RECOLLECTIONS

By Staff
1 / 4
The blacksmith shop sheltered by a giant maple tree.
2 / 4
The finished Fuller and Johnson engine cart in front of the blacksmith shop.
3 / 4
Young Timothy Ahrens rediscovers abandoned 6 HP Fuller and Johnson.
4 / 4
The fully restored engine, our prize possession.

R.R.2, Box 40, Lewiston, Minnesota 55952

This story begins with the childhood memory of a twelve year old
boy, awestruck by the sights and sounds of an engine show. That
young boy, now my 40 something husband, never forgot the wonder of
that show. It has motivated him to preserve and restore, and find
absolute delight in the past.

It is said that we are a product of nature and nurture. My
husband was nurtured to marvel at simple machines, to salvage hand
tools from piles of rust and wire brush them into something
recognizable. He had a mother and father who encouraged his meager
collections and fostered his interest. His father clung to the
reliability and economy of the John Deere A and Minneapolis-Moline
R. He practiced soil conservation and believed in the tried and
true farming methods. Richard, my husband, was enthralled by the
remnants of the 2 HP Sandow and 3 HP McCormick-Deering engines that
once were the work horses on this nearly century old farm. He vowed
that one day he would restore them. Many farm implements remain
here. The old surrey hangs from the rafters of the machine shed.
The wooden Rumely threshing machine and wooden rimmed tubeless
tired bike still have their place.

Richard’s motivation only grew as he developed skills to
restore and maintain. He learned a great deal in his industrial
arts courses. That knowledge has been invaluable since, as has his
ability to visualize and dream. Richard began to clamor for tools
of artisans of the past; particularly farmers, blacksmiths,
carpenters, and cobblers. He bought frugally at auctions and garage
sales finding real treasures for a quarter or less. Richard always
intended to use these tools to educate one day.

I inferred that I married a dreamer, but dreams without work are
only dreams. Richard was willing to work. I became a believer when
I saw him transform an old farm garage into an 1860 blacksmith
shop. Gradually I was being consumed with the ‘for the love of
old iron bug’ too. The shop was complete with forge and anvil,
a line shaft powered by a 1 HP Mogul engine and all the tools
needed by a wheelwright and wagon maker. The false front bears a
sign ‘The Maple Tree Forge’ designed and painted by his
mother.

The blacksmith shop is sheltered by a huge old maple, always
harboring a nest of squirrels and plenty of birdsong. The shop has
become a refuge for us. This winter Richard is making a replica of
a triple grain box made by the Lewis-ton Wagon Company in the early
1900s. Our nine year old son Timothy is in another corner busily
creating his own masterpiece with a coping saw. As for me I am
huddled near the crackling potbellied stove with a child’s
rocker and supply of sandpaper. We only stop our activity to marvel
about how fortunate we are to have a quiet place with only kerosene
lamps to light our way.

School children are ecstatic about tours of the shop. The forge
and ring of the anvil fascinate them. It is a hands-on
‘museum’ where children rarely leave without making a rope
with the New Era Rope maker or taste homegrown wheat flour in hot
buns dripping with freshly churned butter. The children love
grinding coffee beans in a mill that an elderly farmer salvaged
from the ruins of the log cabin he knew as a child, located on a
bluff above the Mississippi River. The mill was hardly the coffee
grinder I had longed for. Richard brought the hardware home ‘as
is’ which meant it was a mass of rust. He found one similar to
it in a nearby rural museum and took measurements of the box,
drawer and handle. It wasn’t long before I had a beautiful mill
with dovetail joints.

Tours of the blacksmith shop led to exposure in the community.
Soon we were participating in Heritage Fairs and Adventure Days.
For Christmas gifts our family received a butter churn and shoe
last. So we churned butter from fresh country cream and nestled our
last amid the cobbler’s hammer and awls. Richard’s mother,
always intrigued by antique toys, introduced us to the wonderment
of her hand crafted darning men, wooden puzzles, blocks and pull
toys. Richard added tin whistles and pop guns to our collection of
toys from the past.

This leads me to describing our acquisition of an old one room
shoe shop situated in an alley just behind Main Street in our
little town of Lewiston. The building, the oldest remaining
structure in town, was destined for destruction. Its wooden frame
and lean-to was less than a treasure in my mind but definitely a
‘keeper’ in my husband’s. However could we move this
quaint little shed down Main Street to our farm yard on the west
edge of town? It looked so despairing to me. For Richard it was a
dream come true, particularly since we already had the original
cobbler equipment from that 18th century business. Every spare
moment Richard was working on the shoe shop. He spent days
burrowing beneath the building, reinforcing all of the floor
joists, dismantling the chimney, and determining how he would get
the building home. Delays included numerous rainstorms that washed
the blocking out, only to begin again.

Richard used telephone poles as skids and hooked log chains to
the tractor drawbar. Confident his plan would work, Timothy, our
proud son, led the way home on his bicycle. Townspeople came out to
watch. Down Main Street she came, to rest beside the village
blacksmith shop. Richard and a carpenter friend shingled the roof
of the building. The shop was painted a fresh white, window panes
were replaced and the plaster was restored.

While most folks wouldn’t be impressed, our latest building
acquisition is a genuine two holer outhouse. We brought the
outhouse home on a three point bale mover. Needless to say, we
generated a little attention on our three mile trip home.

Usually, I am only ‘support crew’ for restoration, the
real elbow grease being my husband. But one beastly hot summer day
I spied a ‘gem’ of my own. Actually, we were following a
lead on a farm gravity box when ‘lo and behold!’ I spotted
a giant flywheel in the nettles and burdock. I casually mentioned
it to Richard as I’ve often been mistaken, but alas it was a 6
HP Fuller & Johnson hit and miss engine. We talked to the
owners and learned the engine belonged to her retired father and
that it might be for sale. Our quest was no longer for a gravity
box but a Fuller and Johnson engine instead. The retired farmer
sold us the engine with our promise that the engine would be
restored.

That very afternoon we loaded the heavy old engine with a
come-along onto our trailer. The only ‘hitch’ was that bees
had set up housekeeping in the engine’s cylinder, as the
ignition was missing. They were not pleased with the imminent move,
and told us so.

Richard had many a sleepless night as he lay thinking about the
engine’s restoration. First, we scraped years of grease and
grime from the engine. The restoration process began by loosening
the frozen piston, giving it a valve job and having a comrade hone
the cylinder. After the magneto was checked out, he adjusted the
bearings and soldered the holes in its gas tank. The engine was
sandblasted and assembled, and with some adjustment ran perfectly.
Securing the proper colors, Richard set out to paint the engine and
try his hand at pin striping. The final step was to make a cart of
oak beams from a neighboring Amish sawmill and wheels taken from an
old silage cutter. Completely restored it was a sight to behold! We
pulled the resurrected engine onto the elderly farmer’s quiet
residential street. The resounding hit and miss certainly was music
to his ears.

Our rewards in collecting and restoration have been manifold. It
is evident in the stack of ‘fan mail’ from area school
children who have toured the blacksmith shop. It is the crowd that
gathers ’round your engine marveling at the quality of
workmanship and sense of pride apparent in machines of the
past.

It is enjoying a hobby that brings family together to make
something that was once good, good again. It’s the pleasure of
meeting and making friends with bountiful information and the
willingness to share it.

GEM is a useful resource and trusted companion. We rely on it
for accurate information and entertaining reading.

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