It may be early July, but I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. For me, show season is about to get underway in earnest. In the meantime, I rely on memory and imagination. If I concentrate, I can hear the four-part harmony of engines, tractors, sawmills and PA announcers. A chorus of steam whistles cuts through the cacophony at midday. The smells of coal smoke and grilled food waft through the air. For a leisure activity, there is a lot of commotion. Everyone is on a mission, headed in every direction all at once, carrying stray parts and pieces scored at the swap meet. Pickups pulling trailers groaning under the weight of old iron creep through the crowd; passersby stop to check out the load, especially if it’s a gnarly collection of barn-fresh odd lots. It’s hot, or it’s humid, or it’s dusty or it’s raining. No matter; it’s perfect.
What else do I like about shows? I like the fact that I know I will see at least one thing I’ve never seen before. I like the old-fashioned way people communicate at shows: they talk to each other, face to face. Imagine: a place where cell phones largely remain holstered. And I especially like the way shows function as a clearinghouse of shared knowledge, whether it’s firsthand experience or the result of careful research.
Then there’s the friendly factor. Everybody you talk to knows somebody you know. I like seeing strangers help each other in that kind of neighborly way that is harder to find in the real world these days. I like seeing little kids wearing engineer’s overalls and caps. I like the unmistakable smell of a piece of old iron making its public debut after years in deep storage.
I like the rhythm of a day at the show: the earnest, business-like pace at 8 a.m., the sudden shared awareness that the day is half-gone when the steam whistles shriek, the signal that some universal internal alarm has sounded as streams of men in a trance-like state flow toward ice cream freezers in mid-afternoon, the sleepy plodding motion of late day, the early evening gatherings around a cooler or a camper where tales are told, finds are admired and problems are solved. It’s show season: what’s not to like? FC