Steam engines

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This cc was the last of its kind to leave the plant at Waynesboro, PA. The largest portable on wheels, this particular Frick was formerly owned by Senator Dean of Maryland. Firing the boiler during the sawmill exhibition is Greg Deal of Morganton NC

NEWTON, NC Steam hissed, black smoke belched from the stack and sweat poured from the brow of John Link of Hickory, NC as he stuffed armful after armful of wood deep into the boiler of his 1917 Frick Eclipse.

Out behind the barn, old timers smiled in recognition as John Sigmon of Denver, NC and his son rumbled by on a 1911 version of the Frick Eclipse.

Over the hill above the fishing lake Greg Deal of Morganton, NC worked feverishly to fire the 1936 Frick as it struggled to keep the huge saw on the old sawmill from bogging down.

These are the sights and sounds Big Edd and Velma Sigmon and their family wait to hear each Father's Day weekend in June when they host Early Farm Days at their Windmill Acres farm in Newton, NC.

Early farm days at Windmill Acres is more than a weekend exhibition. It is an easy-paced stroll back in history to a time when work was hard, days were long and homemade inventions helped the lady of the house get through another day. It was also a time when big steam engines roamed the countryside threshing grain, clearing forests and plowing new ground. A time when little 'hit and miss' engines pumped water, washed clothes, churned butter and generated electricity. And, a time when teams of draft horses labored in the fields to earn their place in American history.

Some folks just couldn't help getting a closer look at the old steam engines. The man and woman in the foreground look on intently as John Link cuts wood.

Spectators watched as Link and his young helper, Clayton Taylor, turned valves, added wood and sawed on an old steam upright as they prepared for a threshing exhibition. Soon they would have 100 pounds of pressure built up on the 1917 Frick and a crew of 8 would begin the threshing. Threshing with steam engines was a common sight on small and large farms during the early 1900's.

Tracks deeply imbedded in the soil gave onlookers some idea how difficult it must have been to move the huge machines from farm to farm during the harvest as John Sigmon rode by on his 1911 Eclipse. Many times the heavy engines broke down bridges and had to be winched from riverbeds as they made their rounds.

Paul Mullis of Pumpkin Center, NC lines up another pass by the huge saw blade during the sawmill exhibition. owners, the little engines have survived and earned a spot in the hearts of young and old alike.

Meanwhile, sawmill operators J.C. Green of Boone, NC; James Sigmon of Harrogate, Tennessee; and Paul Mullis of Pumpkin Center, NC were putting on a show of their own over on the hill as they turned huge logs into usable timber. Sawmilling was considered to be one of the most grueling jobs a man could have around the turn of the century. There were no 'easy jobs' at the old mills and the men labored from sunup to sundown. For many of the Windmill Acre guests it was a first time look at a sawmill in operation.

One of the most interesting steam engines on display was a 4-wheel drive Lansing Double Traction steam engine. Owned by Big Edd and Velma, the one-of-a-kind tractor was patented on March 12,1884 at Lansing Iron Works in Lansing, Michigan. Big Edd's other engine on display, 'Kitten', was patented August 20, 1888 at Ferdinand Machine Works in Ferdinand, Indiana.

While steam enthusiasts talked about the Frick, Lansing and other steam tractors, some weekend visitors were discovering why Early Farm Days at Windmill Acres is one of the most unique weekends of farm life activities anywhere.

Some had come from as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Texas and New York for the 2-day affair. Before the weekend was through, they would get to see more than 100 years of life on the farm unfold before their eyes.

Over by the fishing lake more than 400 exhibitors exchanged stories about the wondrous one-lunger engine. Ranging in size from % to 18 horsepower, the little engines bridged the gap between manual labor and today's electric motors.

Known for their cantankerous starting, the little engines were cursed regularly on cold mornings and almost became extinct when electricity reached the farms of America in the late 1930's. However, through restoration efforts by their owners, the little engines have survived and earned a spot in the hearts of young and old alike.

For Dave Burnell of New Smyrna Beach, Florida the Windmill Acre weekend gave him an opportunity to show off his 1939 gas powered Maytag washer. The two-cycle Maytag was the last of its kind before electricity took over and was used to wash clothes, churn butter, make ice cream and grind sausage. Back then, a washing for the entire family was done with about 45 gallons of water. When the washing was finished, the sudsy water was used to scrub the floors and porches. Some water was normally saved and used to wash down the outhouse.

The young, the old and the in-between. Young Clayton Taylor watches John Link of Hickory, NC stuff wood into the boiler of his 1917 Frick. The in-between at right is Ed Deal of Valdese, NC. All age groups are involved in Early Farm Days at Windmill Acres.

A saw display featuring a 1922 Ottawa, a 1923 Witte and a 1925 Hercules also got a lot of attention from spectators as they cut through a log about 18 inches in diameter. The saws are owned by W. C. Helms and Clayton Ballard of Lincolnton, NC.

Other little engine exhibits getting a lot of attention during the two day gathering included a 1 horsepower John Deere owned by Frank Combs of Duncanville, Kentucky; a 2,200 pound 1925 Fairbanks Morse, with original paint, owned by Bobby Harkey of Albemarle, NC; a 1923 Stovers owned by Mike Duggins of Kernersville, NC; and a 1912 horse-drawn Galloway owned by Garland Jobe of Greensboro, NC.

