Tuckahoe Show

Wilbur Engle

Wilbur Engle custom saws by steam.

Content Tools

Laytonsville, Maryland 20760

The sign on Route 50 five miles north of Easton, Maryland at the showground said it was to be the 4th Annual Tuckahoe Steam and Gas Show. Somebody goofed and forgot to change it from a previous year. Really July 6, 7, 8, 1979 was the 6th annual event held on the 40 acre grounds of the Association. Appropriately it was 'hot as a firecracker', not a whisper of a breeze nor a drop of rain the whole three days. For the spectator at most exhibition grounds it would have meant living on a frying pan, but not at Tuckahoe. Its exhibit ground is laid out gracefully on a wooded site where a small brook winds through lofty trees and where protective shade is plentiful for exhibitors doing their thing and for the spectators in the many camper units which crowded the parking area. Wisely, the Association has realized the uniqueness of their home. Trees have been spared the ax so commonly applied on so many show grounds. The flea market, gas engine exhibits, the new community pavilion, even the sawmills have been blended into the forest in a random manner which invites a leisurely strole rather than a march to cadence down military rows of aligned exhibits. Tuckahoe is different.

The program said George Neal, President of the outfit, was going to run the thing with the timing of a three-ring circus under the big top.

Left to right: Bill Coppage, Ben Bright, Paul Secrist and Ross Rodes check their  recent installation of a stationary engine donated to the Tuckahoe Association by the late Jack Matthai

He tried, you have to give him that. About the only thing that came off on time was raising the flag over the judges stand of the beautiful new pavilion the first morning. Since the only way to the judges' roost was up a ladder for lack of getting around to building the stairs, once up there to make announcements on the PA system, George was in no position to prod exhibitors for punctual performance. The slick paper program was a heady list of things that would likely happen, but don't hold your breath. Nobody seemed the least interested what time Wilbur Engle started the sawmill; they were over eating homemade crab cakes at the kitchen. When the noon whistle blew (about 12:25) the eaters had gone over to the flea market, steam buffs were scrounging wood and the gas engine types were saying things mother used to wash your mouth out for, when their engines failed to start. The last thing in the mind of either cash customers or exhibitors was getting organized.

One event not on the program took place at 9:00 P.M. the night before the show opened, when Ross Rhodes tooted the whistle signaling the first head of steam in the system feeding the many stationary engines of the new exhibition building. Ross, Bill Coppage, Ben Bright, Paul Secrist and 'boss man' Tommy Booze had spent the July 4th holiday putting the finishing touches needed to connect the boiler they had salvaged from a laundry in Annapolis. Topped by a 40 foot smoke stack the exhibit building covers some 3000 square feet which is rapidly filling with displays.

Having only recently found refuge at Tuckahoe it wheezed erratically, vibrated constantly, giving the appearance of operating on a par with the Tin Man in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Pete Lovelace, its major benefactor, found this delightful mechanism in the confines of the Polytechnic Institute of Baltimore where its more ornate brass fittings had already decamped. He brought it to Tuckahoe, astutely concluding it was a rather unusual engine. He's right. Pete lays its less than silky smooth operation (rough you might call it) to the lack of a condensor to draw steam from its third and final cylinder. Maybe it doesn't like laundry steam. Speculation has it the contraption might have been built as an engineering exercise by the Polytechnic students. Any readers who know of its history or who might conjur up methodology to make it run as smoothly as its neighbor, the Corliss, please write Pete Lovelace care of the Association. Spectators didn't have to be told to stand back when Pete applied laundry steam to his marine monster.

