Burgessville, Ontario, Canada
While riding around on our steam engine or tractor that Wally and I were exhibiting at the steam shows last year (1973) I got to thinking just how and why so many good people, young and old, and in all walks of life were busy doing just the same as we were doing. How did we get into this hobby? What was the very first reason that started us into collecting, cleaning, rebuilding and showing these grand old engines, be they large or small?
On a Sunday in 1962 in September, Blanche, Wally and I were visiting Jean and Bruce Kipp. Why were we visiting the Kipps? Well Blanche and Jean are sisters so that makes Bruce my brother-in-law. Now Bruce is a right good guy, he and I get along fine together, we don't agree on everything, neither do we disagree on everything. Jean and Bruce had been to a steam show in Milton on Labor Day, which I had never heard of before. Bruce, with great enthusiasm was telling me about all the gas engines that were there, all painted and running like new, also there was a whole row of tractors some of which he had never seen before all cleaned and painted and then he said there were more great big steam engines there than he had ever seen in his life. All the time he was telling me about the show I kept murmuring to myself ya ya I know, and then I told Bruce that when I was a kid we threshed and filled silo with steam, and that my Dad had a gas engine that used to run the orchard sprayer and pump water, that is after our windmill blew down, also we used it to buzz wood. I also could remember some of the old tractors. Our neighbor had an 8-16 Mogul, like the one Wally and I have now. I watched it steam and bounce and bang away while it filled my uncle's silo.
My Father and Mother bought the farm in 1913, which Blanche and I are still living on now. I was 6 years old when we moved here. Oh my gosh, I've nearly told you my age. Oh well, so what, I am certainly not bragging about being that old, but s I look back to my boyhood days I believe it was a good time to be born.
There was something about steam engines, tractors and gas engines that fascinated me. The days we threshed and filled silo were the biggest days of the year for me. I watched every move the engineer made while running the steam engine and in my dreams I often thought how wonderful it would be if I could have a steam engine all of my own, just to play with. At that time I never thought that dream would come true.
This gas engine that my Dad had was an International Famous Upright, the kind that never wore out. One day when Mother and Dad drove the horse and buggy to Woodstock, a distance of 11 miles, I got curious to see what was inside this engine, so I got the monkey wrench and an alligator wrench and hammer and cold chisel and proceeded to take the head off. (That was about all the tools my Dad had) When I got the head off I would turn the flywheels and watch the piston go up and down and I soon figured out why the engine would run. One afternoon my Dad went to start this engine and after about an hour of cranking and cussing he gave up and went to the barn to start chores. Well I started tinkering with it and in about 10 minutes I had it running. I heard Dad tell my Mother that night, that he couldn't understand how I got that engine to run. He guessed my head was full of wheels. Now that I had found out why an engine would run I began to try and find out why they wouldn't run. This was very important because in the early days of the combustion engine the knowledge and maintenance of an engine was very limited. A farmer may be a good judge of a cow or a horse, but his judgment of a gas engine was about nil. I soon got the name of being the neighborhood tinkerer. When our neighbors had trouble starting their engine they would call on me, most of the time the trouble would be very simple. Things like, out of gas, broken wire or loose wires, batteries wore out, dirty spark plug or igniter, dirty magneto or maybe a few drops of oil would fix it. Experience is in some ways a cruel hard teacher but a good teacher. It was not uncommon to see more than one person sporting a black eye or a cut nose or chin. You would say whatever happened to you and very often the answer would be 'I was cranking that d--- engine and the blanket-blank crank flew off and hit me in the face'. Believe me a cast iron crank can hit hard.
