Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
When Pa and Ma Neal round up all their hassle o' young-uns 'n chug down the mud turnpike in the latest 1910 International Auto Wagon, headin' fer the big Gas Engine 'n Tractor Reunion-- you'd think they had nary a care in this here world.
Take Massar Roger, fer instance--he looks cool 'n collected as a garden cucumber. 'Minds me of a southern senator of the mint julep 'n fried chicken variety, all set to filibuster in favor o' slavery.
Then there's Mizz Joyce who looks like she might live the life of 'Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. But along came Roger and sat down beside 'er--Now they work on antique autos 'n tractors instead.'
Yes--to look at the Roger Neals, all spiffed up 'n polished in their Sunday best at a gas-engine tractor shindig--or even to visit them in their ante-bellum plantation mansion in the picturesque environs of Georgetown, Ohio, one would never guess they scraped grease and sludge from old gas tractors and autos. (Surely they'd have hired mechanics and chauffeurs to do it--or would they?)
'I want to say this,' interrupted Roger Neal, a bit choked with emotion during a discussion in their well-appointed Civil War era home--'My wife, Joyce, has scraped as much oil and grease off our old cars and tractors as I have. She gets on overalls and goes out in that barn and works as hard as I do.'
Thus we have been afforded a rare insight into the double-role lives of the sludge-scraping Roger Neals, hard at it re-habilitating old antique cars, tractors, trucks, gas engines and what-not during the winter and spring season, then exhibiting the fruits of their labors in splendid regalia with all the trappings at the summertime reunions. For, behind the facade of the opulent, portentious life at the Roger Neals', there is the evidence of the hard and dirty labor of the farm overall variety that makes it all possible. Behind every dreamland, every drama, however lovely the setting, there are always the props which reach down into the fundamentals known as hard work, dirty hands and Mother Earth.
So, whenever you see Roger Neal rambling over a reunion ground driving an antique truck or tractor with his immaculately attired family going along for the ride, and feel a bit envious about it, let us reassure you of the inviolate fact that, 'without great labor, there is no excellence' in this life. And no one could explain that to you better than the Roger Neals who spend twenty hours making junk into nice, workable things to every hour they are seen riding and enjoying it.
It all started with this little 1? horse Stover Engine which Roger Neal bought back in 1946 when he was but a lad of eleven. He bought it from a neighbor for $3.00 and with the help of neighborhood boys, hauled it home in his coaster wagon. He sold it in 1950 for $10.00. After two owners he bought it back for five bucks and still was five bucks ahead. Now he owns twenty-five gas engines. (Nice going. Senator 'Klaghorn' Neal. Now he is president and lives in a mansion).
We were likewise pleasantly surprised about the Roger Neals, upon our first visit to their spacious multi-roomed mansion, prior to attending the first reunion of the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Show, of which Roger is the president.
'Here is a family living in the lap of luxury and bounty,' we surmised, as our eyes feasted on the many rooms that made up the Roger Neal homestead, all well appointed with rare antiques-grandfather clocks, crank-telephones, cylinder-record talking machines with morning glory horns, wrought-iron bootjacks, butter churns to name but a few.
But when Roger explained that he and Joyce had spent two full years of hard work rehabilitating the place, even before they could move in, our perspectives were straightened out a little.
'Our house was built in 1852, by a prominent farmer and brick mason. It was owned by the same family until 1966,' says he. 'The basement was dug by horses and scrapers, the stone basement walls were built 26 inches thick, the bricks were made from clay burned in a kiln on this very site.'
In addition, all the lumber was sawn on an old type sash sawmill where the blade ran up and down, instead of circular, evidenced by the straight lines showing on the timbers of the 2 x 12 joists in the basement.
'We have been told that the basement was once used as an underground railroad during the Civil War,' explains Roger. 'When Joyce and I first saw this old house with its spiral stairway and three fireplaces, we decided it was just what we wanted.'
But, as we've said before, there had to come the great labor of rehabilitating, rebuilding and strengthening here and there a bit of foundation or wall, the monstrous job of Roger climbing up and taking measurements to build the huge thirty-foot wooden pillars that reach so impressively from the floor to the top of the imposing ante-bellum veranda with its long chain on which suspends the period wrought-iron lantern dangling in the evening breezes.
We had parked our trailer for an overnight stay, just to the east of the Neal house and a view of its tall pillars and imposing dimensions in the twilight sky seemed to transport the viewer by magic carpet to the romantic land of southern plantations.
