Homesteader Orion Hapner Chooses a Pulled Wagon Over Gas Engines

By Staff
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Photo courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana.
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Photo courtesy of Meridith Brison, Millersport, Ohio.
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Photo courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana.

Orion Hapner was happy to use a pulled wagon over gas engines to get his weekly supplies.

Dayton Daily News & Radio’s “Joe’s

Last time I ever posed with Orion Hapner, was when I asked him
to pose as my official chauffer in an ancient Tin-Lizzie outside
the. eating tent at the Jim Whitbey Reunion, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
He clambered up over the tin running board, despite his ninety
years, like a schoolboy.

The ghost of the late Orion Hapner is stalking these parts, in
the fabulous, unforgettable mem’ries he’s left behind. For
in the parade of human affairs, comes now and then the
nonconformist, such as the bearded, iron-man Orion Hapner whose
ways of living and doing things uproots the conventional patterns
of man.

For the raw-boned and husky 94 year old Orion Hapner who lived
up Mississinawa River-way in western Darke County, Ohio, it was not
enough to be merely well-versed and well-read on steam locomotion
and traction, gleaned from his gigantic library of American and
European steam volumes when there was the subject of
internal-combustion yet to be reckoned with.

“Steam is wonderful and powerful on both the farm and the
railroads,” the man-mountain, Orion Hapner, would always say. “But the big farm tractors and the diesel locomotives had to
come,” quoth the bearded prophet, brushing his whiskers with
each turning page as he pondered his ponderous volumes of both
steam and gas traction.

The writer well remembers, as a little boy, the ghostly sight of
the heavy-bearded and much-be-shawled Hapner family driving into
Union City-town one cold and blizzardy day, huddled together in
their open-air Stanley Steamer touring car with burlap bags tied
around the sausage-like tires and the wooden spokes to get traction
(cheaper than buying chains). Indeed, the legendary James Brothers
of the rip-roarin’, train-robbing Wells Fargo days would not
have cast a greater spell over this youthful town-frequenter that
the hissing, sputtering spectre of ye olde Stanley Steamer with its
burlap rags a-flop-ping on a cold wintry day, while at the wheel
sat the bearded Hapner not unlike one of the bearded Stanley
brothers of inventive fame.

And then came internal combustion and the Hapner family, beards
and all, invested in one of the early American experiments of
fender-flopping, gas-sputtering contraptions designed to someday
replace steam on the muddy, turnpikes of yesteryear. Storing the
ancient but venerable old Stanley Steamer alongside the stall of
old “Stockin’ Foot,” the Hapner drivin’ horse, the
bearded and legendary Hapners were showing the world that they were
keeping apace of the march of industrial progress.

And then came the day when the old gas buggy wouldn’t even
sputter, lor that weekly trip to the metropolis on the Indiana-Ohio
stateline for to get the provender of life so necessary to keep
Hapner souls and bodies together. So Hapner chose a pulled wagon over gas engines, off to town trekked the
bearded Orion Hapner with his little tin “Town and Country”
wagon tagging along behind. For eight miles up the Indiana-Ohio
stateline he’d trudge, the beard of the mighty Orion Hapner,
blowing one minute over into Ohio, the other minute into Indiana,
with the veering of the winds, while his mighty hulk steered an
even course between the two states. It was always a sight of
legendary proportions, seeing the sinewy and bearded Orion Hapner
pulling his wagon, loaded with burlap bags of vitamins and “vittles” out Stateline Road and homeward bound making his
weekly round-trip of sixteen miles to and from the grocery, without
benefit of either horse, Stanley Steamer or early American auto.
And I often thought that the memory of the bearded Hapner, for
staples needed, would have to be infallible. For to forget anything
but razor-blades would mean a 16-mile walk back to the village
store once again.

Although townfolk were afraid of the image struck by the bearded
Orion Hapner, who kept up his weekly 16-mile treks to town and
return, by way of foot and wagon, clear up to his 94th year, when I
once flagged him down to talk to him and take his
‘pitcher’, the neighbors crowded around close with
curiosity when my interview revealed his kind and tender
personality and his great intelligence.

It was always time out for celebrating whenever a steam engine
threshennen’s reunion happened to be billed within hoofing
distance of the bearded Orion Hapner. And the manner by which he
finally arrived at one of the Jim Whitby reunions at Ft. Wayne,
Indiana, some 80 miles away, was legend itself.

“I started walking from Ohio over into Indiana sometime in
the night,” quoth  Hapner, relating the story. “After
quite a few miles I slept out under the stars a spell, then got up
again and walked on to Portland, county-seat of Jay county,
Indiana. There I finally boarded a bus and rode to Ft. Wayne. Then
I began hoofing it again the many miles out to the Jim Whitby woods
making it in time for the opening whistle.”

When I interviewed the bearded Orion Hapner, then in his 91st
year, with my portable tape recorder at Ft. Wayne, the crowd of
curious began leaving the engines and swarming a-round us some
three-hundred strong.

The last time I ever saw the bearded non-aegenarian, Orion Hapner,
at the Jim Whitby Ft. Wayne reunion, I asked him to clamber up over
the old tin running board of an ancient model-T Tin Lizzie — a feat
which he accomplished like a schoolboy to pose as mp official
chauffeur in the driver’s seat of that ancient rattler sitting
just outside the eating tent.

And as usual I doffed my engineer’s cap and exposed my
sparse locks to the hot sun’s rays in deference to the
venerable and mighty Orion Hapner whose legendary story I had
written up many times in The Dayton Daily News and told over my “Joe’s Journal” radio show. At this last summer’s
auction, selling off the numerous effects of the bearded Orion
Hapner, I was proud to walk off with two of his huge, giant-sized
John Bunyan monkey wrenches and some of his fabulous engine books
from England.

Wherever you are, Orion, we hope you find the “world up
there” as interesting as the one you helped to make down here.
May the burlap rags around your sausage tires, and your shoe-soles
never wear out. May your little tin wagon pull easier as you trod
the golden streets. And we hope you are “Fixed with

Thus the fabulous spectre of the mighty, bearded Orion Hapner
stalks on.

The raw-boned, bearded Orion Hapner, even in his nineties,
walked the 16 miles round-trip from Mississinawa River to Union
City for groceries, pulling his little tin wagon. Walking straight
up the Ohio-Indiana state line, his body never swerving, his beard
blowed back and forth from Indiana to Ohio as the winds veered.

This is a picture of my Worthington “Portable” built by
Worthington Pump & Machinery Corporation, Gas Engine Works,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is 1-1/2 HP R.P.M. 600 # 41280 —
4-1/2 foot Stroke — 3-1/4 foot Bore — His & Miss Webster
Oscillating Magneto.

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