Gammon P.O. Box 375 Oilville, Virginia 23129
The engines were revved up and running full tilt. The sound on the track where the tractors were lined up, waiting their turns to pull, mingled with the noise from the center of the field. There a constant putt-putt hummed as visitors strolled by taking in the sights.
Occasionally the deep sounds of the steam whistle announced to the crowd the sawmill was sawing boards. The noise from the shingle mill added to the din. All these sounds co-mingled with the smells and sights that proclaimed another Field Day of the Past.
In October, more than 12,000 visitors and guests converged on the rolling hills near Centerville in Goochland County, Virginia, where the third annual Field Day of the Past was being held. Each year this event, sponsored by the Rockville-Centerville Steam & Gas Historical Association, recreates eras from America's past. Antique tractors, trucks, and cars, construction equipment line the field to present an image of the American workplace since the Industrial Revolution.
'Field Day allows those people who worked this equipment and machinery to reminisce about the past,' said Joseph E. Liesfeld, Jr., president of the Association and one of the principal organizers of the event. 'It also teaches the younger generation what happened in agricultural and industrial settings during the years soon after the turn of the century.'
In three years the scope of Field Day of the Past has grown to encompass many phases of American and Virginia history. The first show in 1992 brought together steam and gas engine enthusiasts, allowing them to display their antique engines.
By 1994 the show had grown considerably. Last year the event conjured up images of the old time county fairs. More than 200 exhibitors from across Virginia and from as far away as Florida came together. Exhibits included a 1928 Hercules gas engine, a 1913 Williams grist mill, a lime spreader, a 1920s Hocking Valley ensilage cutter, an Ottawa log saw, toy steam engines and antique sewing machines. A dog powered farm treadmill, butter churns and butter making accessories, feed grinder, corn shellers and sundry other pieces of equipment were also part of the show.
The annual antique tractor pull is still the primary drawing card for Field Day and the tractor and small engine exhibits still hold their places of honor on the field. But other attractions are growing in popularity. The sawmill is powered by a steam engine built in the 1940s (see photo). The sawmill hands lend an authentic air to the operation. Many of them remember what it was like to earn a living working at the mill. They used to do this for a living. Their vocabulary is steeped in phrases like 'boiler pressure' and 'slab planks,' and as they work they can tell spectators what it was like to leave home on Monday to live and work at the mill until Friday afternoon.
The mule pull, a new event in 1994, recalled the times when mules were an integral part of farming life.
Many of the other stationary exhibits at Field Day are just as real. Near the creek, under the overhanging oak limbs, an antique washer used in the days of gold mining in Goochland County, Virginia, is a silent monument to the lure of gold.
A sorghum mill and the shingle mill, antique rock crushers, hay balers and road machines underline the fact that earning a living used to entail a hard day's labor.
In addition to the antique equipment which symbolized a past now rapidly disappearing in the wake of modernization and industrialization, Field Day also looked back farther into history. Historical demonstrations and reenactments allow guests glimpses into the camp life of General Robert E. Lee and offered insight into transportation via canal boats, once an important mode of transportation in Virginia and the nation.
Indian camps, Scottish Highlanders, fur trappers and pioneers, biplanes and other antique aircraft, and old fire equipment took visitors back to the past. The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang illustrated the place blacks once were held as railroad workers.
'Field Day is not just a show,' Liesfeld explained, 'it's the memory of who we are and where have been. We want to represent history the way it was and emphasize that everyone had a part in making it.'
It's a concept which seems to be working. Wide eyed kids sucking sorghum cane are led around by parents who stop and point. Old timers gather to relive the spent days of their youth. And everyone goes home waiting for next year's show.
The 4th annual Field Day of the Past is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, October 21 and 22, 1995 in Centerville. For more information call (804) 784-4195.