Ralph Gehr Autobiography

Origin and Activities of Ralph W. Gehr


I was born on October 28, 1918 in Newberry PA to Fred and Edna Shafer Gehr. Fred, whose real name was Fredrick Cleveland Gehr the son of Jacob Gehr who lived on a farm 1 mile west of the Hepburn Baptist Church and Edna Shafer the daughter of Ephraim Shafer who lived on a farm about 2 miles east of the same church were married either in late November or early December of 1917. They lived in Newberry until 1920 when they moved to the William H. Ulmer farm owned in 1996 by my brother Lester S. Gehr. Father farmed on shares for Mr. Ulmer until 1926 when he bought the farm.

I was taken to Sunday School and Church farther back than I can remember and all the while I knew my mother had worked in the Primary Department of the Sunday School. of the Hepburn Baptist Church. However, my early childhood did not match my training. After I got grown my father told me that before I can remember, I used to search for eggs and break them and break windows in the barn. I do remember finding a kitten in the barn and throwing it up into the sheaf mow and climbing up to get it and then throwig it down on the barn floor and keeping this up until the kitten was dead. I remember telling my mother several times I wanted a little brother to play with but after he came, the biggest thing I can remember is quarreling with him and making. him cry. I can't remember him ever starting the trouble. This is a brief description of the wicked sinful nature I was born with and caused me much grief after I began to realize it,

One of the earliest remembrances of being at church when anything stuck with me was an evening service when the visiting preacher had left the pulpit and was walking up and down the isle waving his hands and saying, "I have power to lay down my life and I have power to tJcç it again". That puzzled me, young as I was I knew that when people died they were dead and didn't get up and walk, around again. Who was this preacher that had such power? Rather than ask anyone that could have told me he was talking about Christ and not himself I pondered it for, I suppose a few years, until I learned more about the Scripture.

My mother was kind to us and took good care of us, read to my brother Lester and me bedtime stories mostly children's Bible Stories, answered my childish questions and told us about Jesus while father worked the farm and taught me how to do simple chores. He went to town every other Friday to peddle butter, eggs, etc. from the farm and usually brought us something when he returned. Lester and I had many little cast iron cars that were a great pleasure to us to play with.

In September of 1929 my father bought his first car, a 1.926 Dodge touring car that had 'Side Curtains' that could be put on in cold weather which he bought through Harris Ludwig for $200. Most other farmers had cars before then but to us it was a new era. He began going to town every week and we could spin off to church and the neighbors. His average driving was about 2,000 miles per year. The roads were not hard surfaced then and in the springtime when the frost came out sometimes they became impassable, other times nearly so. I remember one Sunday we ground our way with the chains on to both the morning and evening services and as best I can remember, Mr. Ulmer went with us. When we got home that night my father said, "We made 2 trips (a total of 4 miles) and used 2 gallons of gas. We enjoyed the car from September 1929 until February 1932.

One Sunday in February, which must have been Valentine's Day, mother came home from church and said she had a headache. I paid little attention of course but when I came home from school on Monday she was lying on the couch which I had never seen her do unless it were on Sunday afternoon and very seldom then. . She was boiling a pot of potatoes and told me to check them and when a fork went through them they were done. My first cooking lesson. On Tuesday she stayed in bed and Lester and I stayed home from school. The rest of the week was a dilemma of doctor, nurse, housekeeper, etc. as father sought the best care he could get for her until on Saturday morning, 20th about 2 AM she went to be with Jesus. I think father suspected it from the beginning.

