Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Legends of Pine Village, Indiana: Lieutenant Governor Rue J. Alexander (Last Installment in This Series)

On the 27th of May in 1999, Barbara Brutus published an important article in the Review Republican. She advised to readers to “take a moment to remember Rue J. Alexander.” Rue (James Ruevelle) had direct influence on my life because, before World War II, he helped nudge my grandfather Seymour Alfred Rhode into political posts in Indianapolis. Beginning in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, my grandfather later became an examiner for the Indiana Department of Insurance. He was named Chief Examiner after fifteen years in the department. Prior to his career in insurance, my grandfather had taught school in Warren County, Indiana. I have the hand bell he rang to call the students from the playground. For a time, he sold musical instruments in Lafayette. A few years after his marriage to Kosie Ruby Cobb, he served on the Board of Directors of Standard Live Stock Insurance Company of Indianapolis. When he began accepting what were largely political appointments, he became much more successful than he had been previously.

My blog is not about my grandfather, though. It is about Rue J. Alexander. So who was he?

Lieutenant Governor of Indiana Rue J. Alexander

Paraphrasing Rue’s standard obituary, Barbara reported that Rue grew up on a farm in Benton County. He was born in Talbot on the 4th of October in 1889. He graduated from Lafayette Business College. In 1915, he quit farming to become an automobile and tractor mechanic and salesman. Rue enlisted in the Army in 1918. He entered as a private in auto mechanics and was assigned to Company A’s Truck Master School. He was trained at Purdue University. The Armistice was signed just before Rue’s promotion to sergeant could be made official; consequently, he was discharged as acting sergeant.

After the First World War, he served as superintendent of the Boswell Water Works. He then joined the sales force of the Cornbelt Feed Company, leaving that position to open the Pine Village Feed Company. For a decade, Rue was Republican chairman of the sixth district. He served two terms as Indiana’s secretary of state (1943–1947). In April of 1948, Richard T. James resigned from his post as lieutenant governor to become vice-president and treasurer of Butler University, and Governor Ralph F. Gates appointed Rue to complete James’ unexpired term. Rue was nearing the end of his service as lieutenant governor when he passed away at the age of 60 on the 2nd of January in 1949.

For a town with a small population to have produced a lieutenant governor is a testimony to the high values that Pine Village, Boswell, and neighboring hamlets upheld. When I was a teenager, I spent a day as a page on the floor of the senate in the Indiana General Assembly, and I can attest to the fact that, half a century ago, the individual who held the office of lieutenant governor and, therefore, served as president of the senate indeed merited respect!

People of my generation who grew up in Pine Village will be interested to know that Mildred McCoy was Rue’s daughter. Wilda Helmerick spent most of her youth and young adulthood with her aunt Ella Helmerick, who was married to Rue. Only six months prior to his death, Rue gave Wilda in marriage to Leroy Brutus.  

I want to thank Ann Miller Carr for researching Seymour A. Rhode’s obituaries in Indianapolis.

Seymour Alfred Rhode Working in Indianapolis

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Legends of Pine Village, Indiana: Arba Brutus and His Pickup Baler

In 1929, the renowned photographer J. C. Allen, who often snapped pictures on the Arba Brutus property just east of Pine Village, Indiana, made a special trip to capture on film Arba’s recent invention. I told the story of that memorable occasion in my article entitled “The Steam Engine Collecting of Glen J. Brutus,” published in The Iron-Men Album Magazine, Volume 54, Number 3, for January and February of 2000.

Arba Brutus’ Pickup Baler in 1929
Photograph Courtesy J. C. Allen & Son, Inc.

“According to Purdue University,” Glen said, “my father [Arba] was the first man in the United States to successfully bale hay out of the windrow.”

Agricultural historians generally agree that Ray Moore McDonald developed the world’s first successful commercially produced pickup baler—the Ann Arbor baler—in 1929. As with most claims for “firsts” in history, there can be similar inventions in separate locations at virtually the same time. Brutus’ invention may well have predated McDonald’s, but the Ann Arbor baler went into factory production prior to Arba’s machine. More in a moment on how Arba’s pickup baler made its way to the market!

In the Allen photo, Don Gephart is on the baler, and John Cooper is on the tractor. (In 1955, the photograph was reproduced on page 142 of Farming Comes of Age: The Remarkable Photographs of J. C. Allen & Son, published by Farm Progress Companies and Harmony House.) The camera faced the southwest toward Pine Village from the road that today is designated as N 450 E. When my family moved in 1968 to a farm not far from the Brutus farm, I often drove past the field seen in the Allen image.  

Arba Brutus “took the baler to the hay instead of bringing the hay to the baler.” Arba placed a Model T Ford engine in the center of his new machine. “I went with my father to Indianapolis to have sprockets made for an over-running clutch,” Glen remembered.

In the 1930s, Glen met a representative of the Case Company of Racine, Wisconsin, who came to watch Arba’s invention. The Case man studied Arba’s machine carefully. If the Brutus baler worked as well as rumor had it, Case intended to put a similar implement on the market. Indeed, Case soon was marketing a pickup baler—and Glen was developing a fascination for Case equipment.

 “You had to be a good judge of the moisture content in the hay before you could bale hay straight from the windrow,” Glen commented. “That was a new thing to have to consider and learn.”

Be sure to see Pictures from the Farm: An Album of Family Farm Memories at You can find Farming Comes of Age: The Remarkable Photographs of J. C. Allen & Son and Farming once Upon a Time: More Remarkable Photographs of J. C. Allen & Son on Amazon.

