Rio Grande Equipment Club, 712 La Vista, McAllen, Texas 78501
I am a 75 year old retired teacher, member of the Rio Grande Valley Old Farm Equipment Club, secretary, and publisher of the monthly club newsletter, 'Rust Bucket Ramblings.' On May 24, 1995, I departed McAllen for: (1) Kansas City, Missouri, to pick up a small trailer previously loaned to Russell Anderson to haul his belongings from Harlingen, Texas, to Kansas City; (2) Gove, Kansas, to participate in their high school reunion, visiting former students and patrons from the 1948-1950 era when it was my good fortune to be a teacher/coach until recalled to the Army for the Korean conflict; (3) Alexander, Kansas, to continue negotiations with Glenn Grumbein for a 1920 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse Model Z engine. Saw this engine first in 1975 and Glenn wanted $300 for it. He has one of the relatively untouched hoards of salvage and antique farm machinery in the state of Kansas. And he is reasonable, except I didn't agree on the engine price so the years have passed and he has steadfastly held his ground.
From 10:00 p.m. until about 4:00 a.m. on May 25th I rested in an Ardmore, Oklahoma, motel. About 30 minutes after leaving the motel, the truck manifested a leaking heater hose. My first warning was the smell of hot antifreeze, but I told myself that it must be fumes being given off by some chemical plant, and got the real message when steam began emanating from the engine. What to do? Spotted a lighted building (this turned out to be about 10 miles south of Norman, Oklahoma) and carefully exited the freeway seeking haven in what turned out to be The Engine Center. Parked under bright lights and waited for things to cool down after determining the problem was in the top of the heater hose. In about 45 minutes removed the hose at point of rupture, trimmed away the damaged hose and replaced it. But then what to do. About noon I had been stretching my legs at a rest stop and a 1972 Oldsmobile had pulled in needing waterhad used my gallon of spare water to get it back on the road, after helping the driver remove a thermostat that locked like it might have been on one of Sherman's tanks. And, though there were many chances thereafter to refill the container, I didn't. Woe is me, no water!! Just a minute, there on the side of the building, directly in front of the truck was a water faucet. Here I had been thinking about a long wait until someone came in at 8:00 a.m. (hopefully). It didn't take long to fill the radiator and in a jiffy was ready to go. Left a watermelon, a sack of oranges, and a sack of grapefruit by the hydrant, then departed.
About 9:30 a.m. on the Kansas Turnpike near Wichita I decided to try for breakfast at a turnpike restaurant. But no, the sign said 'Open For Lunch at 11:00.' As I returned to the truck a pair of pickups (newer than mine, but not much) pulled in. As the trucks had Texas license plates, politely I inquired, 'What part of Texas are you from?' the answer, 'San Juan.' San Juan is a sister city of McAllen. The migrants were heading for Minnesota and seasonal work. A brief chat, a sack of oranges and a watermelon less, and it was hit the turnpike again. In a good mood, thought things are going well. Even my travel companion, 'Lily,' a half pit bull/half Labrador four months old pup (named after Harry Seidensticker's rare 1907 air cooled 2 HP 'White Lily' engine) had mastered getting into and out of the truck on command. Things were looking up! This pup has the potential of becoming my number one guard dog.
With no air conditioning in the 1965 ton Chevrolet pickup (speedometer passed 180,000 miles on this trip) it was a relief to begin getting cooler temperatures at San Antonio. By the time we hit the Oklahoma line, it was drizzling and cooler temperatures merited opening the heater valve. We ran in 55°-60° weather through Oklahoma and Kansas, coming and going.
