise and fall of EB at another time; suffice to say that although the company is long gone, a lot of the old red iron is still around and begging to be found and restored.

Meanwhile, back to our story, since I got stuck with the same name as my dad, and he from his, and so forth back to where they were hanging by their tails ... if old Charles Brantingham could build 'em; then young John Brantingham can collect 'em; something to do with keeping it in the family or something.

These old red engines aren't really rare, but it isn't exactly like trying to find a Briggs either. Thanks to dear Phyllis (remember her, she is the family CPA!), and our good friend Hal Dunbar (of Adrian, Michigan fame), we got our first EB (a running 2? HP model S) on New Year's Day, 1988. Dad already had a beautifully restored H, so now we both had one; I guess that's that.

Wrong!!!!!

What about one for Phyllis, or Jenny, or Johnny, the dog, the cats . . . Phyllis walked out to the garage the night we got the S, put her hands on her forehead and with all the convictions of someone who grew up in the sixties said, 'I have a dream!' Look out, this sounds expensive!!! She continues, 'A tandem axle trailer with eight shiny red EB's all running in harmony.' (Actually, it was six, but by the time this gets to print, inflation will have started affecting her imagination.)

Shortly after this, an ad appeared in GEM, offering 'several Emerson-Brantingham engines for sale'. Several?! Heck, it took us years to find even one. We rarely see any at the shows, and even more rare is one for sale. Not only that, but the guy who owns them is practically in Dad's backyard in southwest Michigan.

About the same time I read the ad, my good friend Dan Ehlerding (an EB collector from way back) calls and wants to know if I saw the ad in GEM. 'You make the arrangements, I have the truck unloaded, and I'm on my way.' So with that, Dad and I made plans to visit our friend in Bangor, Michigan that next Thursday night. On that Thursday, Dan drove up from southern Ohio and picked me up in Detroit, and we headed for Lake Michigan. Did I mention that it started snowing about noon on Thursday? We picked Dad up near Kalamazoo and continued on with our trip (it's still snowing).

We finally made our destination about 5:30 p.m. After exchanging greetings and old iron stories our host pointed to the barn that held what we had come to see. We made it through knee high snow and when the door was dug out and opened, we stood there in awe. There was red iron everywhere!!

Our most gracious host, by the way, was John Lavora, who many midwestern iron folks know from several shows. As is the law in this hobby, financial concerns are left behind the barn doors, and that law will not be compromised here. (It's still snowing!) After a lot of handshaking and bartering, it was decided that it was time to get all these pieces of iron to their respective new homes. It got rather quiet as we all stared through the snow at the full size van (minus seats) that I had opted to bring, after leaving Dan's pickup in Detroit.

John laughed and Dad said, 'NO WAY'!'

Dan and I looked at each other, he being the first to speak, 'Company van?'

'Yes.' I started to smile.

In unison, 'NO PROBLEM!!!!'

You know, I finally learned what bump stops do. They act as insulators to keep the frame rails from squeaking against the axle housing! (Did I mention that it's still snowing?)

So with our heads held high and the nose of the van held even higher, we headed for Dad's. Our twenty minute ride turned into a two hour snow plowing marathon. There were tracks in the snow all right. We made 'em!

When we go to Dad's, we unloaded his engines, warmed up with coffee, grew hoarse with lots of restoration discussions, and about 11:00 p.m. decided to head back to Detroit. Dan came in from the van and said, 'The good news is it finally stopped snowing. The other news (engine people never have bad news, only other news) is that the bump stops are still firmly sandwiched between the frame and the axle.'

'NO PROBLEM!!!' (For the same reasons given previously.)

We left with Dad standing in the driveway, hands on hips, and shaking his head. I know that look; it's the same one I saw way back when, the night I tried to tow my buddy's dad's Peterbilt with my '67 Cougar. (I hope tonight's ending is significantly different from that night). Our normal two hour trip turned into many more and we made it just in time for Phyllis to ask what we wanted for breakfast.

After enough sleep to get the red out of the eyes, we unloaded my engines, moved Dan's to his pickup, and sent him on his way back to Ohio.

That was several years ago, and one by one our old rusty iron (the 4 HP N, the 1? HP S, the 2 HP U, etc.) are showing bright red enamel once again. Last night, Phyllis walked out in the garage again and had that look again!

'Forget it dear! Unless someone gives us a Kenworth, a low boy and a new pole barn, there's no more room.' She stood there with a blank stare on her face. By then I was wiping down flywheels, when she turned around and headed back inside muttering something about a used Kenworth that she knew of. Stay tuned!