Spark Plug: The Woman Mechanic

By Staff
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Hazel Ertle in the more effeminate role of beautician in herfront room "Abbie Lee" Beauty Shop in Winchester, Indiana. But don't be fooled. One minute she's working on making Mrs.Christina Sisk more beautiful. The next minute she's liable tobe out in the shop with hubby and Spark Plug, Marion Ertle,beautifying an ancient gas engine. "Permanent wave solutionsare often harder on hands than engine sludge and buffing old metaltoys and lamps," opines Hazel. Notice Hazel's bowlingtrophies, right background.
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Gas Engine Beauty Shop? It takes just an instant for Hazel,the woman's beautician, to become Hazel the gas enginebeautician. In one of the two shops behind the residence of theErtle's in Winchester, Indiana, Hazel examines a buffing jobshe's finished on a small steam engine, while hubby, MarionErtle and Dave Foster belabor themselves over an old 1 HP JohnDeere.
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Like Mary's Little Lamb—wherever Marion goes, Hazel goestoo. Left to right: Dave Foster, from Ontario, Canada-way, lendshand while Marion and Hazel Ertie check over a huge trailer offourteen ancient gas engines at close of reunion season. Here theyare planning to back trailer into garage for winter storage. TheStickney Engine seems to be one of their favorites.
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The Ertles look over one of many challenges inrehabilitation of an old engine. Marion and wife, Hazel Ertle, have yet to unstick the piston in this old 6 horsepower Fairbanks-Morsemounted on a portable saw. 
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Pictured is part of the large display of gas engines at theTioga County Early Days Inc. show held in August 1967 at Mansfield,Pennsylvania. Courtesy of George F. Kempker of Emporium, Pennsylvania.

Not always can ye Spark Plug don overalls, grab a monkey wrench,
and saunter off down to the barn to belabor himself on his pet
antique gas engine as a thin excuse for getting out of drying the
dinner dishes or doing oilier household chores.

For, like “Everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to
go,” so wherever Marion Ertle sallies forth, along goes Hazel

Thus it is that whenever “Spark Plug” Ertle of Winchester,
IN gets that faraway “gas engine” glint in his eye,
wife Hazel, doing a take-off on Rosie the Riveter, drops her beauty
shoppe comb and scissors, jumps into dungarees, and strides along at
his side.

All of which puts our hero Ertle both “on” and “off” the
proverbial horns of a dilemma: should he ever complain that he
can’t get away with the boys, he at least can’t complain
that the good wife doesn’t tag along like a good wife should.
(I hope, dear reader, you’re following me as well as Hazel
follows Ertle).

In fact it’s become so routine that it takes but a moment,
the transformation from the petite beauty shoppe operator Hazel
to that of Hazel the woman mechanic and gas engine bug–just a few
steps’ stride from her front room “Abbie Lee” Beauty
Emporium and out the back door to the Ertle-owned shop the next lot

“You know, helping Marion to clean the sludge out of some
old motor, fit piston rings, grind valves, or unstick a rusted
cylinder isn’t nearly as hard on the hands as some of that
beauty shop goo,” muses Hazel. “I can remember when some of
the older kinds of permanent wave solutions almost look some of the
skin off my fingers.”

“But what really digs into my fingers and makes them sore is
when I happen to be buffing a cast-iron toy train or polishing up,
say, an antique lamp or railroad lantern for my collection, and my
hand slips onto that metal brush,” pines “Madame
Hazel,” in one corner of the Ertle gas engine “beauty
shop,” while in the other corner Marion and friend, Dave
Foster, beautify an old one-and-a-half horse John Deere. 

Stuck Piston

One of the Ertle twain’s real challenges, however, looms up in the
form of an ancient Fairbanks Morse with a stuck piston, mounted on a
portable saw frame, outside one of the several Ertle engine storage
buildings, across the way. It’s down in the Ertle garage, hard behind the Ertle
residence and beauty shop.

“This old 6 horsepower Fairbanks-Morse weighs about 600 pounds,”
says Marion. “Dave Foster, from up Ontario, Canada-way,
visiting a relative of ours, helped me lug it home on a trailer
from out in the country twenty miles. We hope to have it ready for
the shows next summer, along with these two Internationals over by
my car. So far I’ve always been successful in unsticking pistons by
using only penetrating oil.” Ertle’s many
years as maintainer of the intricate glass-blowing machinery at
Anchor-Hocking Glass Corporation in Winchester, Indiana, has come in
mighty handy. (But in case penetrating oil just doesn’t do the
trick, a brother Spark Plug once told me that
Iodine crystals dissolved in alcohol will unstick any piston–just
don’t immerse it too long.)

On With the Show

“Our first gas engine show was in 1966 when we took, a few old
engines on our pick-up truck to the Tri-State Gas Engine and
Tractor Reunion at Fort Recovery, Ohio,” explains Marion Ertle.
“But that got to he so cumbersome that we mounted fourteen of
our pet engines on a larger trailer so we could exhibit at both the
Darke County Threshers and at Portland, Indiana, this

At first our trailer was off-balance, so we worked a week to
chisel about two inches of concrete off an old Empire 2 horsepower
engine to replace a lighter one on the front end to balance things
up,” added Hazel. “That can be hard on the hands of a
woman, too.”

Along with the some fourteen historic engines that make up the
Marion-Hazel Ertle exhibit are ancient names such as International
Famous, DeLaval, McCormick-Deering, John Deere, Economy, Empire,
Alamo, Ingeco, Fairbanks Morse, Associated, Maytag and others,
including their two pet engines, a one and three-quarter Stickney
and a three horsepower Airmotor with fluted water-roller.

“Just wait till we get our second trailer of early Americana
outfitted for exhibit,” added Hazel. “We’ll mount an
old gas-powered water pump, a barrel churn, and barrel wash machine,
and a corn sheller like they used to be run off a lineshaft out
on the farm.”

“You haven’t seen everything yet,” snapped Marion. “I’ve got another barn over on another street. But you
haven’t got time to see them now.”

It all made early America so alive again, talking to Marion and
Hazel Ertle in their parlor, lavishly decorated with dozens of old
railroad lanterns, ancient ceiling lamps, antique crank telephones,
brightly-polished brass bells, and an old Edison cylinder
phonograph with tin horn and Uncle Josh records. Glad you can’t
sneak off without Hazel, Marion – for the one without the other
couldn’t be doing such a good job of thus preserving our
beloved Americana (could you Marion?).

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