Leave your mouse ears at home: there's more than one magic kingdom in Florida. Head south about an hour out of Orlando, and rediscover the past at the Florida Flywheelers' show grounds.
At a 160-acre site near Fort Meade, the 1,600 members of the Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club have re-created an old-time village. A blacksmith hammers at his forge. An 80-year-old steam-powered sawmill cuts through logs like a knife through butter (though with slightly more noise). The hardware store carries a full inventory of long-forgotten tools. Stained glass windows are propped against a wall at the church, awaiting installation. And over at Fred's garage, a mechanic is sprawled beneath a Model A.
In just three years' time, a village has sprouted from a field once thick with palmettos. Did the Flywheelers use magic dust? No, something more powerful: volunteers.
"We've got a lot of great members who just pitched in and went to work," said Flywheelers president Dick Edwards. "Everything here has been done totally by volunteers."
The volunteers have a vested interest in their village. Each building is conceived, designed and erected by an individual member, who also finances the undertaking. The structure then becomes the property of the club, but the builder retains control of the structure for the duration of his life.
"When there's a member who's interested in a certain thing, a specialty collection that goes along with farming and rural life," Dick said, "he can put up his own building, and house his collection in it. The club will own the building, but the guy who built it controls it, and he can pass that on to his children, if he wants."
The result is a quick-growing, though carefully planned, village. All building proposals must win approval from a building committee. Several are in the works: a funeral parlor, sheriff's office and jail, livery stable, ice cream parlor, bank and one-room schoolhouse may be in place by year end.
In contrast to other communitieses, this village discourages bureaucracy and red tape.
"This has all been done on a handshake," Dick said.
Each of the completed buildings are sturdy, lasting structures, furnished with historically authentic pieces and, in some cases, extensive collections. Many – like a tobacco barn modeled on an old Amish barn in Pennsylvania, and a covered bridge modeled after one in Indiana – are copies of actual buildings. The village presents an enduring and attractive way for members to showcase their collections.
"It's probably unique to this club," Dick said. "We don't know of anybody else that's doing it this way."
And that's just fine by the Flywheelers. Since buying land for their show grounds three years ago, the club's directors have traveled the country, attending shows and meets; gathering ideas.
"We don't want to be just like all the others," Dick said. "That's why we made the village. We figured we have the grounds; let's do it. It'll just be its own vintage."
Flywheeler Park also includes more familiar features: a large area for exhibits and flea market offerings, covered dining pavilion, shaded woods where campers and motor homes settle in, and a tractor pull track. Plans call for construction of a building to house permanent engine exhibits, installation of electric service throughout the exhibit area, and expansion of the dining pavilion.
The board hopes to create a lasting home for a diverse group of collectors.
"We really want to keep it as rule-free as is practical and safe," Dick said. "We don't want to exclude anybody."
By all accounts, the club's unique approach is a success.
"At last year's show, we had about 440 exhibitors," Dick said. "This year, we have close to 600."
1897 Sears kettle richly detailed
A century ago, this kettle would have been put to work rendering lard, making lye soap or boiling clothes. At the recent Florida Flywheelers show, it drew a crowd of onlookers who marvelled at its detail.
"We've only seen one other one like it," said owner June Morris, Powell, Tenn. She and her husband, Joe, found the kettle in an antique store in Nebraska. The 45-gallon kettle weighs 395 pounds. Sold by Sears and Roebuck, it came in five sizes (this one sold for $22.68 in 1897).
The motif of ears of corn and ox heads has survived the passage of time. "It only had a few rust spots," June said. "We just cleaned it up, and put linseed oil on it, and later we added a pipe so people could see how it worked, with the fire built underneath it." FC