Connecticut Antique Machinery Association More Than a Club

The Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, or CAMA, is committed to building a permanent display

The Cream Hill Agricultural School

The Cream Hill Agricultural School, which operated from 1845-69, was surrounded by vintage cars during the 26th annual CAMA Fall Festival in 2010.

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If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the old saying goes, then it must be a duck. In the case of the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, it looks like an old iron club and for sure it sounds like one – but it’s actually much more than a club. 

Housed on compact, historic grounds just north of Kent, Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, or CAMA, operates as a full-fledged museum. Buoyed by a remarkably committed membership, the museum’s buildings and displays are open to the public five days a week from May through October. Volunteers man the displays, greeting visitors and answering questions.

“Ten years ago we made a commitment to be a museum, not a club,” says Pat Moran, a 25-year CAMA member from Seymour, Conn. That decision positioned CAMA neatly with two other historic attractions adjacent to the association’s grounds: The Sloane-Stanley Museum, housing an extensive collection of early hand tools, and the Kent Iron Furnace, where pig iron was produced for almost 70 years, both operated by the state of Connecticut.

CAMA is also home to Cream Hill School, one of the country’s first agricultural schools. Dating to the 1840s, the school’s original structure is open to visitors. Displays there showcase advanced farming techniques of the era, as well as artifacts of daily living in the 1800s.

Nestled in among trees on eight acres bordering the Housatonic River are nine carefully considered buildings and structures housing varied displays. A tractor barn, oil field pump house, a very fine mining museum (Connecticut is the birthplace of America’s mining industry), blacksmith shop, stationary steam engine hall and three buildings full of single-cylinder engines offer depth and more than a little charm.

“They took their time and spent the money to do more than just build pole barns,” Pat says. “It’s classy. There’s even a restoration building that’s heated in the winter. Some members keep their tools there to work on CAMA-financed restoration projects.” Sweat equity has made the museum what it is today. “In the 1980s they were putting up almost a building a year,” he adds.

“There’s nothing else like this around here,” says Russ Bailas, Easton, Conn., a 12-year CAMA member. “These are real diehard people. They’ve put their heart and soul into preserving this old iron.”

Rare gas engines

The association’s three-day Fall Festival, held on the last full weekend of September, takes its chances with the weather. In 2010, CAMA won. The days were bright and warm, and the air sparkled with the colors of Monarch butterflies and falling leaves.

Early morning found Al Provenzano oiling an exceptionally rare Otto gas engine. Built in 1895, the 3-1/2 hp engine (built by Otto Gas Engine Works, Philadelphia) was purchased new by Harvard University for instructional purposes in the school’s engineering department. “They used it to teach students how to calculate fuel usage and horsepower,” Al explains. “They even had some special mechanical devices they used with it to determine horsepower and fuel ratio to horsepower, and I have those too.”

Al’s Otto was outfitted with a natural gas carburetion system. Most Ottos with that system ran on “city gas.” His has a belt-driven oiler (also called a mechanical oiler), predecessor of the drip oiler. “The belt runs off the sideshaft, which drives the mechanical oiler,” he says. “Otto stopped making mechanical oilers in about 1896.” The engine also has a connecting rod wipe oiler.

Five countries – the U.S., France, Germany, U.K and Italy – are represented in Al’s collection of Otto engines. “When I traveled to a show in Europe I saw an Otto made in Germany,” he says. “They’re different from the U.S.-made engines. The early German Otto only has one flywheel. In fact, the Ottos made in all those foreign countries all have single flywheels. Later Ottos have two flywheels. “They’re nice,” he says. “But don’t compare to early German Ottos.”

Return of the Centaur

Unusual machines were in no short supply at the CAMA Fall Festival, but Doug DeCosta’s Centaur stopped showgoers dead in their tracks. Built by the Central Tractor Co., Greenwich, Ohio, (later purchased by LeRoi) in the 1920s, the articulated garden tractor sported a gleaming restoration.

“We found it in a chicken house 5 miles from my house,” Doug says. “It hadn’t been run in more than 35 years. In the winter of 2009, snow caved in the chicken house roof and I was helping a buddy clean that up when he drug it out. It had canvas over it and when he peeled that off, I said ‘Oh my God, it’s beautiful!’ It was rusty but it was complete.”

With that, the Centaur found a new home. Doug’s friend gave it to him, “if I promised not to take it to the junkyard,” Doug recalls. The junkyard was the last thing on his mind. He jumped right into restoration, tracking down a replacement drive chain and replacing the mag (the engine was otherwise in good shape).

Five months later, the restoration was complete. Doug showed it off to former owner Ed Kordys. “I thought he was going to cry when he saw it,” he says. The Centaur generates 400-900 rpm. A unique design feature ensures a sedate pace. “I only drive it at about 1 mph,” Doug says, “because it has no brakes. To stop it, you just yank on reverse. That’s why I had to fix everything in the transmission!”

Saw and splitter

Vintage gas engines provide the power for a century-old log saw and an equally ancient log splitter. The 1906 log saw manufactured by A.W. Gray & Son is powered by a 6 hp Simplicity engine; the handsomely restored splitter is driven by a 15 hp Sattley.

“This splitter is the kind of thing you’d have found in the railyards or at a hardware store,” explains Art Downs, Warren, Conn., who put the unit through its paces at the show. The big Sattley that powered it came from a farm in Brookfield, Conn., where it was the biggest engine in town. “It was delivered by steam locomotive,” Art says. Over the years it was used to run a sawmill and fill silos.

Eventually the owner disassembled the engine, but the project stalled out. “We found the cylinder head in an abandoned chicken house; it had fallen through the floor,” Art says. “The magneto was on the mantle in the house. The pieces were scattered over two properties. The owner was the kind of guy who took a lot of stuff apart but was not so much on putting it back together.” FC 

For more information: Connecticut Antique Machinery Assn., 31 Kent-Cornwall Rd. (Rt. 7), Kent, CT; mailing address:  P.O. Box 425, Kent, CT 06757; phone (860) 927-0050; www.ctamachinery.com. Fall Festival, Sept. 23-25, 2011.