Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390
Take a good lookin' gal who can charm you with a smile when the going's rough - and an easy-going hubby whose Hoosier dialect makes him sound sort of grumpy, but he isn't, then you have the whizz-bangin'est man-'n-wife 'secretary' that any enterprising, gas-poppin', spark-pluggin' bunch o' hooligans could ever wish for.
Yes -- just as it takes two to make that happiest of human relationships known as marital bliss, it requires the combined talents of this twain -- Morris to do the bossing, Carolyn to do the work - to keep things running smoothly at Tri-State. And should you question the fact that Carolyn does the work and Morris Titus the bossing -- we'll just let you in on this. It was Carolyn who was awarded the coveted Tri-State Spark Plug of the Year Plaque for 1972, while Morris felt lucky just being married to her.
But, all in all, Carolyn and Morris Titus do make one big cog in the drivewheel that makes that huge machination known as The Tri-State Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Association function smoothly. And, for all this, they have the official sanction and blessing of none other than President Woodrow (Woody) Turner and all his board of directors, bar none.
Parking as we usually do, with Uncle Elmer's boxes of GEMs and IMAs, right beside the beautiful Tri-State Secretary's office, we see the frequent goings and comings of this Mr. and Mrs. Titus secretarial team, trying desperately to read the pulse of the big show by the looks on their faces. When everything's meshing, gear to gear, as it should, Carolyn will beam from ear to ear while Morris will flick his cigaret ash and smile faintly as if nothing could ever go wrong with 'him and her' at the helm. But when the gears grind 'n growl a little, Carolyn can lock as glum as Morris (Heaven forbid). But a cheery little word from us and Carolyn turns on that smile which makes the gears run quietly again while Morris (Dear soul), flicks the ashes from his fag and stalks off.
There is just something nice and wholesome about this Morris and Carolyn Titus team that seems to pervade the entire Tri-State show with an aura of harmony and good will. As thoroughly American as the red, white and blue, they are happily devoid of the harsher, stiff-necked, monotheistic attitudes of the prototype secretary whose prerogative is barking out orders rather than smoothing out problems. However, when the occasion arrives, and sterner attitudes are required, the Morris-Carolyn secretariat can be sufficiently firm to nudge the machine off center.
It was our insatiable curiosity about this utterly charming hubby and wife secretarial duo that prompted us to hazard the cold spring rains and muddy roads that led to their country lair, deep into Hoosierland, far from the maddening crowd of modern housing and the noise of traffic. We were bent on finding out, first hand, whether Morris Titus was the 'head' and wife, Carolyn the 'neck that turned the head' -- or vice versa. And we found out, not to our dismay, that it was neither. Although at first observation, seeing Carolyn in the act of pouring over the official Tri-State correspondence and check books, while Morris watched with approval, it appeared that Carolyn was the 'head' and Morris the 'neck that turneth the head' at that moment.
It was a difficult enough task, just getting through on the telephone for an appointment -- between Scout Cub Packs and meetings of confirmation and Sunday School classes. But finally we made it.
Morris Titus shows Uncle Winston Keller his prize railroad lantern--which was an old interurban type belonging to the Union Traction Company that ran between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Indiana. Morris has about seventy old railroad lanterns representing about forty different roads.
'We'll be going to church in the morning and then we entertain the Golden Rule Sunday School Class from the Eden Methodist Church, at our place Sunday evening. You could come after church and eat dinner with us,' said the pleasant voice.
'We could come in the afternoon, after dinner. But how do we get to your place?' I asked.
'Well, do you have a paper and pencil handy? You turn left and go south where 36 turns onto 9 and 67 which takes you around Pendleton. Where 6 and 67 separate, at the State Patrol Post, take 9 to the left and you will be going straighter south than you were going and you go through Eden -- remember the Garden of Eden? -- to State Route 234. Turn left onto 234 -you're now headed back to the eat -- and go four crossroads, about three miles to road 500-E and turn left, going north,' explained Carolyn, quite amused at how mixed up I was becoming on directions. 'You'll drive a mile and a half without seeing any houses on that road, then ours will be the first one. There's a big iron bridge just beyond, so if you come to the bridge without seeing our house, then just back up to the first house and there we are.'
We finally arrived, having successfully negotiated the labyrinth of modern highways and mud-puddle country roads that led down road 500-E to the Morris Titus home. Actually we had made a complete circle, heading toward home down that lonely, uninhabited road where the big white house hove into view. (Morris Titus lives in the White House?)