The sign says it all. Bill Lankford of Gastonia, NC shows off his homemade hot air engine during the two day event. The engine was invented by John Sterling of Ireland in 1916.

Bobby Stewart of Dunn, NC also got special comments for a three engine display which included a rare 1916 Rock Island, a 1 horsepower IHC International and a 1920 Majestic.

Tom and Whitey Armour of Rock Hill, SC spent a good part of their weekend explaining the operation of a 1902 'One Way' foot powered washing machine. They estimated the little washer retailed for about $4 when it was new.

An assortment of working gasoline and steam engine replicas by Ray Villez of Garden City South, NY; J. T. Hanson of Haines City, Florida; and J.T. Goforth of Statesville, NC drew hundreds to a shed in the main barnyard. Built to scale, the little engines demonstrated the use of gasoline and steam during the industrial revolution in America.

As each of the little engines sang the familiar click, click, pop, click, pop metallic tune it was easy to understand why some of them carried names like Waterloo Boy, the Economy, Handy Andy and Bullseye.

Out behind one of four large storage sheds, the frayed belts on the old rock crusher showed years of wear as volunteers fed large stones into a hopper. The little engine popped and cracked, but continued turning large stones into little rocks. The crunching and squeaking caused many of the spectators to grimace as they looked on.

Meanwhile, about 50 yards away, a group of spectators watched curiously as Eddie Sigmon made wooden shingles using a WK-40 McCormick as a power source. Some folks stared disbelievingly as the gasoline powered tractor and little shingle mill turned out shingle after shingle in a smooth, orderly fashion.

Earlier in the day youngsters had discovered Edd and Velma's little narrow gauged railroad. Operated by their son John and located down near the creek, the little gasoline engine hauled load after load of excited youngsters out through the field and over the trestle. Adding to their railroad experience was a railroad station with displays of railroad signal lanterns, models and communications equipment.

Daily performances by Sigmon's Belgians in a 6-horse hitch is one of the highlights of the two-day event. Winners of hundreds of honors in regional and national competitions, the Belgians showed the crowd why they are one of the teams to beat wherever they go.

The primary source of power on big and small farms during the 1800's and early 1900's, the huge draft horses demonstrated their flexibility by ferrying passengers from one point to another on the 200 acre farm and participating in a hay baling exhibition. Sigmon Belgians stand about 18 hands high and average about 2,200 pounds.

Trained and handled by Kim Sigmon and Tony Castagnasso, the mammoth horses are housed in a modern 23 stall barn where visitors can walk through and get a close-up look. Some people just wanted to walk down the long passageways between the stalls and rub the big horses while others spent more than 3 hours watching the trainers get the Belgians ready for an afternoon exhibition. Still others spent a great deal of time admiring a collection of two-wheel carts, sleighs, carriages and show wagons up at the main entrance to the barn.

For kids who were intimidated by the size of the Belgians, Big Edd and Velma have a small barn called 'Animal Wonderland' where youngsters could pet a miniature horse named Jingles, a goat named Wizard, or rabbits, cats, dogs and other small farm animals. There are also four beautiful peacocks that strut for the children at times.

One of the most popular stops for the older generation each year is Velma's Country Store. A Double Cola sign hangs over the door and an old well windlass hangs on an exterior wall under a connecting shed. The old hay rake under the shed reflects years of wear and a large granite block serves as a step up to the weathered front porch. At the right is a 1930's gas pump.

There is almost a hushed reverence as visitors slowly make their way through the door of the dimly lighted building. On the left is an old cash register surrounded by various sundries and other small household items. A large storage bin on the right is filled with all types of hand tools and black skillets of all shapes and sizes are mounted along the wall. A cracker barrel with checkerboard is in the center of the room and a unique bottle collection is at the left. A 'modern' foot powered washing machine sits in front of the counter and beckons someone to take it home.

As the sun began setting at the end of the first day, many of the visitors were content just to walk around the main barnyard and examine hundreds of hand tools, plows, corn grinders, scythes and other early farm life items as they waited for the 6 p.m. barbecue to get underway.

With their tummies full of pit cooked barbecue beef, cole slaw, baked beans and hush puppies, many of the exhibitors and guests sat back for an evening of country music and dancing. A local band, Southern Breeze, provided the music for the event that lasted well beyond the midnight hour.

Look, Ma, no electric cord! George Mathews of Tampa, FL shows off his rare portable fan. The fan runs on alcohol, gas or kerosene. Its message is clearkeep cool without electricity.

Following Sunday morning church services, members of the local Jaycees, who co-sponsor the affair, opened the gates and hundreds poured into the lush, green pastures for another day of activities.

An auction, a hand tool recognition contest, a celebrity dunking booth, another sparkling performance by Sigmon's Belgians, and a leisurely walk through an old farm house full of restored treasures highlighted the second day of fun.

By mid-afternoon Sunday some of the exhibitors with long distances to travel began making their way up the winding drive to the main entrance of the unique farm. Others lingered longer, somehow hoping the weekend would continue.

For Big Edd, Velma and the Sigmon family, Sunday afternoon was a time to relax and enjoy the fellowship of friends and guests. With most of the hard work required for an event of this magnitude behind them, Sigmon family members laughed and joked as they said their goodbyes. Watching the family, it wasn't hard to understand why they hold Early Farm Days each year. Somehow they knew that each of us who were there came away with a better understanding of life on a farm and the people who live there. They had opened their home and their hearts. What more could you ask?