Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
It was a pleasant spring sortie driving past the rippling brook of the old fishin' hole winding its way through the meadows behind beautiful Lisbon church, thence northward past Pleasant Hill country church on the heights of Mississinawa Valley, north of Union City, Indiana. Baring to the left there was the cross-roads hamlet of North Salem and its quaint country store where the huge Marsh Supermarkets, nation-wide, had their humble beginnings. A few more miles and my antique '50 Chevvy was conveying me past the small consolidated country school of Madison Township where the kiddies were swinging and the older boys playing scrub baseball just like their grandpappys, many years before.
Indeed I was in the stronghold of Tri-State Gas & Tractor country once again, hunting out the lair of one Spark Plug, Walter Baldauf. Walter had been keeping the telephone exchange wires at Salamonia, Ind., village hot throughout the winter and spring with lengthy discourses on the progress he was making on the rehabilitation of an old 1902 Burdsall clover huller.
There he was, bending studiously over the 'innards' of an old 1934 Allis-Chalmers farm tractor, like the tried'n true Spark Plug that he is.
'What's the milk can doing on this tractor? Is that your gasoline tank?' I queried, noting the anachronism of the one-time symbol of the country milk route nestled solidly among the old tractor's mechanism.
'No--that's my spray-tank. I still use this old Allis-Chalmers very much in my farming,' quoth Spark Plug Baldauf. 'Soon's I get it started, I'll show you how she runs. '
'This cab--it wasn't original equipment. Or was it?' I continued, tossing out questions to get answers and facts. 'Looks like it would be mighty comfortable out in a hot hay field, though.'
'I cobbled that cab,' mused Walter, in defense of his labors. 'Went all over this old tractor. Found a hole rusted clear through one of the sleeves, so we just re-sleeved the entire engine, put new rings in'er and she's in top form.'
'Old Allis' started right on the turn, just as Spark Plug Baldauf had predicted. And what a thrill it was, watching him chug out of his barn with that ancient 1902 Burdsall Huller he'd been laboring over--just as if it might be coming out of the Burdsall Factory for the first time in its long and useful career.
'Lots of bolls and nuts and little bits of machinery had to be gone over and fixed,' explained Spark Plug Baldauf. 'It sure brought back memories of the old days. The biggest job was re-building the 'kitty' at the back end. I practically made a new one out of 'red ellum'. It's about the longest-lasting wood I know of. Makes a good stick ' timber.'
'Luther Breymeier, Woody Turner and I happened to go to Elwood, Ind., last November and visit Harold Wilburn. During our visit, Harold began coaxing me to go down and see an old Burdsall Clover Iluller a lady wanted to get of out her barn at Sharpsville, Ind.,' explained Spark Plug Baldauf in way of reminiscing the why and wherefore of his old huller. ''Neither Luther nor Woody wanted it, but they thought it ought to be salvaged and restored, so I offered to shed it for them.'
Looks like that old 1902 Burdsail Clover Huller was being pulled right out of the factory, behind that Allis--Chalmers.
Spark Plug, Walter Baldauf spent many winter and spring weeks sanding and re building the old huller. Once in its long history, the Huber Engine that was towing it to a job was struck by an interurban car and demolished. (Wood car against iron engine). But the old huller was undamaged and lives today--thanks to Spark Plug Baldauf.
'Well, I've done lots of wood working in my life, and I just couldn't keep my hands off that old huller,' mused Walter. 'I began sanding it down, then noticing parts that needed replacing or repairing. Couldn't keep away from the barn this winter-farming was slow and kept finding things to be done on it, and here it is, ready for painting.'
'This old huller sat in cow manure for a long time, axle-deep. The 'red ellum' wheels are somewhat rotted,' pointed out Baldauf. 'If the Tri-State boys want me to keep it, I'll re-build the 'fellows' and some of the spokes, out of 'red ellum' just like the originals.'