'You really do live in the country,' I said, when the door opened to the friendly household of Morris and Carolyn Titus and their two lovely children, Jane and David.
'Yes - I wouldn't live anywhere else,' replied Morris. 'I used to live here a lot with my grandparents. Later, when my grandmother moved to Pendleton, I stayed one night with her in town and the noise 'bout drove me nuts, so I came back here and never left.'
'How about the noise of the gas engines at Tri-State?' I asked.
'Oh, that's music,' mumbled Morris, in his dry Hoosierland wit.
It took a little while, orienting ourselves to the utter quietude and loneliness of the vast and beautiful country that surrounded this happy home. The verdant beauty of the grassy meadows and winding creek in springtime were so peaceful and devoid of the real estate booms that have desecrated much of our American countryside elsewhere. But even Morris Titus was fearful of the modern invasion of his tranquility with nature.
'Fellow moved a trailer into the woods up the way. Getting too crowded,' snapped he. It's the only human to invade the mile-and-a-half dirt road south of him.
'You sound like Daniel Boone,' was my reply. 'He complained about a new neighbor moving in a hundred miles away.'
'How did you two ever meet?' was our first leading question, as one thing led to another.
'Oh I just lived across the bridge, the next house north of here,' said Carolyn, pointing out the parlor window.
'That crick used to flood clear up to this place, years ago,' explained Morris. 'Then the WPA came along and dug it out from yonder tree, at a new angle and it no longer floods. Then they built that bridge down the road.'
But neither flood nor mud deterred Morris in his courtin'. Whether Morris met Carolyn on the bridge, each going half way -- or Morris walked across the bridge and right up to her Pappy's door, history won't tell, but in love they both fell. Though it's not known whether Morris proposed, or did Carolyn, wedding bells peeled forth from the village church tower and the two got married (like Adam and Eve) in Eden.
But, unlike Adam and Eve, Morris and Carolyn live happily in their Garden of Eden, despite the problems of being joint secretaries to the big Tri-State Show. The year-long task of writing checks for bills that come and go, the endless answering of letters from Spark Pluggers, far and wide, about memberships and engines they want to exhibit as well as flea markets and concessionnaires in a mad race for space. All of which takes up much of the spare leisure time of this twain --between doing scout den duties and churchly chores and school teaching for Mom, as well as the assembly line at Delco-Remy in Anderson, Indiana, for Pop. Little wonder that Carolyn's secretarial desk is sometimes littered with a surplus of Tri-State show bills, inquiries and official receipts. But with Carolyn to push the pen and Morris looking over her shoulder, as boss, the two keep whittling away at the mounting stack at staggering pace. And, should they not be able to find a certain letter or receipt atop the desk, there are always the half-dozen or more travelling cases and valises stacked over by the wall which must be rummaged through.
Four generations here! Morris Titus shows off his favorite engine, a one and three quarter HP Associated that belonged to his Grandfather, and became his first engine. L. to r. Morris at the flywheel. Grandmother, great-grand kids, Jane and David, and Uncle Winston Keller. Morris has a total of some forty gas engines around it.
And it goes on like this, day after day, week-end after week-end, 'til the day they pack everything up and leave for the big Tri-State Show where secretaries are expected to 'keep their cool' despite the eternal din of popping of gas engines and gas tractors. Little wonder we can read the pulse of the big show, by studying the faces and paces of Morris and Carolyn Titus as they come and go. One wonders how it all got started. But from Morris came the story of Tri-State's humble beginnings.
'About nine years ago, I was show in' a few of my gas engines, about five, at Wauseon and a fellow by the name of Woody Turner came along and we chatted. There were very few gas engines there -- it was so hot, seemed like 200 degrees in the shade. You had to visit with friends or someone, else you'd just melt together,' reminisces Morris. 'I said to Woody, 'We ought to start a gas engine show'. Woody sent out some letters and I got one. It was around 12-below zero that morning when about a dozen of us showed up at that meeting in the Portland, Indiana, bank.' recalls Titus, (but not to rob it).
From then on, the rest of the story is history. The Tri-State Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Association grew like wildfire, year to year, from their first small show at Fort Recovery, Ohio, till 1972 when its exhibits and trailer parking expanded the length and breadth of the Jay County fairgrounds at Portland, Indiana. And 1973 promises to be even bigger, with more space required to accommodate it.