This brought a much bigger change in our life than the coming of the car but it somehow seemed to draw father closer to God, not that I can remember that much evil but he seemed to draw closer. I remember that he started giving thanks before eating meals which we had not done before and made sure that we stayed in church. Father looked after us well though I came to realize later that it was a time of deep sorrow for him. At that time we used a cream separator and churned the cream into butter to sell. Father turned the crank on this cream separator twice a day which took perhaps 15 minutes and while he turned often sang hymns that rang from the basement through the house: 'My Faith Looks up to Thee', 'Have Thine Own Way Lord', 'Let My Faith Take Hold on Thee', 'I Am Thine 0 Lord' and others. After 64 years I can still hear these hymns ring in my mind. This had an effect on my life. What was it that in the time of such sorrow when it looked like the world came to an end, gave my father the power to sing praises to God? After my wife died in 1994 I found out. It is the Power of the Holy Spirit. Father found a widow lady by the name of Mrs. Morse, the sister of Mrs. Clark Waltz of near Warrensville, mother of the Waltzes that dealt in farm machinery, who kept house for us for about 3 years. I thought she was 'crabby' but came to realize later that she did well under the conditions, after all, her husband was dead and her children scattered. We seemed to lack nothing as far as a housekeeper was concerned.

Sometime in the spring of 1932, I suppose about April, they had a revival in the Hepburn Church. I was lonely and missed my mother and things to me looked dark and hopeless. On Sunday morning of the revival the evangelist said that if we would come to Jesus, He would take care of us in this life and take us to Heaven to be with Him when this life was over. I thought that sounded pretty good and decided to accept the invitation. I don't remember any sudden change but I remember having a Presence with me and I realized I was in this unseen Presence of Someone and whatever I did He knew about and it began to affect my life. I was 13 at the time and though I didn't seem to have much power to resist evil I didn't want to practice it. I was baptised by Rev, Harry Foullc and became a member that summer. I distinctly remember father instructing me to bring the team in early enough to get to the Baptismal Service on time which stands to me as an expression of his interest. My mother had read Bible stories to us farther back than I can remember and at Sunday School and Church I also heard the stories of Joseph, Moses, Daniel and many others and also admired the great leaders in our church but never really read much of the Bible on my own until I was around 16 and then I began to become interested in what it had to say and read more of it. The more I read the more I realized my life was not pleasing to God and I needed much forgiveness and began: to seek forgiveness and straighten up my life.

I was graduated from Hepburn High School in 1937 and worked at home on the farm. Somewhere about this time, the Sunday School of which Brother 1. F. Helm was Superintendent, elected me as a delegate to a Sunday School Convention held at the Methodist Church, on Market St. in Williamsport. I took it seriously and gave a detailed report fearing I would not do it right. Likely as a result of that the Sunday School elected me as assistant Sunday School Secretary. I thought I had it made because Paul Waltz was Secretary and he never missed a Sunday. After about 6 months Paul moved away from home and the job fell into my lap. It shook me up but with the help of concerned kind people of the Church, I held this job until December of 1942 when I went to the Army.

Likely around 1936 or 37 Mabel Brucklacher, the sister of Bobby Brucklacher and Elsie Zane came to keep house for us in the summer months and went to Bible School in Allentown, PA in the winter. She was very good to us, a Christian, kind, concerned, quiet and hard working. I couldn't see any difference in the way she treated us from my mother. After she completed Bible School she came and kept house for us until my father died in 1955 and then kept house for Lester until she died in 1965.

I will insert here my experience with a 'Sinkhole'. This was possibly about 1937 or 8. Likely there are not too many people living now that remember them. On the unpaved dirt roads in the wintertime the ground would freeze 2 or 3 feet deep, then, as spring began to come, sometimes the ground seemed to thaw from, underneath and the water would wash away underneath the road while the top remained frozen. As spring cane on the top of the road would get rather spongy and weave a little when you drove over it, while still frozen on top. Sometimes an unsuspecting motorist, or one that thought he 'could make it' but the 'carpet', so to speak would break through and there seemed to be no bottom. I have known the watery mud to be 3 feet deep and a car, jacks and chains were helpless. Such was my lot one Sunday morning as I was returning from taking Mabel to Balls Mills Church. Just across the little bridge coming up the Klump road toward the Pleasant Valley Road and Fry's farm, the bottom dropped out and the spare tire sat on the road and kept the car from going farther down. We walked to church and later that afternoon, father, Lester and I went down to get it out. We worked until nearly dark with no results. Father told us to drain the water in the radiator as it was going to freeze that nigh, (no antifreeze in those days) and he walked on about 20 feet then turned and looked back at the car and us a moment and then shouted "Boys shut the water off I" He came back and in a few minutes we had the car out and went home. I don't know what he saw but I am sure he saw something from the Lord.

