It was a cloudy, foreboding day that I found myself winding over Hoosier back roads to the Village of Salamonia, Indiana, then baring to the right through the northern “suburbia” of that hamlet to search out the why’s and wherefore’s that make this month’s plug spark.
With camera and notebook in hand, I stalked the perimeter of what looked like a farm workshop, then, like a bloodhound for news, stuck my head into the open slide-door and took a few sniffs as if to flush out my prey.
“Wonder where this Luther Breymier is?” thought I to myself, just as a hefty, dark-eyed, leather-capped and overalled figure loomed out of the darkness and began grinning at me, quite “as if I was” the prey to be pounced upon, not he.
There was the old Advance-Rumely tractor, head off, its innards exposed and naked as the bottom of a newborn babe. And over it Luther was laboring with hammer and sockets as deftly as a priest preparing the communion table. But instead of the priestly communal, Luther’s big hand reached over and latched onto the huge hot-water “kittle” a top his ancient Round Oak stove in the shop corner, to brew up a jag of Java fit to warm the cockles of one’s heart on a cold winter’s day.
“My, it’s cozy in here. I’ll bet you heat this stove up with slab wood from your sawmill across the road,” I said.
“Guess again,” replied Luther.
“Then you burn coal?” I queried.
“Guess again,” laughed mine host, with an impish glint in his eye. And not being able to guess any further, he replied, to my amazement, “I heat it with natural gas.”
“Natural gas – of all things! No wood or coal ashes to shake and carry out – no dust, except what he stirs up with his tools – all the comforts of home,” I thought to myself as Luther watched with glee my eyes scanning the literally hundreds of tools and wrenches hanging within finger reach from rafters overhead, the old-time Sears Roebuck hand-cranked post drill, the vise mounted on the shop bench, the drawers loaded with more and more tools, not to mention the pretty calendars on the walls, all softly illuminated by the single light bulb dangling from the exhaust blackened shop ceiling.
It required no little foot maneuvering and mud-slogging in farm boots as Spark Plug, the Deacon Breymier led me out to see the big natural gas well, his pride and joy at beating the high cost of fuel these days – the more to have money to spend on hunting out and fixing up more and more old tractors with his buddies, Woody Turner, President of Tri-State Gas & Tractor Association, and others who drop by to swap tractor and engine talk.
“Got to blow some excess water off the gas well,” muttered Luther, unscrewing the cock and scaring me half to death with the roaring blast. “Now to check the gas pressure,” he said, unscrewing another valve and again startling me out of my wits with another deafening blast.
“Don’t light a match! If that stream of gas ever ignited, never would get it put out,” yelled Luther, the Lutheran Deacon of his church, trying to out shout the devilish roar like a patriarch warning of the woes of hell-fire to the wicked.
“Village of Fort Recovery (Ohio) used to get their gas from this well, but the pressure got too low for their needs so I just bought out the gas company lease and use it myself,” Breymier said. “Fuel for my shop and house cost me nothing.”
Over by the Breymier privy (Luther’s summertime ivory tower for reading the GEM), spiraling like a Chick Sales version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa above our Spark Plug’s junk heap of spare tractor parts, stood a large Blue Flame butane gas tank piped to the farm corn drier. (As if a world full of natural gas beneath his feet wasn’t sufficient to blow him into Kingdom Come!)
“This winter I was trying to dry some corn, but it was so cold I had to build an open fire under the Blue Flame tank to get enough heat. When my son drove into the lane here to help me, he spied that fire burning under the gas tank and turned around and zoomed right back out and didn’t come back.” laughed Luther. (Hell hath no fury to this fearless Deacon!)
“This’ll be my next project, after I get the Advance-Rumely tractor going,” said Breymier, climbing up onto an old 1931 20-36 Huber Tractor he’d dragged in from who knows where and deposited in the mud half way betwixt gas well and workshop. “Gonna cost me though. One sleeve for a piston came to forty-nine dollars. Not sure whether I’ll get it ready for next year’s Tri-State meeting or not.”
Peering into the Breymier family garage, mine eyes beheld the scope to which a tractor collector’s ambitions can encroach upon the American status. For crowded beside the bright new family limousine stood Luther’s pride ‘n joy – a 1918 Rumely OilPull, snug as bug in a rug from winter’s rigors.