Now to get back to our hobby. Nothing important happened until the spring of 1963. We were to Kipps again and Bruce had dug out a 1 and one-half HP Brantford engine that his Dad used for pumping water many years ago. Bruce says, 'By gosh, I'd like to see that engine run,' so I suggested that we throw it in the trunk of our car and maybe Wally and I could get it going. When we got the engine home we used the same procedure that I mentioned earlier. We cleaned the gas tank and carburetor, it had a Wico trip type mag. We took it apart, and cleaned the dirt and rust out of it, cleaned the points and oiled it and lo and behold we had a good hot spark, so we installed the spark plug and dumped some gas in it and give it a crank and away it went. In spite of the fact that it would run, it needed a lot of fixing, the bearings were very loose; also I think the rings were seized up on the piston, because about half of the power stroke blew out in the crankcase.
This really turned Wally on and in a few days he brought a little 1 HP Horizontal International hit and miss gas engine home. We didn't have much problem to get it running as it had been in use up to about 1961 or 62. A short time later he found a beautiful 6 HP International engine. It had been used for stand-by-power in an apple evaporator factory many years ago and apparently had been used but very little. This engine had a gear driven Mag and we took it off so it would be easier to clean and paint the engine. When we got the engine cleaned and painted, Wally bolted the Mag in place and he attempted to start it, but it wouldn't fire. I asked him if he timed the Mag when he installed it and he just looked at me and said, 'What do you mean?' I explained to him that the cam gear and the gear on the Mag would be marked, and to match the marks and then bolt it on the engine. He did that and it started just like it should. Wally soon caught on as to the operation of these engines and he doesn't have to ask me any questions any more. After we got these two engines cleaned and painted and running very well I suggested to Wally that I thought we had enough old junk in the barn. He looked at me with a rather disappointed look but said nothing.
The next day I had to see a farmer about something and as we walked past a dilapidated old shed with no doors, I thought I saw the top of a flywheel of a gas engine. I asked if that was an engine in there and the farmer said he didn't know, there was nothing in there but junk that his Dad had thrown in. I turned back and pulled some old boards back and sure enough there was the engine. It was a 1-1/2 H.P. Gould Shapley and Muir engine manufactured in Brantford, Ontario. I asked him how much he wanted for it and he said, 'Oh, I don't know, what will you give me?' 'How about five dollars?' I said. In about two seconds he said, 'You've bought an engine!' So we loaded it in the truck and brought it home. When Wally came home from work that nite I said, 'Let's go to the barn.' He was really surprised when he saw another engine there and he said, 'I thought we weren't suppose to get any more engines.' 'Oh well, I said this is a good one.' From then on the doors were left open and we kept getting more engines.
In 1963 we were to the 'Steam Era' show in Milton and it was just like Bruce had described it only it was bigger and better. We really got a kick out of all parts of the show and on the way home I wondered how we could some day take something to the Steam Era show in Milton and be one of the very happy exhibitors.
In 1964 we thought that maybe we should get an old tractor if we could find one. So we started looking for one and before long Wally said he knew where there was a John Deere 'G.P.' about 1930 or 31 tractor. He made this deal without any assistance from me. I still don't know the particulars of this deal. He bought it from Dewart Patchett, a farmer that lives north of Norwich. Now Dewart had something else besides an old G.P. tractor down on his farm. He had three attractive daughters also, one of which went to High School in Norwich the same time as Wally. Now apparently they sort of liked each other at school, 'puppy love' they sometimes call it. In due course we got the old G.P. refinished like new and one evening Wally brought his high school friend, Doreen, up to see the refinished tractor that she used to drive for her father. Things didn't get too serious until early in 1969 and I noticed Wally had other interests besides his hobby, and Christmas nite he brought Doreen up here and did she ever have a spanking new diamond ring. We knew then that there was going to be a wedding and sure enough on June 6, 1970 the knot was tied. Now a few days before the wedding I sneaked an Eagle tractor that we had recently refinished down to Norwich and there we obtained a trailer and Wally and Doreen's friends decorated the tractor and trailer very appropriately for the occasion and after the ceremony we paraded the wedding party down Main Street in Norwich. This was a real surprise to Wally and Doreen as they didn't know anything about this part of the wedding until they saw the old Eagle come around the corner of the church. We also had the C.F.P.L. television cameraman from London in attendance and he filmed part of this wedding parade and it was shown two or three times on the C.F.P.L. new casts from London and also on New Years day each year C.F.P.L. has a two hour program reviewing the highlights of the old year and this film of the wedding parade was also shown on this program.