Many times since then when life's situations looked hopeless, I have seen the Lord come on the scene and bring the victory so that the hardships of the battle were forgotten.

About 1938 or 9 father bought a team of Sorrel colored horses with silver mains and tails and I was to be the driver. They were pretty and big and strong but, I was unhappy with them because I wanted a tractor. I remember my father telling a friend that all his life he had wanted a team of sorrel hoses with silver manes and tails. I suppose I expressed my unhappiness until in the spring of 1940 father bought a 1939 John Deere model B tractor that was practically new and used only for demonstration. How can a professing Christian be so cruel and thoughtless of the desire and feelings of others, especially loving parents? It has caused me much sorrow and grief of mind ever since. The tractor was my pride and joy and I took charge of it, never thinking that my brother Lester might like to drive it too. After I went to the army he got to drive it without any interference, not that we had any trouble about it, I just disregarded his feelings. This too caused me much sorrow and grief of mind since.

The winter of 1940-41 my father helped me get a job at the Lycoming Aviation Corp. in Williamsport. In the fall of 1941 I decided I would move to Tennessee and be a farmer so I quit my job at the Lyconling and wentF to Tennessee. This trip lasted about a week and proved to be a grand disappointment without any big loss except my job. Willard Dangle's brother Earl helped me get my job back and I worked at the Lycoming until December of 1942 when I was drafted into the army. I might add that when I worked my first 10 months at the Lycoming I paid tithes on my earnings after I took out my expenses of going to work, etc. and saved $800. The second time I worked S months and gave tithes of my wages before I took out expenses and saved $900. I considered this a valuable lesson that has followed me through life. Try to give God the benefit of the doubt and don't figure close with Him since He gives us all we have.

In late December of 1942 I was drafted into the 51st Engeneers Combat Battalion of the army and sent to Plattsburg, NY about the first of January 1943. It was in the north east corner of the state and cold. I remember coming out of the barracks one morning and looking at the thermometer which had numbers to ..'300 and the mercury was about the space of 50 below that which was the coldest I had ever seen. They took care of us and we made it pretty well.

As I was brought up in church I regularly attended the Post Chapel and it seemed as though I could hear my father's voice singing by me as I helped sing the old hymns. This proved to be a comfort and encouragement to me and I looked forward to the chapel services. One Sunday evening in the springtime I went to Plattsburg, about a mile away, and looked up a Baptist Church. Our Chaplain was a Lutheri though a fine man. As I got there the service was over and a man whom I supposed to be the pastor (very likely wasn't), came out, locked the door and stood on the steps and lit up a cigar. That didn't set good with me and I didn't go back. Perhaps the Lord used that incident to direct my future. I began going to a little Nazarine Church where I found friendly fellowship. It was while going there that a lady by the name of Mrs. Robbins gave me some Pilgrim Gospel Tracts. I read them and they seemed to be plain, easy to understand Gospel messages so I shared them with some of my fellow soldiers. In the fall of that year our whole outfit was loaded onto a train and moved to Elkin, WV. Our outfit occupied the whole train, the men rode in the coaches and the equipment was put on flat cars. When we got to the mountains they took off the regular engines and put on 2 double stack steam locomotives which consisted of 4 cylinders and 16 drive wheels apiece. They had a peculiar sound but seemed to take us over the 'mountains with ease. I have never seen any like them before or since. I went to a little Pentecostal church and found more Pilgrim Tracts. I took several with me and shared them with the soldiers. On October 12 th we were loaded on a ship for Africa and after 23 days landed at Oran, North Africa. That was part of a plan to fool the Germans when they saw all the troops sailing in through the Strait of Gibralter. Then after about 5 weeks we were sent across the desert to Casablanica and shipped to South Wales and later to England. While in Africa I got some sickness which I suppose was flu related and several of us were put in a dark tent to keep us isolated. They gave us some medicine that seemed to bring us out but made us sort of dizzy and hard to walk straight, we would bump into each other and objects. I was not afraid to die but sort of wondered if I would ever get out of that dark tent or see my home and Church again and was somewhat discouraged. Some Arab on hills had some roosters that crowed and crowed and it sounded like home. It seemed the Lord used that to encourage me and I got well and went through the war and back home and to my home Church again. Since that time I had rather hear a rooster crow than a church organ.

