Community is the backbone of the old iron hobby. Whether it’s the big annual show or a weekend fish fry or small get-togethers at members’ shops, the Ozarks Steam Engine Assn., Republic, Missouri – like other clubs across the country – is always keeping busy within its community.
But what about giving back to the larger communities we live in? That opportunity came knocking in 2011 when Missouri’s Springfield-Greene County Library District sought new ways to engage young readers during the summer months. Their state-of-the-art bookmobile needed community partners, so they looked to the Ozarks Steam Engine Assn., an institution in the area for the last 55 years whose annual Steam-O-Rama show (with the Southwest Missouri Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. Branch 16) brings in about 6,000 visitors annually.
“The library contacted us and wanted to know if we’d be willing to participate in the summer reading program, possibly with steam engines and stuff,” says Jeff Ruth, an Ozarks Steam Engine Assn. director. “We talked about it and decided, well, we can try it.”
Kids see books come to life
On a Friday in June back in 2011, they tried it out at their club’s grounds in Republic – and the event was so successful it’s just completed its sixth year. The bookmobile provides books about tractors, gas engines and other vintage equipment, and the club puts on a mini-show for kids and parents.
Most of the young readers are in the elementary age group, but the group ranges from infants to high school students. They check out books and enjoy engaging readings from librarians and local news personalities. Perhaps most important, they get to see the equipment in the books come to life.
“We typically have steam engines fired up, and kids can ride on them,” Jeff says. The club and its members own about 15 steam engines; whoever is available comes out to show them off. “Charley Stark, our club president, runs his 1920 20 hp Advance-Rumely steam engine,” Jeff says. “Sometimes I run my 1911 30 hp Case. Sometimes we use our club-owned 1915 Advance-Rumely steam engine.”
Tractors and gas engines are shown by club members who have a few spare hours and an eagerness to share the hobby with local youths. “There’s a good mix of tractors and engines,” Jeff says. “You never know who is coming or what will be there.”
The club wasn’t sure what to expect that first year, since the program was completely new for them. “The report we got back from the library was it was one of their most well-attended events,” Jeff says. “It seems to be very popular with parents and kids, I think because it’s so different.” Other bookmobile events include stops at a railroad museum and a local nature park.
Planting a seed for the future
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, as Mother Nature sometimes has different plans. Two years ago rain threatened to cancel the event, but the club prevailed by congregating in a small covered pavilion and getting creative. “One of my members brought in hand stuff – corn shellers, a water pump and a washboard,” Jeff says. “He made the display to allow kids to crank or turn something, to see how it worked.” So while the kids that year didn’t get to see the big steam engines or tractors, the library was pleased that the club came up with a solution that included getting the kids involved hands-on.
The event regularly has about 100 attendees, most of whom would never experience old iron otherwise. And the benefits of the event have spilled over to the club’s annual Steam-O-Rama event. “I have heard comments several times or I’ll have a parent come up to me and say the kids enjoyed the summer reading program so much that they wanted to come back and see the show,” Jeff says. “It’s good PR for the show, and it keeps the kids interested. They have interest and want to come back and see it.”
What the club thought would be a one-year deal has turned into a long-term partnership with the Greene County Library, and Jeff says they’re happy to keep it going for as long as they can. “The club looks at it as community service, providing something for the community,” he says. “We don’t charge for this event for the kids to come in, and we’re all volunteers.”
Most of all, the club enjoys engaging the next generation of collectors within their local community. “We try to keep it focused on the kids. We try to keep that mindset so they understand the history and enjoy riding on a steam engine,” Jeff says. “I’ve been told by doing that, the kids will remember. They’ll remember for a long time.” FC
For more information:Jeff Ruth, (417) 767-4632.
The annual Ozarks Steam Engine Assn. and Greene County, Missouri, Library Bookmobile event happens the first Friday of June each summer from 10 a.m. to noon at the club’s grounds in Republic, Missouri, 8 miles west of Springfield on Hwy. 60.