By 1966 we had quite a collection of tractors and gas engines. We had eight tractors and about thirty-five gas engines. Wally and I spent a lot of time restoring this equipment, frequently burning the midnight oil to finish a job and also our weekends were occupied with this grand work of restoration, and then we ran into an unexpected problem. My cute little wife began complaining about too many dirty clothes to wash. She even accused us of washing our hands on the towel. She claimed the wash water was so dirty after washing our overalls and smocks that it would hardly run out of the washing machine. I admit, we were a bit guilty on this charge, so with the aid of some hand cleaner, we would wash up before we come to the house. Also, we would leave our dirty overalls and smocks in the shop; this kept our clothes much cleaner. Just as I thought everything was patched up with both parties being happy, Blanche registered another complaint, this time a bad one, she accused me of neglecting her, and that I was spending too much time tinkering in the shop. Now this really shook me up. We were married in 1932 and had always had a very happy married life, no quarrels or complaints from either of us. This really made me think, how am I going to get out of this? One night when she was giving me both barrels I finally said, 'Well honey at least you know where I am. Would you rather I go away and chase some other man's wife or pick up a cute little dame, or would you like me to spend my evenings and weekends in the hotel guzzling beer and coming home half slopped-up'. That speech seemed to do the trick. After a few minutes thought she sort of reluctantly admitted that maybe I better tinker in the shop. Since then there has been no problem, I think Blanche took the attitude, 'If you can't lick them, join them.' Blanche does not help in tinkering business, but she goes to most of the shows and has made many friends and enjoys herself. All's well that ends well.
We always attended the Steam Era show at Milton and by 1966 we had made friends of other collectors, two of which helped us get acquainted with the business, namely, Norm Schell of Woodstock and Bernard Porter of Eastwood. Norm Schell only lives six miles from us and I had casually known him for several years. Norm is sort of a Rumely expert, he has several Rumely tractors including the huge old Model 'E', also he has a fine collection of gas engines. When Norm knew we were collecting engines and tractors we quickly became close friends. He has helped us solve many problems and helped us get started in 'Shoe Business'. I believe Norm has had a problem with his wife Mary, she calls herself 'A Rumely Widow'.
My wife lived in the Eastwood area and she knew Bernard Porter long before I did, but when Wally and I got acquainted with Bernard he was very willing to help us any way he could. You have heard the saying that when a person gets steam in their blood you can never get rid of it. Now Bernard's blood is just saturated with steam and he would keep coaxing us to get a steam engine. Bernard has one of the best restored Case 50 H.P. traction engines that I have ever seen, and he keeps it shining and running just like new. Bernard is a charter member of the Steam Era Club of Milton and is President of Steam Era - 1974.
In the spring of 1969 the steam in my blood began to boil so I asked Bernard where I could buy a steam engine. He took me to several people that would sell their engine but I finally made a deal with a chap that lived about 20 miles from home. It was a 1913 (8 x 10) Frick engine. We had a colony of Mennonites migrate to this area about 25 or 30 years ago and they brought this engine with them. This makes a very good show engine for our shows in Ontario because as far as we know it is the only Frick engine in the Province of Ontario.
My dream, that I mentioned earlier in this story of owning a steam engine all of my own, just to play with finally came true in 1969. This would be 50 or 55 years after I had these dreams, so you see, sometimes dreams really do come true. With the help and advice from Bernard Porter, Wally and I got so we could operate the engine and have since taken it to many shows and parades and I hope we will be able to take it to many more. 1967 was Canada's Centennial Year. Now this was a year of many parades, shows and demonstrations. 1967 was the first year Wally and I had participated in any parades etc. Our first parade was the 24th of May celebration in Woodstock, we had a 1924, 22-40 Hart Parr all freshly painted and it drew a float from the local Ladies Institute. We really got a thrill in this, the first parade for us, as the thousands of people that lined the streets clapped their hands and cheered as the old Hart Parr performed perfectly.