'Luther Breymeier and I figure this is about a number-one size huller-the smallest model made by Burdsall,' says Baldauf. It has a serial number of 1539 stamped on a block of wood.'
'Luther says I should just put a v-belt on that one pulley,' chortled Baldauf. 'But that Luther's strong headed. I can always change his mind for him, though--and I'll just put a flat belt on it, like it was when it came from the factory.'
You should've seen it the Sunday Earl Sottong drove in here, unexpected, with the old huller on his trailer,' chuckled Walter. 'He told me to park the new family car outside and keep this in the barn.' (And that's exactly what he's done.)
'There had been a nest of coons in it, and I fully expected it to be chewed out--but it wasn't,' said Baldauf.
There's a bit of a story, graphically told by the old lady who owned it, about how the old Burdsall Huller escaped demolishment in a serious railroad accident.
'Its owner, Mr. Lot S. Ulrich, was once pulling it to a job behind a 16-horsepower Huber steam engine. They had to cross an interurban track. When the engine was going across the track, the interurban smashed into it, demolishing the engine, but the old huller remained undamaged, and no one was hurt. (Nothing was mentioned as to what happened to the wooden interurban car, after it smacked into an iron traction engine--but that's the second story I've heard told about interurban cars demolishing steam threshing engines.)
'Come on over into my workshop--I want you to see another thing I'm fixin' up for the Tri-State show next August,' said Spark Plug Baldauf. 'This old Roy al St. John Sewing Machine was manufactured in Springfield, Ohio, many years ago. Try to coax my wife into doing some stitchin' on it at this summer's show.'
Biggest job of rebuilding on the old Burdsall Huller, for Spark Plug Baldauf, was 'kitty' which he fashioned out of 'red ellum'--. 'Red ellum makes a good stick o' timber', says Walter.
Spark Plug Walter Baldauf reminisces with his old 1927 portable floor-sanding outfit which he used in the years before country electrification. An old 4Hp. United Engine drives the ancient D. C. generator which then runs the chain-driven sander. His grandsons, Dale and Rex, helped build the new trailer to show the old equipment at summer reunions. 'I've done lots of woodworking. Our whole family is a woodworking bunch of folks,' says Baldauf.
'I did a pretty good job of refinishing a small cider press for Woody Turner a while back, and one day he dragged in this old 22-38 International Separator to pay me for my work,' mused the Spark Plug of the Month, as he took me out beside his shop to see the monstrosity. 'Haven't decided what I'll do with it, but what some of us fellows won't swap to the other'n to get out of work.' (All work and no pay makes Jack dull--but Spark Plugs gay).
'I'll take you down the road now to see some more old equipment I'm fixing up, with the help of my two grandsons, Dale and Rex, to exhibit at the Tri-State Gas & Tractor Association at Port land, Ind., August 22 through the 24th,' said Baldauf. 'But first of all stop in at my brother Dan Baldauf's to see some of the big grandfather's clocks that he's making. The Baldauf family has always been wood workers. This you must see.'
Walter introduced me to his brother Dan, just as they were in the middle of a platter of country ham 'n eggs.
But brother Dan obliged by posing handsomely for his 'pitcher' standing beside one of his magnificent grand father's clocks, which he laboriously makes in his barnyard cabinet shop--located in the old one-room country school he attended as a lad.
'Yes, I've made about forty grand father and grandmother clocks in the past seven or eight years,' said Dan Baldauf, exhibiting the tradional Baldauf family woodworking craftsmanship. 'I've used up all the fine old walnut that I could get from old houses being torn down. Now I have to scrounge farther afield to get good walnut.'
'I've sold these clocks as fast as I can make them, to folks from as far east as Washington, D. C. I don't ever advertise, and I don't deliver. If they hear about me, they have to do the coming if they're going to get one,' explained brother Dan. I sell 'em for around $350. Others would get seven or eight hundred else where. Always put fine brass works in them, big heavy weights, which I order from Germany.'
