A Boost for the Shows

Sawmill

Sawmill in operation at Southwestern Gas & Steam Museum.

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Steam and gas shows received a big boost from American Way, passenger magazine of American Airlines, which featured an article by James C. Simmons on the Southwestern Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum, 2040 N. Santa Fe Avenue, Vista, California.

The article appeared in the July 1984 issue with a lot of pictures. It also told readers of the Stem gas show directory, which we deeply appreciate.

Bill May, who is the man to contact for information about the museum and its shows, sent IMA copies of the magazine, and photos of steam which appear with this article. He was very happy for the coverage, and he should be. The story was very well done.

Southwestern has the biggest California collection of antique farm machinery and steam engines, the article notes. It continues:

'Located on 35 acres of land that are planted each year for harvesting operations, the museum is home to more than 300 pieces of horse-drawn, steam, and gas equipment plus a country kitchen and parlor. Twice a year, in June and October, local farmers and their families get together for a four-day celebration of a life style that once prevailed on the American farm. The antique machinery, carefully restored by volunteers, is brought out and demonstrated. The old machines do their work, as they did 50 years or more ago, threshing wheat, baling hay, shelling and grinding corn, sawing logs, and performing countless other odd jobs.'

That description of what takes place at the Southwestern museum applies to countless other rallies, shows and threshers that are listed in the annual Stem gas directory. The article says further:

'The themes for all these shows are unabashed nostalgia and celebration of the values of an earlier America. Former farm boys now in their 60s, often with grandchildren in tow, rub shoulders with city dwellers in an atmosphere scented with the pungent aromas of wood smoke, steam, and hot cylinder oil. These are hands-on affairs. Visitors are encouraged to climb right up into the cab of an operating steam engine and feel the heat from the firebox and the rhythm of the metal floor rocking under their feet, and to listen to the song of its exhaust. Women in calico dresses and poke bonnets demonstrate candle making, quilting, spinning, and other domestic crafts, while men put on displays of broom making, horseshoe forging, and chair caning.'

Among the possessions of which Southwestern is proudest is a 1917 Holt hillside combine, in working order, one of only three in the country that can be put into operation. This was exhibited last year for the first time.

One of the persons quoted in the article by Simmons is Virgil White, a school district mechanic in Los Angeles, who owns five threshers, six tractors, 11 trucks, 30 pieces of construction equipment, and a crane, all pre-1930. He says:

'My wife sometimes gets pretty upset with me. She never knows what I might bring home. Last time it was a 1925 steam shovel. I put the machines in running order and take them around to the farm-equipment and steam-engine shows to show off and maybe trade or sell. It ain't like collecting stamps, that's for sure.'