Homesteader Orion Hapner Chooses a Pulled Wagon Over Gas Engines

The author describes Orion Hapner choosing a pulled wagon over gas engines when traveling to town for weekly supplies.

Ancient Tin-Lizzie

Photo courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana.

PHOTO: JOE FAHNESTOCK

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Orion Hapner was happy to use a pulled wagon over gas engines to get his weekly supplies. 

Dayton Daily News & Radio's "Joe's Journal".

Last time I ever posed with Orion Hapner, was when I asked him to pose as my official chauffer in an ancient Tin-Lizzie outside the. eating tent at the Jim Whitbey Reunion, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He clambered up over the tin running board, despite his ninety years, like a schoolboy.

The ghost of the late Orion Hapner is stalking these parts, in the fabulous, unforgettable mem'ries he's left behind. For in the parade of human affairs, comes now and then the nonconformist, such as the bearded, iron-man Orion Hapner whose ways of living and doing things uproots the conventional patterns of man.

For the raw-boned and husky 94 year old Orion Hapner who lived up Mississinawa River-way in western Darke County, Ohio, it was not enough to be merely well-versed and well-read on steam locomotion and traction, gleaned from his gigantic library of American and European steam volumes when there was the subject of internal-combustion yet to be reckoned with.

"Steam is wonderful and powerful on both the farm and the railroads," the man-mountain, Orion Hapner, would always say. "But the big farm tractors and the diesel locomotives had to come," quoth the bearded prophet, brushing his whiskers with each turning page as he pondered his ponderous volumes of both steam and gas traction.

The writer well remembers, as a little boy, the ghostly sight of the heavy-bearded and much-be-shawled Hapner family driving into Union City-town one cold and blizzardy day, huddled together in their open-air Stanley Steamer touring car with burlap bags tied around the sausage-like tires and the wooden spokes to get traction (cheaper than buying chains). Indeed, the legendary James Brothers of the rip-roarin', train-robbing Wells Fargo days would not have cast a greater spell over this youthful town-frequenter that the hissing, sputtering spectre of ye olde Stanley Steamer with its burlap rags a-flop-ping on a cold wintry day, while at the wheel sat the bearded Hapner not unlike one of the bearded Stanley brothers of inventive fame.

And then came internal combustion and the Hapner family, beards and all, invested in one of the early American experiments of fender-flopping, gas-sputtering contraptions designed to someday replace steam on the muddy, turnpikes of yesteryear. Storing the ancient but venerable old Stanley Steamer alongside the stall of old "Stockin' Foot," the Hapner drivin' horse, the bearded and legendary Hapners were showing the world that they were keeping apace of the march of industrial progress.

And then came the day when the old gas buggy wouldn't even sputter, lor that weekly trip to the metropolis on the Indiana-Ohio stateline for to get the provender of life so necessary to keep Hapner souls and bodies together. So Hapner chose a pulled wagon over gas engines, off to town trekked the bearded Orion Hapner with his little tin "Town and Country" wagon tagging along behind. For eight miles up the Indiana-Ohio stateline he'd trudge, the beard of the mighty Orion Hapner, blowing one minute over into Ohio, the other minute into Indiana, with the veering of the winds, while his mighty hulk steered an even course between the two states. It was always a sight of legendary proportions, seeing the sinewy and bearded Orion Hapner pulling his wagon, loaded with burlap bags of vitamins and "vittles" out Stateline Road and homeward bound making his weekly round-trip of sixteen miles to and from the grocery, without benefit of either horse, Stanley Steamer or early American auto. And I often thought that the memory of the bearded Hapner, for staples needed, would have to be infallible. For to forget anything but razor-blades would mean a 16-mile walk back to the village store once again.

Although townfolk were afraid of the image struck by the bearded Orion Hapner, who kept up his weekly 16-mile treks to town and return, by way of foot and wagon, clear up to his 94th year, when I once flagged him down to talk to him and take his 'pitcher', the neighbors crowded around close with curiosity when my interview revealed his kind and tender personality and his great intelligence.

It was always time out for celebrating whenever a steam engine threshennen's reunion happened to be billed within hoofing distance of the bearded Orion Hapner. And the manner by which he finally arrived at one of the Jim Whitby reunions at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, some 80 miles away, was legend itself.

"I started walking from Ohio over into Indiana sometime in the night," quoth  Hapner, relating the story. "After quite a few miles I slept out under the stars a spell, then got up again and walked on to Portland, county-seat of Jay county, Indiana. There I finally boarded a bus and rode to Ft. Wayne. Then I began hoofing it again the many miles out to the Jim Whitby woods making it in time for the opening whistle."

When I interviewed the bearded Orion Hapner, then in his 91st year, with my portable tape recorder at Ft. Wayne, the crowd of curious began leaving the engines and swarming a-round us some three-hundred strong.

The last time I ever saw the bearded non-aegenarian, Orion Hapner, at the Jim Whitby Ft. Wayne reunion, I asked him to clamber up over the old tin running board of an ancient model-T Tin Lizzie — a feat which he accomplished like a schoolboy to pose as mp official chauffeur in the driver's seat of that ancient rattler sitting just outside the eating tent.

And as usual I doffed my engineer's cap and exposed my sparse locks to the hot sun's rays in deference to the venerable and mighty Orion Hapner whose legendary story I had written up many times in The Dayton Daily News and told over my "Joe's Journal" radio show. At this last summer's auction, selling off the numerous effects of the bearded Orion Hapner, I was proud to walk off with two of his huge, giant-sized John Bunyan monkey wrenches and some of his fabulous engine books from England.

Wherever you are, Orion, we hope you find the "world up there" as interesting as the one you helped to make down here. May the burlap rags around your sausage tires, and your shoe-soles never wear out. May your little tin wagon pull easier as you trod the golden streets. And we hope you are "Fixed with blades."

Thus the fabulous spectre of the mighty, bearded Orion Hapner stalks on.

The raw-boned, bearded Orion Hapner, even in his nineties, walked the 16 miles round-trip from Mississinawa River to Union City for groceries, pulling his little tin wagon. Walking straight up the Ohio-Indiana state line, his body never swerving, his beard blowed back and forth from Indiana to Ohio as the winds veered.

This is a picture of my Worthington "Portable" built by Worthington Pump & Machinery Corporation, Gas Engine Works, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is 1-1/2 HP R.P.M. 600 # 41280 — 4-1/2 foot Stroke — 3-1/4 foot Bore — His & Miss Webster Oscillating Magneto.