Gas buffs gather on the west bank of the steams at Tuckahoe. There among the trees they send the resident squirrels scurrying to chatter down on the put-puts which invade their territory a couple of times a year. Fully a hundred engines of every size, make, design, horsepower, end use and state of restoration showed up. Clearly the name of the game is inspection of other exhibits by the exhibitors. Random spectators are most welcome to enter the conversation, ask questions, gawk wonderingly, speculate on living conditions in the era demonstrated in the many end use displays. Mary Zimmerman, operating her neatly restored Anchor brand washer from a one lunger John Deere, elicited comment from passing Ms(s) that women's lib was long overdue. It was Wayne Haupt though, who showed up with an 1830 lathe completely fabricated of wood and foot powered who provided the contrast to demonstrate the utility of the small gasoline engine to release both men and women from the labor of everyday chores formerly done by human power. Water pumps, a flour mill, garden tractors, washers, you name it, if it was powered by a gas engine it was on display. Walking among the scores of little engines that 'could' one's mind conjurs the countless little (and some big) firms dotting the nation in those days each competing to improve the product or to offer options to the buyer. It's the epitome of the free enterprise system, now passed. Over to the east against the wooded buffer strip along Route 50 is the rally ground of the 25 or so internal combustion engine powered tractors. Everything was in evidence from an old Oil Pull to a couple that bring home the realization that contemporary machines of one's youth are now antiques.

Prominent among the tractors are, of course, John Deere two lungers, a scattering of Hubers, Farmalls, McCormick-Deerings and an array of one-of-a-kinds to keep one looking all day. Interestingly, Fordson is grossly under-represented in proportion to its population on the farms of yesteryear. Maybe they weren't well represented on the Shore back when. (That comment should bring some letters.) At any rate when the tractor bunch finally got going, which was to the despair of George Neal, completely out of synchronization with the timing of the first day's parade, operators turned out to be of every age and description. They had a ball, like so many water bugs on a mill pond. The parade went round them, spectators photographed, rode upon, helped crank, lugged two chains and water for, thoroughly enjoying the confusion. Tuckahoe is different.

After three years of sitting forlornly out in the weather, the big Corliss engine built in 1900 by Watts-Campbell was now under roof. That 100 HP engine, after a near brush with the junkers, escaped such a fate to be faithfully restored at Tuckahoe. Now mounted on a base as massive as a long range artillery gun emplacement, it chuffs away the hours reminiscent of its prior service in a Millsboro, Delaware basket factory. Its setting is such that visitors can ponder Mr. Corless' ingenious but complex valve linkage. Jack Matthai, a past Tuckahoe treasurer, had provided in his will that a steam engine he had bought be brought to the exhibit building, there to be mounted upon an appropriate base as a memorial gift to Tuckahoe. It was ceremonially dedicated Sunday afternoon during the show. Another fugitive from the junk man which has taken asylum in the new exhibit building is a full scale triple expansion marine engine.

Steam traction engines, lined up by ownership,  right to left: Paul Singer, ? scale 9 HP case; Pete Shaffer, 8 HP Nichols & Shepherd; Ross Rhodes, 14 HP Frick, 8 x 10; Wilbur Engle, 14 HP Frick, 8 x 10; Sam Fairbank, 18 HP New Huber;  Robert Engle, 16-50 HP, TT Peerless; Paul Singer, 18 HP Keck Gonnerman; Robert  Dean, 18 HP, U2 Peerless, 2 cyl. 6? 10; Howard Engle, 18 HP Frick, 9 x 10; Lee Engle, 28-80 HP Minneapolis, 10 x 10; George Neal, 2 cyl. 7? 11 Nichols &  Shepherd 35.

Steam traction engines displaced the mule, but there are certain characteristics of today's traction engine owners which leave a gut feeling that old long ears ain't dead yet. Taking the official photo of the 11 traction engines and their Tuckahoe member owners brought this vividly to mind. First you have to get their attention. This is done with a two-by-four smartly applied to a mule. It is unacceptable practice to an independent minded owner of a traction engine. They have to be bribed, wheedled, threatened, scolded and otherwise abused to rally them to the cause and away from the kitchen where Floyd Whirley was no help at all, dishing Up coffee, homemade pancakes and sausage. The more pliable types had a steam up early, wheeled around to where they thought the picture should be taken, then back to the kitchen. Of course, that was the wrong place for proper light for the picture. They had to be retrieved. After an hour of this maneuvering, all 11 were lined up hub to hub, right exposure to the morning sun, smoke properly abated, owner standing by. George Neal had a smirk on his face, he only had to bring his huge Nichols & Sheperd to the line up, but had nothing to do with the rest of the logistics. By this time he was enjoying watching somebody else trying to organize a short dozen traction engine owners--rots of ruck. When the official shutter snapped the third or fourth time, it had recorded a truly remarkable array of engines from Paul Singer's ? scale Case to George's mammoth N-S. The variety ranged through seven makes. (Their specifications are listed in the caption to the attached photograph.) It was a memorable occasion which the spectators quickly appreciated with their cameras.

