Reminiscing: The Old Farmer's Old Tractor

Encountering an old tractor at a county fair brings back an old farmer's memories of harvesting days gone by.

Hopper-cooled gas engine

Maplewood Farm, Pendleton, Indiana. Alan New, age eleven, with his 1% HP Stover type Kopen crank, horizontal, hopper-cooled gas engine.


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"Well, whadda ya know, I owned that old tractor once upon a time. I thought it looked mighty familiar," quoth the old farmer "Uncle" Willis Ditmer as he pecked his trusty walkin' stick against the iron crank-case of an ancient Rumely Oil-Pull tractor at the Darke County Steam Threshers some years ago.

For Ditmer it was like running into a long lost friend, fetching back the fond memories of old-time threshin' days back on the farm when the big 'oil-burning twin' made the heavy leather belt flop, spilling forth the clean, golden grain from the pulsating, gyrating grain separator. There were the memories of the big straw stack blowing higher and higher into the bright blue summer sky, the visions of men pitching bundles two at a time till the ringing of the old dinner bell sent the laborers driving their horses up to the big barnyard and 'time out' for dinner. The vision of hard-working, horny-handed farm folk gathering 'round the festive board, sagging with the horn of plenty bowls of chicken 'n noodles, mashed 'taters, gravy 'n hot biscuits, apple pie an inch thick and strong black farm coffee all the vitamins 'n 'vittles' a feller needed to keep strong, hard-working bodies 'n God-fearin' souls together in the best tradition of the American farm.

Uncle Willis Ditmer recognized an old Oil-Pull he once threshed with. Uncle Willis tests it for vibration, with his cane.

When a fellow runs into a friend these days, it's indeed an occasion for rejoicing. But when an old thresher-men just happens to recognize an old threshin' tractor such as "Uncle" Willis Ditmer did that day as he stood pecking his cane against an old Rumely Oil-Pull, fetching back the memories at that Darke County Threshermen's Reunion in western Ohio, well it's the kind of reunion among old friends that always fetches a tear.

Youth today, in my opinion, stands in judgment, not by the way it rallies to the support of modern innovation nearly so much as the way it is capable of revering the grand old men of a before them who have labored that today's world is a decent place to live in. And to me, one of the most revered characters who ever stalked the grounds of an old-time threshermen's reunion was "Uncle" Willis Ditmer. He walked among the line-up of the grand old iron engines like a spectre from out of the past, conjuring memories of a glorious and colorful era in America just past.

For besides being a farmer in the grand Darke County tradition of our great mid west, "Uncle" Willis Ditmer was also a salesman of some of the great old lines of farm traction engines the famous Baker and Case lines. Old-timers still tell stories of "Uncle" Willis coming out to the farm in his horse and buggy for to sell a brand new steam traction engine, the virtues of which he could well report on, firsthand, because of the work it could perform on his own home place. And it was a day when nothing more than a friendly handshake and possibly a snort from a bottle of red eye was plenty sufficient to seal a bargain in way of a gentleman's agreement nothing more.

And, once king steam had had its day, came the big oil and gas tractors and, keeping astride of the times, "Uncle" Willis of course invested in one of the lumbering Rumely Oil-Pulls to harvest the golden grain and get the manifold chores done back on the farm.

It was the last time I ever saw "Uncle" Willis Ditmer—reminiscing beside the proud and defiant old Rumely Oil-Pull which was standing silently in the big line-up of other gas and steam engines at the Darke County reunion. It was left for the agile pen of the late Winston Churchill to write so eloquently that, "The engine was made for man, not man for the engine." But had the great Churchill observed the nostalgic reunion of one "Uncle" Willis Ditmer and a certain old Rumely Oil-Pull, as I had that memorable day, he might well have re-penned his famous statement thusly, "oth man and the engine were made for each other."

And now that "Uncle" Willis has long since gone to that glorious Valhalla of noble steam engines and oil-pull tractors to bask in an eternity of grand mem'ries of the great days of threshing on the American farm, it remains for us, the living, to perpetuate their memory who left this a better world to live in for having been.

We doff our hat in perpetual honor to you, "Uncle" Willis for your long and devoted efforts in selling the farmers of one of our Nations' most fertile counties, Darke County in western Ohio, that grand old line of steam traction and internal combustion farm tractors that made our nation the breadbasket that is today feeding a starving world.

To you, "Uncle" Willis Ditmer we hope you find the grand old Cases, Bakers,and Rumely Oil-Pulls "up there" as fine and noble as they were down here. And, to this, along with preacher-editor Elmer, we chorus a very pronounced and long-drawn out "Amen."