Russell had previously instructed me to stay on Interstate 35 until reaching 24, Independence Highway; turn right on 24, find a convenience store to phone him so he could come and guide me to the trailer. Made the turn and spotted a large Ford agency to do my telephoning. Russell indicated I was about five miles from the trailer, how about coming on in? 'No, thank you, these Kansas City drivers have been tooting their horns at me too much, already. Come and get me, I'll wait.' Getting the trailer was no real hassle and Russell was good enough to lead me to Interstate 70 going west. Arrived in Salina area about 10:00 p.m. and was beginning to get sleepy. Plus, one of our good members Robert Robins lives in the area at Minneapolis, Kansas. Checked two motels. Both were filled to capacity. To heck with the motels. Motored on down the road about 30 miles to a rest stop, got in the camper and went to sleep. After a brief rest, proceeded westward. Twenty miles east of Hays a deer sideswiped the right headlight. Still had the left lamp, so proceeded on into Hays. Stopped at an open convenience store and inquired about finding a good auto-electric shop. I was directed two blocks further down the street where I parked to wait out the 8:00 a.m. opening time. At 8:00 I found the manager, explained my problem and asked him to check the right rear running light on the trailer. 'I'm going across the street for some breakfast, and will get right back.' I took about an hour for breakfast. The truck was sitting out, the bill was ready. But, I summarily checked the turn signals; they were reversed. There was still no right rear running light and the right headlight was pointed down at the pavement with a 45 degree angle. 'Marvin, calm yourself, this is doing your high blood pressure no good.' The technician sensed my feelings and quickly offered to spend a little more time on the problems. I assented but immediately called Berneice Herrman at the Chrysler dealership and she put their service manager, Mark, on the phone. He advised me to check out the availability of WHEELS & SPOKES, as they are the best in the area with sheet metal work and trailer wiring. 'Marvin, do you want me to call Jerry and make arrangements for you?' 'No, it's not necessary, I know Jerry Juenemann, having previously sold him an antique Chrysler.'
Called Jerry and briefly explained my predicament. 'Marvin, get that rig on out here, we've got you covered.' True to his word upon my arrival at 11:00 o'clock Jerry pulled three of his best technicians, Chuck, Doug, and John oft their projects with simple instructions. 'Get Marvin back on the road.' By noon the sheet metal work and headlights were in tip-top shape. At noon the shop broke for an hour lunch period. In the meantime, Jerry and a couple of his model plane enthusiast buddies left to fly some of their models. At 1:00 p.m. sharp the technicians were back with the remaining lights and trailer lighting problem. By 3:00 p.m. they had completely rewired the trailer and all lights were A-okay. Who do you think was fretting about paying for all of this? You bet your boots I was making some mental calculations: three men times three hours comes out to nine hours of labor, and it was very obvious that these men are as skilled as any you will find anywhere. Based on the $18.75 paid previously for installation of a headlamp and messing up the wiring loom, this could call for a visit to Fort Knox for enough capital to get out of hock. 'Would you guys like to see an old man cry?' Bravely approached the cashier for the 'bad' news. 'Marvin, you owe us $38.00.' With a sigh of relief and the deepest respect for a grand bunch of fellows, I wended westward to Quinter, and a night's rest at Motel Q.
The traffic at the motel cafe was heavy. Sat down at 6:30 and still hadn't gotten a menu by 7:00, but all was not lost as Donnie Heier and his sister, Alberta Reinbold, joined me in the waiting room. Alberta quickly assured me that I had been the best teacher she'd ever had, and that made my day. But when she got to the part about having four grown sons, a bevy of grandchildren and being 62 years old, I was flabbergasted. In my mind, Alberta will always be 15 years old. Donnie and I, being the true gentlemen we are, were considerate enough to allow Alberta to pay the tab.
The next morning, I elected to pass eating in the same cafe and went on to Gove and its cafe. Was joined at breakfast by Sanford and Gladys Powers and their son, Roger. There were other people at the table also and we got around to talking about old engines (naturally). Roger said, 'I was at a neighbor's yesterday and he has several in his scrap iron pile' 'Where is this, Roger?' Fifteen miles from here.' 'What are we waiting for, let's go.' 'Marvin, don't you know it rained six inches last night, he can't get out and we can't get in.' Well, if that isn't the cat's pajamas!!