Having submitted to this much discipline, the owners then resorted to form. They worked the big Baker fan, the hydraulic dynamometer, the thresher or the sawmill as the occasion arose, getting under the drive belt in any order that suited their fancy. Blowing their whistle at the noon hour according to the program seemed to be a matter of principle; they wouldn't do it. Before time, after time, anytime, OK but not on time. Entry in the parade was also optional. George shouldn't have been upset, my gosh he's one of them.

Occurring as it did in the midst of Maryland's gas crunch, it was appropriate to find the Eastern Shore Group, Neighborhood Energy Corps, Maryland State Energy Policy Office with a booth amidst the funnel cakes, beaten biscuits, homemade quilts and candy of the old exhibit building. These six enthusiastic young people were quick to point out that a local steam show conserves energy in more ways than one. Susan Gray made an unofficial pole of attendees which showed 75% of those present came from the Eastern Shore or Anne Arundel County just over the Bay Bridge, a travel distance of 50 miles radius. This emphasized recreational fun doesn't have to mean long gas consuming drives. The renewed interest in steam, dependent upon wood or coal, not imported oil came through as well. The exchange between the old timers of the steam ranks with the Energy Corps participants sharpened the thinking on both sides. Our congratulations to Maryland's Energy Policy Office for providing the focus of the discussion.

 Friday night's horsepull, though an hour late, was a crowd pleaser of the first order. Held in the refreshing cool of the evening it packed the stands, spilled out in camp chairs along both sides of the track to a capacity audience which cheered enthusiastically as the 8 teams tugged on the traces. It soon became apparent that the show down was going to be between Wayne More-land's big black Percherons and Robert Anderson's well disciplined sorel Belgians. With the stone boat loaded to 8500 pounds, the contest ended with Anderson's better coordinated Belgians going 14 feet farther than Moreland's heavier, barrel chested, blacks. It was a show to the end.

The no-contest contest was the Cross-Cut-Sawing. One team of lean muscled sawyers showed, bulging biceps, well honed saw and an air of can-do about them. Any others who may have contemplated entry thought better of it. With no competition evident the champions gave a demonstration cutting through an oak log in traditional style showing they were as good as they looked. They picked up the prize and went home.

Marshall Wade, Chairman for Tuckahoe's Flea Market said his 38 stalls for exhibitors were sold out with some backlog willing to fill in if a participant cancelled. No wonder. A more delightful site couldn't be imagined than under the towering shade trees in a quiet area where a buyer can browse to his heart's content. If you ever wondered how they ever sell all that stuff, don't worry about it. It seems that a big majority have been coming to the show ever since it started. They trade amongst each other when they see a bargain. Lee Smith, a dealer from Federalsburg, Maryland for example, comes with a store of old hand tools, but scoured the other exhibits to find the handle to a plane he lacked. Now he has a saleable wood plane in working condition. Mr. Wade says Tuckahoe has resisted the temptation to chop more space out of the woods to make room for more exhibit stalls and intends to continue the policy. A sound choice from the point of view of exhibitors and buyers alike. The cool shade, walking on woodland duff beats the heat, dust and confusion so common to many places.

Leaving the grounds after three days of fun, food, educational exhibits, friendly people, and thoughts of yesteryear, the goof on the sign just added to the enjoyment of the informal atmosphere of the show. It was evident that George Neal and all his helpers had put their energy where it counted. In the last year they have added a roomy pavilion where the Sunday worship service was held, an imposing exhibit shed for the stationary engines, a line up of gas engines to match any in the East. The working steam sawmill really produces lumber for the buildings. Food with flavor is served by people who care. The list goes on! Who cares if the sign is a bit out of date, the events late. Certainly not the spectators. George, please don't get too organized. Tuckahoe is different--keep it that way.