Farm Collector

White River Valley Antique Club Sold on Antique Farm Equipment Demonstrations

It’s hard to tell who’s having more fun at the White River Valley Antique and Machinery Show: visitors to the three-day event, or members of the club. Members of the club, after all, are actively engaged in the show’s specialty: demonstrating vintage equipment.

To be sure, more than a few shows are bigger than this one, which is held at Elnora in southwestern Indiana. Some shows have more tractors; others have more engines. But if it’s demonstrations you’re after, it’d be hard to top Elnora.

“It’s in our bylaws,” says White River President Melvin Paulus. “It actually says in there that this group was formed for the preservation of historic items; that we’re to use them to demonstrate; to teach young people about the past.”

White River members have risen to that challenge with admirable enthusiasm.

Demonstrations at the site run the gamut from a three-horse treadmill powering a thresher, to corn shredding, to a full-scale machine shop, to making lye soap.

“It really is a unique show,” Melvin says. “I really think that, as far as shows I’ve been to, we have as good a demonstration area as any around.”

The club identified its focus early. “We planned right from the beginning to have a lot of demonstrations,” Melvin says. “There’s no other show in this area with that many demonstrations. Then it just kind of grew.”

Like Topsy. This year’s show featured (all in operation) a shingle mill, machine shop, wood shop, museum, water wheel/grist mill, blacksmith, cider press, sawmill, log cabin (with a working loom, quilting and handmade rugs), steam engines, steam traction engines, old-time school house (where a cheerfully strict school marm reigns), hay baler, thrashing machines, fanning mill, corn shredder, soap making, ear corn elevator, separator, corn grinding, three-horse treadmill on a small thresher, sorghum press, smoke house, old-time kitchen/cookhouse, and plowing with horses. Then there’s the fellow who gives a convincing demonstration of flailing grain. The process of flailing grain is so painfully slow, inefficient and physically exhausting that, by comparison, the early mechanical pieces look monstrously powerful and technologically sophisticated. Club members also make butter, apple butter, bread, bean soup, ice cream and root beer, among other delicacies.

“And normally, we have somebody making baskets, or brooms, or buttons,” Melvin says apologetically, “but that didn’t work out this year.”

At a time when many organizations struggle to recruit volunteers, the White River club has an apparently endless supply. The club has more than 760 members; about 130 are active volunteers.

“We haven’t had too much trouble up to now, getting people to work,” Melvin says. “The week before the show, we have a good turnout: there’s a lot of people, a lot of workers. During the year, it’s harder.”

Still, the line-up continues to swell.

“We’ve already purchased a rock crusher, and we’ve got an old Caterpillar engine we’re going to put on it,” Melvin says. “And we’ve got an old bank barn (a sort of split-level type barn) in the works. We tore down an old barn at Clay City, and we’re going to rebuild it here.”

The club’s “show and tell” philosophy has extended into local schools, or vice versa. The three-day show typically opens with “School Day,” when herds of local school children descend on the club grounds.

“That’s one of the best things we’ve done,” Melvin says. “This year, we had 1,300 school kids here. Their teachers give them assignments; they have to learn why we do what we do; what all this represents. To sit and explain to kids how bread is made… it’s really a learning experience. And it’s good advertising for us; the kids go home and tell their folks about the show, and say that they want to come back.”

And why not? The enthusiasm at the White River show is infectious.

“Most of our visitors say they have never seen a show with so many demonstrations,” Melvin says. “Most shows don’t have the number of demonstrations we do, or the variety.” FC

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  • Published on Dec 1, 2000
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