Our outfit went across the English Channel a week after "D" day and became involved. in building bridges, fixing roads, transporting equipment, etc. but never got involved in fighting. At one time in France we were operating several small sawmills and sawing lumber to repair and build bridges to replace the blown out ones so supplies could be transported to the front lines. Some of those little sawmills were something to see but they did saw lumber. We went through France and Belgium and by the winter of 4445 we were in Germany and toward spring I got sick with Yellow Jaundice and was sent back to Paris and then to England and back to the US and then given a Medical Discharge one week before the war closed in August. While in Europe I gave out many Gospel Tracts which I ordered from the Pilgrim Tract Soc. in English, French and German and I became more interested in reaching people with the message of Jesus Christ.

When I returned home my father and Lester had bought my uncle Horace Shafer's farm and we three planned to increase farming activities but I seemed to be in internal distress and discontent and felt rather out of place and constantly faced with the question; "Do I need to farm and do what I would like as much as people need to know about Jesus Christ?" During the year 1946 I gave my father and Lester a hard time because of my internal distress and restlessness and in December I went to Randleman, NC to help print Gospel Tracts at the Pilgrim Tract Soc. where we shipped many millions of them to every continent in the world and many countries within those continents. I became a machine operator and general mechanic.

Brother Julius Stone, a World War I navy veteran founded the Pilgrim Tract Society as a result of visiting old people's homes and institutions and finding many people who were facing the end of this life and not ready to meet God. He began printing simple Bible messages with a typewriter and going to these places and passing them out. After this he bought a small printing press and kept adding machinery and volunteer workers until on March 15, 1938 he organized the Pilgrim Tract Society and began reaching out in the US and sending overseas in other languages.

 became acquainted with a fine Christian girl who worked here by the name of Gladys Kindle>', a native of North Carolina who helped me much in removing from my life many things that may hinder our witness for Christ. Gladys came to work at PTS in the fall of 1944 and began filling orders for Tracts and later wrapped packages for overseas mailing at which she was expert. The 4-pound package seemed to be the most effective and made it through the foreign Post Office easier than most any other. Gladys also ran printing machinery and in later years was secretary. By the time I came in '46 the production had grown to 15 or 20 million Gospel Tracts a year. We were married on September 29, 1947 and served the Lord at the Pilgrim Tract Soc. together until her death in 1994.

In early January of 1955 my father, just after his 70th birthday, fell in the cowstable and broke his hip. After an operation he healed up well until about May when it was discovered he had cancer of the spleen. From then on he began to go down hill until on August 11 1955, he went to be with the Lord whom he loved and served from his early youth. This, of course made it necessary to settle up the estate. Father willed me enough to pay for the house which we had bought, which incidentally is next door to the Tract Society and Lester the farm. Lester was the Executor and we settled without any disagreement but after the settlement he gave me a check out of his personal account which amounted to more than my share of the inheritance; after the way I treated him in earlier years. How many brothers do you know like that? Once when my mother-in-law looked at a picture of him with a beard, she thought it looked like a picture of Jesus. I agree with her except, through these many years I conclude it goes farther than the picture.

