Memory is a chameleon, taking many forms. We remember sights from the past as clearly as those seen yesterday. But memories are also wrapped in scent and sound and feel.
Marvin Overton’s 8 hp Model 44 Cushman engine (read about it and other Cushman engines) triggered an unusual memory, one as unimaginable to kids today as having their gas pumped and windshields washed. Marvin remembers attending grade school a block away from the repair shop where the Cushman was used more than 60 years ago. If the engine was started and run during the school day, he remembers hearing it.
I like to picture a boy of 8 or 9, daydreaming in a classroom with blackboards behind the teacher’s desk. Portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hang on the wall. On a spring day, or one in early fall, the windows are open. I imagine the engine starting a block away and the boy’s attention being suddenly diverted from a daydream.
But the thing I like the best about that scene is knowing how quiet the town had to be in order for that sound to tease its way down a block and into a schoolroom’s open window. There were no vehicles racing down a nearby highway at 70 miles an hour. Trash pickup was not accompanied by the cacophony today’s garbage trucks produce. Aircraft were few and far between and produced little sound, compared to today’s jets.
Nostalgia fueled by memory drives the old iron hobby. As we consider a restored relic, memories give us context. They tell us how the piece was used, its importance in a family’s life or farm or small business, its essentiality during harvest. If the sound of an 8 hp engine starting was imprinted on a boy’s consciousness, you can be sure that was a very big engine in his little town.
Fewer and fewer folks in this hobby have firsthand memories of steam engines or hay tools or gas engines. It’s a safe bet that those who do would be happy to share them with an appreciative audience. When you see them at a show this summer, ask questions. Try to form a picture in your mind; imagine the sounds and scents and sights the old timers describe. Use memory to bring new life to old treasures!
Leslie C. McManus