Following in PAP'S FOOTSTEPS

Case 50 HP steam traction engine

Dianne Crater

Content Tools

406 Lynnewood Watsontown, Pennsylvania 17777

As a little boy, I lived close to my grandfather Pap. Every day after school the bus would drop me off at my driveway, and instead of going right home, I would take a slight detour to Pap's house. I would sit with Pap for hours and listen to his stories of growing up in 'the good old days.'' I sat and listened for hours to the tales he would tell. At that age I don't think I really understood what it would be like to work a steam engine, but I still loved to hear all about it. During the summer months I would stick like glue to Pap, and as I grew older I wanted to be just like him, do all the things he had done and see all the places he'd been. Even then I realized that those old days were left only in Pap's mind and in his stories; when he passed away the verbal pictures he painted of a landscape dominated by steam engines and other equipment would fade and be gone forever.

One crisp autumn day, Grampa Crater took me to the Nittany Antique Machinery Association Show at Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. Then came the biggest thrill for a ten-year-old boy. I found myself surrounded by row after row of the old things my Pap told me about dusty threshing machines, shingle mills and steam engines belching smoke. I felt like a kid with a quarter in a candy store. All Pap's accounts of the past came to life as I looked at all those real tractors, engines, farm equipment just as Pap had described, but that I thought I'd never see. I thought I must have died and gone to Heavenall those stories surely were true, and here I was face to face with the big, hot, dirty steam engines! It was all Grampa Crater could do to get me in the car to take me home. I didn't want to leave. After I got home I ran to Pap to tell him all about it. I remember to this day the sparkle in his eyes and I know it must have made him really proud to know that I genuinely enjoyed his storytelling, and I got to see what he was talking about. The only thing that bothered me was that he had gotten to use one of the big engines and I didn't. But I guess I was content to settle with Pap's memories.

August 8, 1993: Loyalsock Valley Antique Machinery Association Show at Loyalsockville, Pa. Mark H. Bowersox sitting on 1915 Case 50 HP steam traction engine owned by Dan Carey, Williamsport, Pa. Photo by Dianne Crater.

After graduating I tried to follow in Pap's footsteps. I joined the Navy as he had done in World War II, and he had the privilege of seeing me in my uniform before he passed away. I forgot all about the 'good old days' for awhile! I guess that without Pap around I didn't have anybody with whom to reminisce. While in the Navy I put Pap's memories aside, but never forgot the things he taught me. Then I met a shipmate who was also an antique tractor nut. It was easy for us to sit and talk for hours about the shared experiences of our childhood. Like me, he too had learned from his grandfather. I eventually transferred off that ship, and again had no one to share my love of antique tractors.

As time went by, my mother for some strange, unknown reason, developed an interest in antique machinery. (MY MOTHER!!! MY MOTHER!!! liking old greasy, noisy tractors and steam engines!) She was attending the Loyalsock Valley Antique Machinery Association's Early Days at Loyalsockville, Pennsylvania and other shows, meeting folks who owned those great big wonderful machines. She remembered how mesmerized I was by Pap and his talk about the old days, and asked me one day if I would like to learn how to work a steam engine. I believe I had total heart failure. Here I was a man with only memories of Pap's yarns getting the chance of a lifetime. I jumped at the opportunity to learn. I was starting my second childhood, and what a way to start it off learning how to work a steam engine that many years ago my Pap had used and was the subject of many delightful stories for me. It is said there are only a few things that happen in a man's life worth recalling. The highlights of my life have been my marriage to Karen, my daughter growing up, and the anticipation of the birth of my son. But learning how to fire that Case 50 HP steam engine and bring it to life was the icing on the cake!

Today as I watch the crowd from that platform, I know what they are thinking as they stop to stare at the engine. They are remembering the days when they used to work with one. It gives me a feeling of deep satisfaction to know that by taking an interest in history, and by running this engine, I can make it possible for other folks to remember the stories handed down to them by their grandfathers. My greatest thrill is to have an old-timer ask, 'How about giving the whistle a blow for old time sake?' Then I'll reach up and grab the chain and give a pull. The steam races upward through the polished brass whistle to make that distinctive resound, each one unique to its own engine. Then the old-timer looks up and gives me a nod, and says, 'Thanks for the memory,' and walks away grinning from ear to ear. Many people come up and ask questions about the steam engine. I stop what I'm doing, hop down and tell them all I know. Then cameras appear, several pictures are taken with the kids and maybe with Grandpa standing by the engine.

It may be a dirty job and a long day on the steam engine, but after being with her all day, I go home knowing that today I have brightened the day for an old-timer or a little kid, because I was there to make it happen for them. Seeing the appreciation in people's faces makes all the work and time worthwhile.

There seems to be an upsurge in interest in history and preserving traditions of the past. I am 28 years old and I love this stuff. I feel that if we as a group of antique buffs could somehow start to get younger generations involved they would see how much fun old machinery can be, not to mention the camaraderie and fellowship of other members of the many antique machinery associations developing here in Pennsylvania. When my children are old enough, I'm going to give them the opportunity to be around antique machinery so they too can take it to heart and try to keep alive some of my dreams. I can now say that I know what Pap felt like when I, with childlike wonder, asked about the steam engines. It must have felt great for him because it sure does feel good for me.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we can find something of value in preserving the past through antique machinery. For me it was in knowing that I got to follow in Pap's footsteps.

I would also like to say thank you to those people who have made it possible for me to live my childhood dreams:

Grampa Clyde Crater, who took me to my first show; Fred Passeri, who took me for my first ride on a steam engine; Chad Frederickson, who gave me a lesson on operating a steam engine Dan Carey, who let me learn how to operate his engine with John Easton's assistance; my mother, Dianne Crater, who put me in touch with all the right people. And last but not least, to my Pap, Harvey Bowersox, thanks for all the good memories and for the dream.

Here I was a man with only memories of Pap's yarns getting the chance of a lifetime.