By the Lord's help and Brother Stone's management we increased our production and efficiency and also added many more foreign languages and freight shipping points. About 1968 Mrs. Stone began to fail and at Thanksgiving time in 1971 she went to be with the Lord whom she loved. Brother Stone began to fail and the next year, 1972, on September 8th He went to be with the Lord and left us like sheep without anearthly shepherd, but the Lord was with us. The first thing we did was hold a prayer Eieetmg and ask for God's guidance. Since Gladys and I had more unbroken service than anyone else and I was vice president, the Pilgrim Tract Soc. just sort of fell into our lap and we felt responsible and tried to carry it on. The workers joined in and we continued printing Gospel Tracts and shipping them all over the world. We were slow to make changes in those areas that were successful but changed a few things which proved otherwise. However I was not the manager Brother Stone was and we were unable to hold the production level we had previously. As printing technology changed we felt it necessary to began changing from what is called

'Letterpress' to Offset' which is the modern method of printing and we had some experiences. Do some of you remember changing from horses to tractor power on the farm? Anyway the Lord helped us do it and it seems to be a better way.

In the spring of 1990 my wife, Gladys, seemed to have more pain in her back and hips which we thought was Arthritis but later found she had cancer of the bone marrow. She spent 2 weeks in the Baptist Hospital in WinstonSalem and by the Power if God recovered remarkably and went back to work at the PTS

During the fall and winter of 1991 we added some more machinery and had 2 of our roofs repaired on the printshop building and were pleased with the improvements. On February 10th 1992 we tried out some more of our lately purchased machinery and were pleased with the results. The next morning about 6:15, February 11th The building caught fire and burned to the ground destroying practically everything except the little money we had in the bank and our friends. Since we were unable to help the Firemen, we gathered in a local church and held a prayermeeting and ask for God's guidance as to what to do next. Everyone seemed to believe it was God! s will to continue and try to rebuild. We rented the basement of a grocery store which proved to be a fine place for just $300. .a month, purchased a few pieces of machinery and in a few weeks were back printing the Gospel again. God moved on the people and without our asking for anything, people began giving us money. The Chamber of Commerce of Randleman with the Lion's Club and the Churches of our area put on a Benefit Supper and raised $10,000. for us to rebuild. People and Churches from everywhere sent us money. Among them, Richard Petty, the well known race car driver gave us $26,000. and ask that we not give him any publicity. Other individuals gave sizable sums to help us. We were surprised at the number of people who were interested in what we were doing to spread the Gospel. By April 15 of 1993 we were in our new building with no debts. God still works miracles.

In early December of 1992 Gladys woke up with terrible pain in her hip. It took us about an hour to get about 15 feet to her chair in the kitchen. It proved to be a broken hip which happened without fall or strain on our part. The hospital has a name for it which I can't remember. They replaced the hip ball and after another week in the hospital she came home and took up her work again, writing many letters to friends and supporters of the Tract Society but was not able to go about as good as before. After she was no longer able to use the typewriter she wrote many letters and cards by hand and made many phone calls to promote the Kingdom of God until a day or two before she left this world from our kitchen, while I held her head in my hand, on August 13, 1994 to be with Jesus whom she loved and served here at the Pilgrim Tract Society for 49 years and 10 months. Her relatives and I laid her body to rest in the cemetery .of the church where she went in her youth, Canaan United Methodist Church, about 25 miles south of Randleman. Many friends helped with the funeral and expenses.

I, and the Tract Society, of course suffered loss but the Lord stood by us and comforted us by His Spirit and we continued printing and sending out the Gospel over the world. I have come to greatly appreciate the comfort of the Holy Spirit since she has gone and have not found the loneliness and distress that many told me I would because the Lord seemed to fill the gap.

The purpose of the Scriptures, our forefathers, the Hepburn Baptist Church where I grew up and received my Spiritual start, my life and this article are to point people to Jesus Christ the Saviour of all who will put their trust in Him. Therefore, let us who are "risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your (our) affection on things above, not on things on the earth.!! Colossians, 3:1&2.