It was getting bedtime for the Neal children--even their parents. Yet everyone forsook retiring to their respective four-pillar, feather-tick bed, to show us what was out in the barn.
For here were stored the old and very rare 1915 20-40 Eagle Tractor which Roger, Joyce and the kids had completely restored from a mere heap of junk when they discovered it.
'This old Eagle Tractor is a two-cylinder engine with eight-inch piston and ten-inch stroke,' explained Roger. 'It was bought new in Brown County by Chilt Roten and was sold at auction for $26.00 back in 1939 and then used to crush bricks for fifteen years after which it was parked outside until 1970 when I purchased and restored it.'
Roger Neal went on to show the parts which he had to restore to make it a functioning antique tractor, worthy of exhibition.
'I had to use an old Mack radiator for side mounting, also the distributor and carburetor had to be either rebuilt or replaced,' said Roger. 'And, of course, Joyce and I had plenty of work removing the gook before we could even think of restoring it.'
Then Roger showed us the antique 1910 International Auto Wagon which he and the family had worked over.
'It has a two-cylinder, 5 x 5 engine of 20 horsepower,' pointed out Roger. 'It was bought in Vermont, then transferred to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1952 and stored in a barn for eighteen years. The engine had been apart and stored in the bed of the truck for thirty years. I purchased it in 1971 and had it running the first time on June third, the same year.'
Then there was the International Huckster Truck of 1916 vintage, used in Kentucky by the Dorsel's Flour Co., which was parked and neglected until 1965 when Roger Neal purchased and restored it--having shown il nine times and receiving eight first awards and one second for outstanding exhibit.
Spark Plug, Roger Neal, takes Joyce and son, Bruce, a ride on the old 1915 Eagle Tractor. Son James appears to be giving them a 'shove' with his left paw. The rate of the Eagle is a 20-40, two-cylinder with eight inch pistons and ten inch stroke. The Neals all worked at scraping the 'gook' off the old machine. The wife and boys know as much about the intricacies of this old Eagle as does Pop. Roger had to restore the radiator, the carb and timer to suit his historical standards or original performance and appearance.
Spark Plug Roger Neal takes family for a ride over O.V.A.M. grounds in their 'latest'--a 1910 International Auto Wagon two-cylinder, 5 x 5, 20 horsepower. Bought in Vermont, later transferred to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1952, it was stored in a barn for 18 years. The engine had been apart and stored in the bed of the truck for 30 years. Front seat, Neal and Joyce. Rear, Diane, 8, James 10 and Bruce, 13.
In addition there was the 1917 Republic Truck, purchased in 1969 at a junk yard, and as it stands now, 80% restored by Roger and 'the Missus'.
There were others looming in the darkness of the Neal barns-gaunt silhouettes of a bygone transportation--a 1922 Mack truck, purchased in 1968, with four-cylinder engine, solid tires, and chain drive, formerly used by the Somerset, Ky., street department and a 1925 Dodge panel truck with 12-volt silent starter, four-cylinder engine and disc wheels. The latter was purchased new by Hance's Home Laundry, used from 1925 to 1937 on the streets of Madisonville, Ohio, where it was stored in the old laundry building until Roger bought it in '66 for restoration.
And yet we had only begun to see what the Roger Neals had dragged into their barns for cleaning and restoration over the past few years. There was the 1917 International 8-16, chain-drive, four cylinder tractor with the radiator located back of the engine--a machine that had been purchased new and always used in Brown County. And the 1925 Hart Parr, 12-24, two cylinder tractor, bought new in Kentucky and used until 1968 when Roger bought and restored it.
Too, there was a 1918 Huber, cross engine, four-cylinder, purchased at Mansfield, Ohio, in 1966 by Roger, then sold to Edwin Fiscus, Vice President of the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Association after this year's show.
And one that we haven't yet seen--a 1922 Rumely Oil Pull, 20-40, which Roger purchased one week after the O. V. A. M. show, last summer.
'I am the third owner of this one,' he says. 'And it will be at our 1972 show.'
'You haven't begun to see our things,' laughed Roger Neal. 'We have other barns elsewhere stored with antique machinery that you will have to come and see at a later date.'
By this time it was long, long past bedtime for both the Neals and us. But Roger, dead tired from planning his first O. V. A. M. Georgetown show, was still burning the early morning oil in last-minute preparations, prior to snatching a few winks before punching a factory time-clock at the crack o' dawn.
