VOLUME III, NUMBER 3 (August 1986)

By Joan Koller

From the looks of my great grandfather Jacob Ulery’s disreputable hat, one would assume that he wore only one during his entire lifetime. In reality he wore many hats, in the role of pioneer, husband and father, member of the German Baptist faith, landowner, and a well-known thresher of grain.

As a pioneer he came from Montgomery County, Ohio in 1851 with his family, consisting of his bride of two years, Christina, infant son, Sam P., her parents Henry and Hannah Heeter, Jacob’s father and others. It is presumed they came across in the large Pennsylvania schooner wagon, which he then used the rest of his life, without the canvas cover, to haul threshed grain to market.

Jake settled on a large farm three miles west and one mile north of the Manchester community, where he lived until his death in 1916. The original barn is still standing there, the house has since burned.

Jake and Christina raised four daughters and six sons who all except one settled in this area. So today there are many local residents who can claim a kinship with this strong-willed man.

He was quite a sight about town, even for this rural community, in his oversized coat, usually tied at the bottom corners in order to keep it from getting tangled in the machinery, a red bandana about his neck to keep the chaff out, and bare footed much of time.

This picture of “Thresher Jake” was probably taken at the family’s insistence, as there aren’t too many photos of him in existence to be found. One can imagine that even though he went to the local Blickenstaff studio, he still stubbornly refused to dress up. Now his descendants fortunately have this priceless picture of him as he was.

In this connection there are several stories, probably enhanced by time. My father told of an unusually wet spring, when Jake broke a plow point. Hurrying in to town, he was told there were none in stock, but the train was about to leave for Indianapolis. So Thresher Jake in his farm attire and barefooted, boarded the train, purchased a new point in the city, and returned on the evening train to a somewhat dismayed family.

For this next story there are at least three variations. It is safe to assume that it is rooted in truth. Thresher Jake came in the local hardware store, handed the proprietor a list, and when it was filled, walked out the door with everything. A salesman sitting by the fire was dumbfounded. “That tramp walked out of here without paying or even signing anything.” “Well,” said the storeowner, “I’m not worried. That tramp, as you call him, could buy and sell me several times over.”

Another version has Mr. Noftzger asking the surprised salesman how much he thought the man was worth who had just been in. “Well,” replied the salesman, “I wouldn’t give you 15 cents for his clothes.”

Great grandfather had his hand in running the household based on the same rules of hard work and industriousness as in the rest of his life. I remember my grandmother Lautzenhiser, “Aunt Kate” to all who knew her, telling the story of the window. It seems that her father had a small, narrow window put in the door to the sitting room at eye level. Since one of his sayings was that “the devil finds a use for idle hands,” his patient wife and young daughters were expected to busy themselves with needlework when not occupied with other chores. Many times as a girl, Kate would look up to see a stern pair of eyes at the peek hole, checking up.

In his wife Christina’s obituary, it is stated, “By her Christian deportment whe endeared herself to all who knew her.”

The large schooner wagon, after carrying the family and household goods here, was used for another sixty-five years by Jake to haul the grain from where it was threshed on his own 500 acres, and for others, to the buyer, sometimes to the east and west rail lines in northern Indiana, returning with salt blocks and other staples. Filled with grain, it took four large horses to pull. As one of his sons said, “You knew when you had shoveled that wagon full.”

When Thresher Jake and his ring had finished harvesting in this area, they loaded the threshing engines on flatcars headed for South Dakota, where the season was, of course, later and threshed out the grain there. My dad told of going there as a boy to help in the hot, dusty fields.

An excerpt from one of the Heeter letters in a book by the same title authored by Lester Binnie, page 52, it says – “Jacob Ulery hauled his wheat away, he is got 4 hundred & 25 bushels, He maid rite Smart money out of his crop, he got 97 cents for the most of it.”

After the North Manchester streets were paved, it was suggested that perhaps now he should drive on the right side. “I’ll drive where I please,” was the answer. The wagon was sold in December, 1916, a month after his death and its present whereabouts are unknown.

On the occasion of his eightieth birthday all of his children gathered at a family dinner and presented him with a rocking chair. Since he was hale and hearty and out of doors most of the time, and worked till the day of his death at 87, the rocking chair was probably little used.