Renewing old acquaintances, taking an occasional photograph made the time pass rapidly. Here it is, NOON. Time to eat, and food fit for any harvest crew, in abundance. Loaded my plate with roast beef and all the trimmings. Even thought of Lily and carefully wrapped a broiled quarter of chicken in a napkin to share with her that evening. After the meal I left our group's table to find a trash can in the kitchen area. Found the barrel, and happened to think about checking the time. Oh my!! Almost 1:00 o'clock, and I had an appointment with Glenn Grumbein at Alexander, 100 miles away, for sometime after lunch. Gave Wayne Packard a hasty goodbye and headed for the truck. Took the chicken from my pocket, threw it up on the dashboard and turned around to talk briefly to Gail Beesley. Sure, you guessed it. By the time I was back in the truck, the chicken, less the napkin, had completely disappeared. Lily was sitting there with the most innocent look I've ever seen on her face. She looked just like the proverbial cat who swallowed the canary.
Headed south on 23 to reach 96, which would be the shortest route to Alexander. Gail had forewarned me that my Dighton cousin was probably at a Methodist convention in Hays that day. He was right, so I hurried to the fine new museum which has recently been erected. Found 50 harvesting, steam thrashing rigs, headers, header barges and a variety of farming pictures of the early 1900s, and a custodian who was willing to make copies. Mrs. Johnston was a great aid and I appreciate her efforts very much.
Our old farm equipment club is always exploring ways and means to raise funds for future projects. Most recently the idea of conducting a raffle on an antique tractor has surfaced. Alfred Townsend (McAllen, Texas) suggested that inasmuch as most members have welding equipment and are welders, that we should consider making some shop seats, using an old disk for the base, used pipe for the support and an implement seat. These could be sold to the public or used for seating in the Mercedes building. The only critical item is the implement seat.
By mid-afternoon I had reached the main gate of Grumbein Salvage, Alexander, Kansas. Water was standing in the ditches. It was obvious the rains had been here also. The gate was open and Darwin's (Glenn's son) three boys were busy working on two lawnmowers. I introduced myself and one of the boys promptly phoned Darwin. I began my usual sashay through the yard, but it was too muddy. Just turned back to wait for Darwin, who soon arrived. 'Long time, no see, Marvin! What are you interested in today?' 'How about implement seats, do you have any?' 'We probably have a couple hundred you can pick from.' 'How much?' 'We've been getting $5.00 for the sound ones and $4.00 for those with cracks.' 'Hey, what happened to the $1.00 seats?' 'That was five years ago and those days are long gone, didn't you know we're in an inflation?' 'Okay, you've got me between a rock and a hard spot. Have the boys load up 50 of the sound ones. How about engines?' 'We have several. Say how did you come out with the Eclipse #1 you got the last time?' 'That engine was hopeless, too many cracks in the wrong places. Never managed to get it restored. Is the 3 HP Fairbanks Morse still here?' 'Yes, but that's Dad's.' 'Do you think Glen will give on that $300.00 price?' 'I don't know; you better talk to him.'
I knew exactly where the 1920 3 HP engine was located, for I have been, walking around it for over 15 years. There it was, patiently waiting, sans crankshaft cover. The hole in the gas tank hadn't gotten any smaller. Apparently the previous owner had trouble with the magneto, as it is missing and a white oak wood block with a piece of 12 gauge steel wire had been rigged to work in connection with a battery and a buzz coil to furnish ignition. Nice pulleys on each flywheel and whoever ran the engine last knew what he was doing. The piston is positioned for easy extraction and to give maximum protection from the weather to the cylinder. The serial number indicates production in early August, and August 8 just happens to be my birthday, too!
'What's your best price today, Glenn?' 'For you Marvin, $200.00.' 'Are you sure that's the bottom?' 'It is!' 'Load it!!' So, 30 hours later we were back in McAllen, a few dollars poorer but ever so rich in memories.