Yes--we heard him leave for his factory job, long before we had turned over to grab our final shut-eye, preparatory to facing another day.
I had seen the cycle of the Roger Neal family living--the opulence and splendor, the rich rewards of their hard labor--and yet here was Roger Neal rushing off in the early dawn to punch a time-clock just like many another fellow who doesn't have as much to show for his efforts. Could we better call it the wisdom of the collector who sees the fine things of his desire, deep in a junk-heap and unobserved by other mortals as being worthy of rescue? The things that others throw away is often the prize that captures the collector's eye. I n it he sees something innate and lovely which the Bible calls faith--things hoped for but unseen. Like the evangelist who goes out in quest of lost souls, so Roger Neal sallies forth in search of the junkyard cast-offs of society--old tractors, old out-dated cars and trucks, gas engines and what have you which others have relegated to the devastating elements, but he has the vision to restore.
If someone abandoned a gold or silver mine, as run-out and worthless-Roger Neal would soon be mining the precious ore within. Where others find nothing, he finds something! And, like the true wifely companion, Joyce Neal is always by her husband's side in whatever new venture they share together. Not to be outdone by either Pa or Ma, the Neal kids, Diane, Bruce and James know how to pitch in with screw drivers and wrenches to help get the job done, whether it's working on an old car, or tractor or gas engine to be made over.
Thus it is that, when Dad Roger just doesn't have enough hands and time to get everything done--there's always Joyce and the Neal kids to help out. And should you have questions in your mind concerning technicalities about the old Eagle Tractor, or the IHC Huckster Truck or any of the other numerous Neal enterprises, Bruce, age thirteen, or James, age ten, can give the answers--be it about antique carburetors, distributors, igniters, transmissions, clutches or whatever. To observe Bruce handle the old Eagle, line it up to an ancient separator or the Baker Fan, or explain its antique idiosyncracies, is like watching an old veteran many years his senior. One is not aware that here is a mere lad putting the old iron horse through its measured paces.
Being of the curious sort, as to what makes some Spark Plugs fire, I asked Roger Neal just what started him on his unusual hobby of collecting old engines and machines, during a moment of lull for him at the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Show. Walking me up along gasoline alley, he stopped beside a little, insignificant one-lunger--a 1? horsepower Stover sitting beneath a shade tree. It was a rather unprepossessing little piece of machinery, but to Roger Neal its history carried much significance.
'Back in 1945 I bought this little Stover, when I was eleven years old, for three dollars, from a neighbor who was the county dog catcher. I hauled it home in my coaster wagon with the help of neighborhood boys,' he went on, reminiscing-like. 'Then I sold it in 1950 for $10.00. (Wow--what a business man already!) After two more owners, I bought it back for five dollars--(he was still five bucks ahead)--as the owner said it was only junk. I now have twenty-five gas engines.'
Oftentimes it takes only a pebble to start a landslide. This time a meager horse-and-a-half Stover started a young 'feller' on the long road to antique machinery fame. He winds up owning a museum of mechanical menagerie, a mansion, a fine family--and ends up becoming President (of the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Association, Inc.).
One Mite next to Midget at Rough & Tumble, Kinzers, Pa. This is Elmer Schafer's little engine.
My model gas engine exhibit with new engine (right foreground) added. Rear, Cole's Hornsby Akroyd, left 'Lil Bill' model Galloway and right is my own design and castings.
But behind every successful man, there is a loving woman who goes along with whatever he does, even to the point of sleeping in the bed of the family pickup truck, to hawk and swap some of her pet antique wares at the shows--as Joyce does. (Bless'er!)
To you, Roger Neal, a tip of our Spark Plug Hall of Fame katy--for all you've done in preserving what's dear of our American Agricultural Heritage-- that future generations may bask in the glory of our eminent forebears. Welcome to an honored, reserved seat for all who justly qualify. (You may fetch along Joyce and the kids, if they can sit on your lap.)
And you'll soon be receiving one of those beautiful plaques, compliments of President Carl Secchi of Blue Grass Steam & Gas Show--co-sponsored by the Champion Spark Plug Company--the Champions that always keep the oats bag right on the old plug's nose.
How impressive the Champion Spark Plug Plaque will be, when 'Senator Claghorn' Neal rises to filibuster--we'll see.