“Altogether I’ve got eight tractors,” said Luther, “always with an eye peeled for more. A 1932 English Ford, and four Allis-Chalmers tractors, Model-U 1931 model, WD-45 made in 1956, a D-17 diesel bought in 1956 and my latest, a D-21 Allis-Chalmers 1968 model. They’re all parked in my barn and some other barns down that way and up that way.”
“Use my D-21 for most chores, but like to run the D-17 best of all for farm work,” explained Spark Plug Breymier. “Of course, my most fun is with the older ones showing them around the grounds of our Tri-State meetings at Portland, Indiana – And my favorite is the old Rumely OilPull.” (As if we didn’t know!)
By this time we were cold enough to join the women folk in the Breymier household. And, after all, since Luther had phoned me and asked me to make him a record of his Rumely OilPull which was working the fan at this summer’s Tri-State, and fetch it along, I lugged in my portable phonograph to play it on.
While listening to the steady chug of Ol’ Rumely on his breakfast table, and trying to make notes with my frozen hands, Luther’s old standby, Ellis Starr dropped in from Saratoga, Indiana.
“He’s a friend, but I should call him an enemy,” laughed Luther. “He scrapped both an old Huber tractor and a Rumely OilPull before I could get my hands on ’em. Really I should shoot him. And here I am treating him like a friend!”
Meantime, over the steady chug of the Rumely OilPull record, venting toots from Luther’s air-pressure whistle, the womenfolk were conversing about dogs, cats and other household pets – ignoring our “engine talk” altogether.
It wasn’t till we were driving our way home that the wife said, “You know, that Mrs. Breymier has a wonderful way with the handling of pets. It’s her ambition someday to have Luther build her an outside kennel for the boarding of all kinds of pets – and there’s a wealth of money in boarding pets for folks. With that sawmill of his to saw out the lumber, and the free heat from the natural gas, I’ll bet the next time we go up there she’ll have that kennel.”
It was a rare old family portrait that Spark Plug Luther Breymier had loaned me to lend family background to his story. It shows the old 22 HP Advance Engine, hitched to the equally-ancient 32″ – 56″ Advance separator, along with the horse-drawn water wagon, and the family of Breymiers “posing for their ‘pitchers” in front of the old Jacob Breymier brick homestead, located near the fabulous one-time settlement called Fiddler’s Ridge, 9 miles north and east of Union City, Indiana. On the engine tool box is perched our Spark Plug, Luther Breymier, as a four year old lad, while his father, Jacob Breymier, Stands in front of the engine drive-wheel. To the far left on the water wagon is Luther’s sister, Linda, while in front of the father is little sister, Lulu.
Linda later became Mrs. Earl Carrier, and Lulu became Mrs. Lulu Mills from whose writings we have been enjoying the fabulous, homey news, headlined, “Fiddler’s Ridge,” published weekly in the county seat Greenville, (Ohio) Advocate. Lines such as, “Mr. Luther Breymier and Mrs. Luther Breymier visited Mrs. Earl Carrier over the weekend,” and, “Mrs. Earl Carrier dropped in on Mrs. Lulu Mills Sunday evening,” with such gems as this, “Mrs. Lulu Mills and and the earl Carriers had a pleasant visit with the Luther Breymiers last week.” Thus ’round ‘n ’round our threesome fling on the Fiddler’s Ridge Society maypole!
“Those sisters of mine get a lot of ‘bees-wax’ in their writing,” mused Spark Plug Luther Breymier. “Speaking of ‘Fiddler’s Ridge’ – once it was an old settlement back in the woods where old fiddlers used to live and hold fiddlers’ contests. I was born and raised near there.” (Heard many a Schottische and hoe-down from fiddlers-three!)
Thanks to Spark Plug Luther Breymier, the old Rumely will keep on running for younger eyes to see and younger ears to hear, likewise all his other ancient and modern line of Hubers, Ad-vance-Rumelys, the English Fordson and Allis-Chalmers foursome. We thus do nominate Luther to his niche in the noble Spark Plug Hall of Fame.
“You’d better believe it,” snaps Spark Plug Breymier – “From here on out this is going to be my life – buying up and fixing old tractors,” quoth he with a determined glint in his Deacon’s eye.
“Well, I guess that winds up our story on Luther Breymier,” I said, stuffing my notebook pad into my pocket and reaching for my camera.
“Shucks, you haven’t heard the half of it,” retorted Luther’s friendly-enemy Ellis Starr.