As Mr. and Mrs. Secretary of the Tri-State Show, Morris and Carolyn Titus manage to 'keep their cool' with such things as this big trailer load of antique gas engines popping all day just outside their secretary's window. This is just one of the many exhibits that annually show at the Tri-State grounds, Portland, Indiana.
It's clear that 'Pop' Morris Titus looks over the shoulder and does the bossin' and 'Mom' Carolyn does the pushing of the pen, the work 'n all that. But together the two make a wonderful combination known as the Tri-State 'Secretary'. The double works as a single.
Notice the plaque on the wall, shown between Morris's arm and Carolyn's head is the 1972 Tri-State Spark Plug of the Year Plaque that Carolyn brought home last year. The whole family was very proud of 'Mom'.
'This winter we have already received letters from West Virginia, Texas and Californai from people wanting to come,' says Carolyn Titus.
Although Carolyn has been awarded a Spark Plug of the Year plaque from Tri-State, which she proudly displays behind her desk, along with Morris's trophies -- we feel it was rewarded for the wonderful way she 'plugs' for hubby and 'sparks' him into motion, more than it is for her outstanding Hazel Ertel. She knows everything about them,' smiles Carolyn, rolling her eyes over to Morris for approval of her statement. 'Oh, I know what the flywheel is and a spark plughwen I see it.'
Just then Morris was telling us about his some forty antique gas engines, and devotion to gas engines.
'Yes, I like gas engines, but not like seventy old-time railroad lanterns he had out in one of the sheds, when the back door opened and in walked his grandmother and uncle. It looked like a family reunion was in the offing, and with the Sunday School Class from Eden arriving only two hours away!
Like a shepherd with a flock of sheep, Morris led us out to the long, white shed to show us his engines. There was his International Tom Thumb, a Cushman, a Woodpecker, two Rock Islands, a tiny antique boat motor of unknown origin, a Fairbanks, a Taylor, a New Idea, and a very old Maytag, to name a few. But the one he prizes most is the one-and-three-quarter horsepower Associated, serial 331843, which was his first and has some family nostalgia about it.
'This was Grandpa's engine,' explained Morris. 'I used to stay out here a lot with my grandparents, and I went along with Grandpa many a time to watch him pump water with this engine over at the west farm.'
It made a fine family portrait of four generations, posed around that Associated Gas Engine -- Great Grandmother, Uncle Winston, Morris and the kids.
Overhead hung an array of seventy antique railroad lanterns, representing forty different roads.
'The one I prize most is this old interurban lantern from the Union Traction Co.,' explained Morris to his Uncle Winston Keller who, by way of Morris's political pull became a judge at the Tri-State Old-time Fiddlers' Contest. They used to nickname that road, the L.E.&W. - some folks called it the 'Leave Early & Walk',' chuckled he.
All the time we were there, not a single car drove down White Pigeon Road, as it was called years ago. 'Used to be only one car came down this road a day,' pined Morris, 'But now sometimes as high as two or three come by. Even one's too much traffic t' suit me,' says he.
Before our visit drew to a close, we had the answer to our one pressing question. We were convinced that Morris was the 'head' (that looked at his engines), and Carolyn was the 'neck' (that turned the head back to work) when the Tri-State secretary's desk was piled high and waiting.
To these lovable two -- the Tri-State 'secretary', Morris and/or Carolyn Titus, we offer a choice seat in our Hall of Spark Plug Fame. But, being the gentleman type, we know Morris will stand back of her chair, while Carolyn does the sitting.
'I'm mighty proud of her,' mumbled Morris, blushing a bit. 'After all, she's a graduate of Ball State University.'
Let's hope I'm not blushing, next time I 'study their faces' at Tri-State -in case I've 'writ something wrong' in this story. And Morris orders me back to Eden to confess.
Here's the 'cage' that Carolyn and Morris Titus work in as 'secretary' of the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show at Portland, Indiana. Notice it's 'heavily guarded' in front, so Carolyn and Morris can't escape. That's daughter, Jane, inside with them. Actually, the 'cage' is a very attractive mobile unit, which Walter Baldauf (left) helped to build, and Woody Turner (president) helped design. Baldauf and Turner don't really look like such 'tough guards'. Like Carolyn Titus, seated right behind the window, Walter Baldauf also owns one of the coveted Tri-State 'SPARK PLUG OF THE YEAR' awards. (By the way, that Tri-State auto plate looks exactly like the one stolen off my 'Joe Dear' -- makes a feller wonder, doesn't it?)