To my clock-lover's eye, the Dan Baldauf grandfather's clock was a thing of beauty to behold.
'Guess I'll take one of these along and exhibit it at the Tri-State affair, but I'm going to pack it back home every night,' warned brother Dan, inferring there is a weakness in the human heart for such things as grandfather's clocks.
It was onto the next house up the road that we made our way where Spark Plug Walter Baldauf thrust open the barn door. Hitching a tractor to a small trailer, he towed out into the noonday sun what appeared to be another Baldauf Tri-State exhibit they were readying for the summer shows.
'This is my old floor-sanding equipment, which I began refinishing floors with back in 1927-before farm homes had electricity,' he explained. 'It's an old M. L. Schleuter Flexible Rapid Floor Sander belted to an old one-horse direct current Master Electric Motor made in Dayton, Ohio years ago. The old generator came from a dairy barn at Greenville, Ohio, where it furnished lights, and it's powered by a 4-horsepower United Gas Engine. It's chain-drive. Everything now-a-days is powered by v-belts.'
'Woody Turner bought that United Gas Engine off of me once, but I fen-angled it back from him so I could set up my exhibit,' chuckled Spark Plug Baldauf out-foxing the out-foxers. 'My two grandsons are so proud of it, they built this new trailer for the exhibit.'
Spark Plug Walter Baldauf isn't readying only old tractors and engines for next summer's Tri-State reunion. Here he is fixing up an old Royal St. John Sewing Machine for one of his exhibits. Maybe he can coax the 'Missus' into demonstrating a few stitches on it at the reunion.
'Dale and Rex are both so interested in their grandfather's old machinery. They helped their father, Lloyd Baldauf, build this new trailer so they could show the old sander at the reunions,' explained Mrs. Virginia Baldauf, daughter-in-law of Spark Plug Walter Baldauf.
'You know it's not engouh for us older fellows to rebuild and show the old equipment. I'm so glad the younger kids are taking it up. That means the future of the organizations, 'summed up Walter.
'You're coming in for a bite to eat? The wife will be disappointed if you don't. She'll be expecting you,' said Baldauf.
I had come early, so I could leave before dinner. Yet here I was in the very heart of the old-time, hospitable country--and to refuse would be an insult.
'I want to jot down some more notes before I leave,' was my reply, trying to spare the 'Missus' the additional burden of setting out another plate.
'Well, the house is the best place to write notes,' advised Baldauf in a tone of finality, as he led me through the swinging farm gate which banged shut behind us by means of heavy chains and weights.
Out came a pitcher of aromatic farm coffee, followed by a generous bowl of sugar cookies, then a thick, rich butter scotch pie, fresh from the country oven.
Though it takes a man to run the engines, it takes a woman to run the man. And observing Mrs. Baldauf serve thick wedges of that succulent butterscotch pie, its topping oozing like honey--I was convinced who was running Spark Plug Baldauf and keeping him down on the farm.
'My favorite pie,' said Walter, showing my piece toward me. 'I mixed the crust-always do to coax her into making butterscotch,' added the Spark Plug with a glint of glee in his eye.
Mrs. Baldauf retired quietly to the kitchen, to count her eggs and finish her Monday morning washing.
I found it a bit unsettling to the soul, rushing away from these happy country ways in order to watch on TV the splashdown of men just returning from a trip to the Moon.
Spark Plug Walter Baldauf and Mrs. Baldauf-may you ever keep those quaint country ways, that generous hospitality, alive forever. And may the Man in the Moon still look down and smile upon you as you plant and glean with your old machines.
The art of fine woodworking is traditional with the Baldauf family. Spark Plug Walter Baldauf wanted me to take a 'pitcher' of brother Dan and one of his fine, home-crafted walnut grandfather's clocks. He's made forty grandfather and grand mother clocks in the past eight years. He will show one at Tri-State Reunion, Portland, Indiana but warns he'll pack it home each night. That inlaid-wood bureau, back of brother Dan, was also made by him.