REFLECTIONS

A BRIEF WORD


| June/July 1986



Viking garden tractor

Mark G. Sergent

Although this particular column is being drafted in late March, by the time it is in print, Spring will be here to stay, and with it the annual revival of the gas engine and tractor hobby. For those fortunate enough to live in warmer climates, cold weather is no great deterrent. The Reflector, writing from east-central Iowa, reports with no hesitation that so far as Iowa winters go, the one just past was indeed a long-term affair. The snow which came the Sunday after Thanksgiving never left until Spring even a brief January thaw failed to get rid of it! Now for the glorious days of summer and a host of nice engine shows!

Among this month's mail is a letter indicating some displeasure with ye old Reflector. This dissatisfaction boils down to the writer noting that 'in my opinion, (Mr. Wendel) does more advertising for his books than answering questions.' The letter goes on to state that 'most of his answers are asking other readers to help out or to say that the info is in a particular book. His plea to readers to send in any paint charts will probably result in another book instead of answering questions in the column.' Since this letter from a California reader was signed, we feel obligated to respond.

First of all, the Reflector makes every attempt to refrain from boosting the cause of any supplier in the column, whether it be a regular advertiser, or  an occasional one. The sole purpose of referring to American Gas Engines or Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, among others is for the information of our readers. Believe it or not, the fact that the Reflector authored several of these titles, as well as this column is purely coincidental. So far as internal combustion engines go, and particularly those on the American scene, American Gas Engines Since 1872 is to our knowledge the only historic encyclopedia of these engines in print. To NOT use it as a reference for the benefit of our readers would be ludicrous.

Now to the point of the Reflector 'asking other readers to help out.' One of the first lessons we learned about this most interesting hobby is that there is so much to know about the thousands of American engine builders that we make no claim at all about knowing a whole lot! Even when speaking of well-known companies such as International Harvester, there remains a lot of material that has never been covered. In fact where Harvester is concerned, their Archives alone occupy a major portion of an entire floor at the 401 North Michigan address in Chicago. Thus it was very difficult indeed to compress even a small portion of this data into a single 416 page book as we did in 150 Years of International Harvester. To state our case another way, many of the basic questions regarding internal combustion engines have already been answered in our own and in other books. It's the elusive ones we see now questions like the origins of the T. W. Phillips engine, or the Spence, Smith & Kootz engines. Virtually the only chance of finding ANY information on these companies is from someone locally familiar with them .. . we have no choice but to appeal to our readers for help!

Another problem for us is that despite a sizeable research library, we often do not have any information on a particular engine or tractor that would be of help, and this despite a library of thousands of books, plus many files on specific companies. To sum up our 'appeal to readers for help', we're doing the best we can with what we have.

The final point of this letter to the Reflector notes that 'his plea to readers to send in any paint charts will probably result in another book instead of his answering the question in the column.' In response, we feel obligated to tell you that objective criticism is a major part of the territory for a writer. Over the years our books have gotten some good reviews, and some not so good. Likewise, in meeting people at the shows, speaking engagements, and other activities, we have learned a great deal about what people like and do not like in a particular book. However, the Reflector's interpretation of the above quote seems to indicate that the writer feels that the Reflector is riding an instant money train at the expense of the hobby. Sometime ago we noted within this column that once we had enough information together, this data would be published by GEM, either as a booklet or as part of a regular magazine issue. Now wouldn't it be silly to keep a complete issue of GEM handy when looking for a paint scheme?, or would it make more sense to print the available data in booklet form so that it could be enlarged and revised from time to time? As we stated sometime ago, once the data is gathered, it will be turned over to GEM, and once they get it, the problem of how to accurately reproduce these colors comes up. So you see, the plea for information on paint colors is real, and beyond that, the Reflector won't get much out of it either except for the satisfaction of getting the job done.