On the first weekend in June the hamlet of Oxford Centre sponsored a centennial celebration and the Schells, Porters and Orths supplied most of the antique machinery for this. The weather was perfect and the crowds far exceeded their expectations, and it was a great success. This was our first show and we certainly enjoyed every minute of it.
In mid-August the Woodstock Agricultural Society sponsored their annual Woodstock Fair and the Fair Board thought it appropriate that they have some pioneer machinery at the fair so the Porters, Schells and Orths were again called on to supply the machinery. Again the weather was fine, and big crowds of people attended. On the parade past the grandstand at nite there would be about 70 tons of steam and gas tractors all in a line across the track go puffing and chugging along, a very impressive part of the show. The local implement dealers also had their exhibits of new machinery such as big combines, tractors, 8 or 10 furrow plows etc. on exhibit. It was interesting to notice that possibly 30 spectators would be looking at the new machinery and we would have possibly 500 spectators looking at our old machinery. We gave the dealers (we knew them all) a rough time and would ask them why they didn't exhibit something that the public wanted to see.
It was only a couple of weeks after Woodstock Fair that the Ontario Steam and Antique Preservers Association held their Annual show at Milton. Wally and I had joined this club which I have previously called 'Steam Era' earlier in 1967 and this was our first time to exhibit at Steam Era. We showed the 22-40 Hart Parr. It had performed perfectly at the previous shows and it kept right on with its good performance at Steam Era. We were again blessed with fine weather and the crowds were just fantastic. I think between 20,000 and 25,000 attended this great show. This was our first big show to exhibit our tractor.
By the end of 1967 Wally and I were not only in the hobby business but we were in the show business; what a perfect combination! Show business is like steam, when it gets in your blood you just have to go to shows.
In 1969 we joined the Golden Horse Shoe Antique Society of Caledonia, Ontario. This show had its beginning in Centennial year 1967 and was so successful in 1967 that they organized a club, known as the Golden Horse Shoe Antique Society. This show is held on Civic Holiday weekend in August. It has grown by leaps and bounds and is known now as one of the big shows in Ontario. We always look forward and enjoy exhibiting at the Golden Horse Shoe as it is a very fine show.
The Norwich and District Historical Society held the official opening of their Museum in June, 1970 and a local group thought it appropriate to have an outside display of some antique machinery, so that the spectators, after listening to the official speeches and observing the ribbon cutting would have an added attraction. We had a steam engine, three or four tractors, a small grain separator and several gas engines on display. This small exhibit proved to be so popular that immediately there was an agitation for an annual show. In 1971 the Historical Society sponsored the First Historical Show on the first weekend in June and it was very successful. The co-operation of the community, exhibitors and everyone was just wonderful. Plans are well underway now for our Fourth Annual Historical Show that will be held in the Fairgrounds at Norwich on June 7, 8 and 9, 1974.
Wally and I have also exhibited at the shows in Blyth and Brigden both of which are very interesting shows and we always look forward to them.
A few weeks ago I watched a program on Television that featured Hobbies and the slogan for this program was 'Without a Hobby there is no Life'. I just wonder what I would be doing now if Wally and I had not started 'Our Hobby' some eleven years ago. One of the most rewarding things about a hobby is the friends that you make. We have made aquaintances with good people as far west as Sask., and of course, many, many here in Ontario. We have also made many friends with our neighbors to the south of us, from the states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina and Florida. The American hospitality is tops, the familiar phrase 'Yo 'all Come Back' is very heart warming.
The monetary remuneration of 'Our Hobby' is low, but the remuneration of fun, fellowship, and friendship is high, very high, and this is something that money cannot give. In closing I would like to say to all 'Hobbyists', keep up the good work, and we will look forward to renewing our friendship at the shows this summer.