Like Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere, man” and I’m here to report that the old iron hobby is alive and well. Visits to shows and museums in the past year have taken me from one coast to the other. What have I found? People busily, happily engaged in preserving a way of life.
Talk up this hobby for very long and you’re sure to run into somebody worried near to death over the shortage of young people among collector ranks. Sometimes fear runs on autopilot. What I’ve seen in the past year suggests an infusion of new blood. A certain segment of the population seems to be escaping the ruckus of modern times by slipping into old clothes and old iron.
New displays and buildings are popping up at shows all over the country. The Connecticut Antique Machinery Club unveils a new sawmill exhibit this fall. Way out west at Antique Powerland in Brooks, Ore., plans are underway for a museum to house the group’s drag saw collection. At the Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Association’s show in Oakley, a new building provides shelter for the veneer mill and sawmill, and seating for onlookers. At Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, new signs dotting the Old Threshers show grounds explain vintage tractors and equipment to those new to the hobby.
These are not the easiest times to grow and expand, but enthusiasts are working with renewed vigor and remarkable resourcefulness (in some cases, the words sly, crafty and wily come to mind) to achieve their goals. Shows are becoming more family friendly, new ideas are getting a second look and dusty old rules are being aired out. Clubs are finding that when it comes to expansion projects, investments pay dividends. New projects bring new crops of volunteers and visitors.
At a recent show, I visited with three generations of one family. Each man collected engines; each was an active and valued participant in the family hobby. In the steam engine area, a trio of engineers – granddad and two teenage grandchildren – bent my ear about their shared hobby. Over on the field, a young man drove a tractor from his grandfather’s collection while his grandmother presided over her display of tractor and implement seats. Generation gap? Not where there’s old iron! FC