Friday, February 1, 2008

Wilhelm Heinrich Rathjens, "Grampa Bill"

Logging in the 1920's, El Rancho Primero Laytonville.<
I have decided to do a series of stories on Wilhelm Heinrich Rathjens, My mother’s father, born in 1888. He was known in Laytonville as “Willie” or “Bill”. To me he was “Grampa Bill“, or just plain “Grampa”. This man had such an interesting life that I could easily write about him for a year, and not run out of things to say.

I think that the thing that I would want you to know about him more than anything else, is that he was the kindest man that you could ever meet. He walked most everywhere he went. As a young man he was a foot soldier in the Kaiser Wilhelm the Seconds German Army and he just got used to walking. When he would walk to town, which was only about a half mile, he would come home with a bag of candy for each of the kids that lived on the ranch. We would always be excited when we saw Grampa head to town, because we knew he would be coming home with a big bag of candy, and each bag of candy would also have a bag of jerky in it. Then, of course, he would always have a bottle of schnapps for himself.

He loved to play cards, and I would sit and eat my candy and he would drink his Schnapps, and together we would play “Pedro” I’m not sure it was his favorite game, but he did love to play it, and it was simple enough for my young mind. He always won, and I think that he liked winning even against me.

There is plenty of time for details, but now let’s talk about the tractor. You non-mechanics can skip this part of the story. Grampa was a gifted mechanic and could make anything work. As I looked at the picture of the tractor many things attracted my attention. First the motor is mounted sideways to what a normal motor is mounted. The massive flywheel sticks out the side and it looks like it has a clutch assembly out-board of that. There are two exhaust pipes so it must be at least a twin cylinder engine. The wheels are Iron and they are ribbed in the front for better steering and they are cleated in the rear for better traction. This tractor was used on the ranch for everything; Plowing, logging, harvesting, as a remote power supply for buzz saws, or running pumps. Anyone that has ever used a tractor knows how versatile they can be.

The logging dolly is a story in itself, the whole think is hand made in a blacksmith shop. The handle between the front and the back wheel is a Peavey. A Peavey is used for leveraging logs to move them.

It looks like they just loaded the logs with the wooden ramps and the cables laying on the ground beside them.

Now here’s where I need help. Does anyone know anything about that tractor. I know nothing. It looks like an “m” in front of the flywheel in the edge of the shadow, and I’ve been told by a “Good Guesser” that it is a Fairbanks-Morris horizontally opposed motor. Click on the photo for a large view. I have really studied this photograph, I even looked for birds in the trees. It gets to be fascinating! Oh!, that’s Grampa Bill driving the tractor.


Kym said...

Ernie, I'm afraid machines are not my forte but if you google "Fairbanks-Morris" then you might find a site. I looked at them but they didn't make any sense to me.

I did a quickie google on Rathjens in mendocino and came up with

Rathjens, William Long Valley Republican Service Station Laytonville in the
1930 Great Register of Mendocino (registered voters)

Rathjens, Elizabeth Beatrice 12/18/1936 62/673 from the delayed birth index of Mendo co.

RATHJENS AUGUSTA 08/27/1953 death cert.

Hope that is helpful but it was probably info you already have.

Eel River Ernie said...

Ernie - Lawrence Hinley at the Farm Shop in Ferndale (786-9541) would be your best bet. He has a lot of vintage tractors and a wealth of knowledge about them. I am sure he can find out for you.

Speaking of vintage tractors, the one we had on our ranch in Weaverville was an old iron wheeled “Star” tractor that sounded like a one lunger. It had the power take off on the side with a belt to run a circular saw. The biggest thing I remember about the tractor is that you had to be really careful on any type of grade because it tended to lift if you hit a gear or popped the clutch too hard and could have flipped over backward. I was not allowed on it when it was running.

Nice log by the way!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Kym, yes we have all the dates. But, we are clueless as to Elizabeth Beatrice Rathjens???

My mother is Elizabeth Augusta Rathjens, DOB 1923. Her mother was Agusta, died in 1957.

Ernie, I found a better photo of the tractor, it is a "Mogul". More on that later.

Kym said...


I don't know who Elizabeth is but she is in the Mendocino Delayed Birth index
This usually relates to people who after some time file a claim for a birth certificate ie Twenty years after my home birth which no one told anyone official about, I might want to get a passport for which I would need a birth cert. So I would have to set about proving that I had been born at a certain place at a certain time.

You might try getting hold of a copy from Mendocino county if you are interested. The record is on the page

If you can get hold of the Dispatch Democrat for Mendocino there is a mention of William H. Rathjens being naturalized (getting his citizenship) also on Christmas Eve 1926. What a wonderful Christmas present;>

ben said...

Ernie, is that log pine? Loks like yellow pine.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Yes Ben, it's definitely Pine, I don’t know if it’s a yellow or a sugar pine. And those are small pine trees in the background.

The picture gets bigger if you click on it.