Elmer Packheiser puts his stories in book form

Shawn Hardy
This photo of Elmer Packheiser and his parents, Montana homesteaders Oscar and Ovina Packheiser, is on the cover of his book 'An American Life.'

Elmer Packheiser's life is full of stories that he's told family and friends over the years.

The tales range from his Prussian forefathers to homesteading in a two-room shack in Montana with his parents, from his days as a cowboy to serving as a Navy medic and from his career as an engineer to working to preserve Martin's Mill Bridge in Antrim Township.

Now, his accounts and photos to go with them are featured in a book entitled "An American Life." The 30-plus page volume was compiled and printed via the online service Shutterfly by his daughter, Rita Trenti.

A book-signing will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, June 16, in the dining room of Chambers Pointe at Menno Haven, Chambersburg, where he has lived for about a year. A copy also is being donated to the Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library in Greencastle, which he visited almost weekly while he and his wife, Doris, lived on West Weaver Road in Antrim Township. The Packheisers moved to the 6-acre tract in 1990.

His life 

"'An American Life' offers stories from my father's life as he followed the legacy instilled in him by his parents and grandparents to achieve the American dream of opportunity," according to Trenti.

"When he moved to Chambers Pointe at Menno Haven, it just seemed time to really write a book," she continued. "My mother always encouraged his stories and was very proud of his 'American life.'"

"This book is dedicated to my wonderful wife, Doris Regina Packheiser," reads the inscription on page 1. She died on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 2018.

After graduating from Missouri School of Mines with a degree in engineering, Packheiser entered the General Electric engineering training program then interviewed for a permanent position with the company's jet engine division.

"Since they had a good-looking secretary, I decided to accept the job," he writes before describing some of his work for GE.

The next paragraph begins, "By this time I was engaged to the good-looking secretary ..."

His career at GE advanced through jet engines to spacecraft, then he went to work for Westinghouse in the defense program before doing a stint as configuration manager for the Egyptian ground radar program.

His work based him in Philadelphia and Annapolis and when he was looking to retire "Greencastle seemed like a real nice town."

His engineering skills came in handy when Al Bonnell recruited him to help restore Martin's Mill Bridge, not far from his home on Weaver Road.

The Tuesday Bridge Club put new boards on the sides of the covered bridge and replaced the roof, completing the project for the span's 150th anniversary in 1999.

"I put the last nail in, I was proud they gave me that honor. We got her done just in time," recalled Packheiser, who also is proud of his involvement with Greencastle's Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Williamson Ruritan Club and teaching physics at Hagerstown Community College.

The book 

"My father's neighbor, Chris Neuschafer, who lived next door to them on West Weaver Road, was a history major in college. He worked through my father's notes and provided a draft of the first 10 pages of the book — my father's parents' history," according to Trenti.

She also drew on his speeches for Toastmasters back in the 1970s along with years of letters to friends and the grandkids.

Anyone interested in a copy can contact Trenti at rita.trenti410@gmail.com or 315-730-2781. The hardback is $25, while a Xerox-color copy is free.