Photo courtesy J. C. Allen & Son, Inc., West Lafayette, Indiana 47906

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Legends of Pine Village, Indiana: Lee N. Brutus, Pilot

During the exhilarating years in Pine Village, Indiana, at the beginning of the 1900s, inventor Lee N. Brutus (1895–1998) became fascinated with flying. He served as an army pilot during World War I (yes, the first world war). Later, he became executive vice president of Waco Aircraft in Troy, Ohio, and, still later, president of Luscombe Airplane Corporation in Trenton, New Jersey. In 1947, Brutus served as Pacific Coast sales representative for the Nylok Nut Corporation of New York. As may be seen in the dates that I have provided, Lee lived longer than a century. He once told my father, Joseph C. Rhode (1918–1999), his WWI flight training involved taking off and flying until he had used half his fuel before returning to his point of origin by recognizing landmarks along the way.

Lee N. Brutus' Biplane Beside Charley Cobb's Barn in Pine Village, Indiana

Lee was one of three sons born to John Brutus and Rosetta Belle Belew. Lee’s brothers were Arba and Glenn H Brutus. Lee married Geraldine Broadie. The couple had no children. (Lee’s brother Arba will figure prominently in this series of blogs, for Arba invented a machine deserving of attention and comment.)

Despite assertions that Waco began in May or June of 1929, Waco may have formed as early as 1928. Lee was with the firm from its start. Waco grew from the Weaver Aircraft Company, which changed its name to the Advance Aircraft Company before becoming Waco, which was an acronym derived from Weaver Aircraft Co.

I remember seeing Lee at the Methodist Church when he visited his family in Pine Village. My recollection is of a distinguished gentleman who was soft-spoken. 

It must have been a stirring sight in 1922 to see Lee land a biplane in the pasture beside the barn on the land that my father eventually farmed across from the school. Tom Cobb first owned the farm. Then his son, Charley, owned it. Charley’s widow, Margaret, came into possession of it. Finally, my father owned it. At the time that the biplane was the center of attention, the land was in Charley’s name. Charley was fascinated with machines and undoubtedly took a keen interest in Lee’s aircraft. Charley ran steam engines, including a Reeves, a Huber, and a Gaar–Scott, and he assembled his own gasoline tractor from a hit and miss engine. I can only imagine what his conversation with Lee must have been like when Lee brought his plane to Charley’s farm.

The early decades of the 1900s were indeed heady times in Pine Village!   

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Legends of Pine Village, Indiana: Trumpeter Samuel C. Fenton in Pryor’s Band

Samuel C. Fenton (1877–1921) may have been high strung, but he was a talented musician in Pine Village, Indiana. On hot summer evenings, residents sat on their porches and listened to his melodious playing. He performed with several bands in northwestern Indiana. Ultimately, Samuel played cornet in the well-known band led by Arthur Willard Pryor (1870–1942), who had served as assistant conductor of John Philip Sousa’s band and who was a famous trombonist. Pryor composed “The Whistler and His Dog,” a popular concert piece. Eventually, Samuel split his lip and decided to forgo the cornet. He returned to Pine Village, where he gave piano lessons. He was married to Bessie Ogborn (1881–1967), daughter of Levi Ogborn. Samuel and Bessie had one daughter, Dorothy Fenton, who became an accomplished pianist. For graduation exercises in 1919, Dorothy joined Adele LaPlante in performing the “Poet and Peasant Overture” piano duet.

Samuel C. Fenton
Trumpeter in Pryor’s Band

Musical ability, as well as artistic talent, ran through the Fenton family. Samuel’s first cousin, Charles Albert Charley or Cobbie Cobb (1883–1931), who was the son of Magnolia “Nolia” Somerset Fenton Cobb, played several instruments. Nolia was a professional photographer. Readers who have been following my posts on Facebook have seen photographs of Charley running a Reeves steam engine and a homemade tractor. I have the violin in a photograph depicting Charley with a guitar. Charley organized his own band, known as “Cobbie’s Band.” Lena Fenton Rhode (1884–1962), a first cousin of Samuel and Charley, studied piano at the Chicago Conservatory. She served as pianist for the Methodist Church in Pine Village. In her seventies, Lena continued to play hymns, but the minister occasionally had to awaken her. By the way, Barbara Brutus played the organ for the church, and I eventually became a church pianist.

Charles A. “Charley” or “Cobbie” Cobb
Cousin of Samuel C. Fenton

In the footsteps of my Fenton ancestors, I briefly majored in piano performance at the undergraduate level at Indiana University before switching to English, and I performed clarinet in ensembles of the IU Department of Bands for nine years, while earning my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. Whenever the Marching Hundred performed a march by Sousa or Fred Jewell, I felt transported back to the era of my Fenton ancestors. When the Summer Concert Band entertained the crowd beside Showalter Fountain, I thought of Cobbie’s Band on July evenings bringing smiles to faces while the fireflies flew.

Charley Cobb Holding Tuba in Center of Back Row

Cobbie’s Band, with Charley Cobb Kneeling in Center,
Cousin Claire Rhode Standing Toward Right,
Guy Blind Fourth from Right in Back Row, Decoration Day 1901

Cobbie’s Band, Charley Cobb with Back Toward Camera

Pine Village, Indiana, Sheet Music, Courtesy Indiana Historical Society