Farm Heritage Days Keeps Rural Heritage Alive

Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club's Farm Heritage Days remember the past

He's decades younger than many engine show enthusiasts, but 5-year-old Joey Roop of Walkersville, Md., is already a major fan of vintage iron

He's decades younger than many engine show enthusiasts, but 5-year-old Joey Roop of Walkersville, Md., is already a major fan of vintage iron. He travels with his parents, John and Anne Marie Roop, to several shows each year, amusing himself with his collection of miniature gas engines.

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When John Roop of Walkersville, Md., takes his 1930 Reid oil field engine to an antique machinery show, his wife Anne Marie and their 5-year-old son, Joey, go with him. 

A member and former president of the Maryland Antique Tractor Club, John and his family attended the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club's annual Farm Heritage Days, held the fourth weekend in September. Joey brought along his miniature steam engines and impressed visitors with his accurate imitation of the sound of his dad's oil field engine pumping away. The family had already spent a week in Sistersville, W.Va., at the annual West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival. An October trip took them to the annual show at the John K. Parlett Farm Life Museum at Charlotte Hall, Md.

"The whole family's involved," John said. "It means a lot to us to go out and show the public how things used to be. We hope our son takes an interest."

John developed a love of antique tractors and engines while growing up on a 400-acre farm in New Windsor, Md. Today he lives in a suburban townhouse, but is able to keep his collectibles at the family farm. He is particularly interested in oil field engines.

"Allen Etzler of New Market (Md.) got me interested," he said. "He's the 'doctor' and he helped me get this one running. I like the engines and what they did. They were used in northwestern Pennsylvania. They ran for years on natural gas from the well head, and were used by companies and private individuals. People used the natural gas in their homes, and sold the oil. This one runs on propane."

John, who drives a truck for a bottled water company, said the engines are getting harder to find. He has given several to museums.

"OSHA shut the engines down, and the EPA is cracking down on them," he said. "If you don't gather them up, they'll be gone. Future generations won't know about them."

Mark Straitz of Linthicum, Md., brought his Hercules 1-1/2 hp gasoline engine to the Heritage Days Show. He lives in a suburban Baltimore neighborhood, and, like John, is anxious to keep the interest in old engines alive.

"My dad started collecting gas engines when I was about 12," he said. "After his death, we had to sell them all off. This is the last one in the collection. It's unrestored: you can still see the original dark paint. It was built around 1912, and was used for anything you use electric power for today."

Farm Heritage Days included a modest collection of tractors and other farm-related items, along with a flea market and crafts tables. There were also vintage farm equipment demonstrations, hayrides, and a blacksmith shop.

John Stubbs of Sandy Spring, Md., brought his 1915 Peerless traction steam engine to help with the threshing demonstration.

"It has an 18 hp drawbar and 50 hp on the pulley belt," he said. "I've had it 11 years, and it took two years to restore it. You're constantly fooling with it. If you don't love work, then you don't need a steam engine. It's the only one I have. I worked around one as a kid on a farm, and I promised myself if I ever had enough money, I'd buy one."

Albert McCracken of Cooksville, Md., who says he collects "anything," brought his 1910 Hocking Valley cider mill to Farm Heritage Days. Using a blend of five varieties of apples, he and his assistants turned out the sweet-smelling beverage by the gallon.

"We do a lot of demonstrations at shows and schools," he said. "But we can't give the cider away because state law says it must be pasteurized."

His mill, he said, is typical of those once used on farms.

"This one is pretty much in its original condition," he said. "Hocking Valley made mills for quality, not price. This one's made of cast iron, oak and chestnut."

Farm Heritage Days is held at Mount Pleasant Farm, a historic site in Woodstock now fringed by suburban housing developments. In 1692, Thomas Browne, a Patuxent Ranger, was commissioned to survey the headwaters of the Patuxent River and to keep watch on Indians in the area. He received Ranger's Ridge as a land-grant, and built a log cabin on a hill overlooking two streams. The farm remained in the Browne family for eight generations until 1992, when it passed to the Howard County Conservancy. The original log cabin is part of the current 19th century farm house, which is surrounded by century-old outbuildings. The Conservancy, a non-profit group, has agreed to preserve the property in its natural state and opens it to the public for historic, environmental and agricultural programs.

James Clark, who served for 20 years in the Maryland State Senate, is a fifth generation Howard County farmer, a member of the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club, and chairman of the Conservancy's board of trustees. He has a strong interest in agricultural land preservation and saving the area's farm heritage.

"We have a working relationship with the Conservancy," he said. "We've got enthusiastic club members and we depend on them. Howard County has a rich farm heritage, and we're trying to keep it alive so people can see how things were."

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The Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club was founded in 1995, and has more than 100 active members today. John and Virginia Frank were co-chairs of this year's Heritage Days.

"Our mission is to develop a farm heritage museum," Virginia says. "We're working with the county to find land to put it on. This is the fourth annual show we've had – they've all been at Mount Pleasant. Some of our members belong to the Conservancy, and we work with them. When we get our land for the museum, we don't want to do just our era. We want to look at each century. Maybe a log cabin and farming, then into bigger homes and what a farmer's wife would do. Maybe a grist mill, a sawmill, a one-room schoolhouse ... We have people calling us all the time, offering to donate items." Finding the land and funding the project are major hurdles. The club holds an annual consignment sale in April as its main fund-raiser, but there are many challenges to meet before the club's dream can be realized.

"We haven't put a date on our goal," Virginia says. "But our show is growing, and we are doing more advertising. We have high hopes, and we're enthusiastic." FC 

For more information:
-The Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club, P.O. Box 335, West Friendship, MD, 21794.
-The Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum, 12985 Frederick Road, West Friendship, MD 21794; (410) 489-2345; online at
www.farmheritage.org.
-The Howard County Conservancy, P.O. Box 175, Woodstock, MD 21163; (410) 465-8877; online at
www.hcconservancy.org. 

Jill Teunis is a freelance writer living in Damascus, Md. She is interested in writing about communities, their people and their history.