Top 10

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Left: The Handy Dandy Railroad’s locomotive gets “spit and polish” treatment every day during the Denton FarmPark show. It runs over a track 1.6 miles long.
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Right: Randy and Kim Tucker with Randy’s one-of-a-kind Tucker Type R gas engine. The couple uses another engine, a Fairbanks, to make an occasional batch of homemade ice cream at the show.
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Above: Machines on the line shaft at the FarmPark machine shop.
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Right: This broom making device dates to the 1870s. It is operated by Mark Hernig, whose business card promotes “Han Dun” brooms.
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Right: This Chandler & Price job press cranked out regular bulletins during the Denton show.
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Left: Belle, a border collie shown by Donald Thomas, goes through her paces during a demonstration at the Denton FarmPark.
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Below: The Bledsoe family (clockwise from back left): Marshall, Becky, Kaytlynn, Drew and Stuart.
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Above: A wide selection of petroleum collectibles are for sale at the FarmPark service station.
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Left: This 1916 Erie Type B steam shovel, produced by Ball Engine Co., Erie, Pa., is part of the permanent collection at the FarmPark. Willard Moore operates the engine, which can move 50-60 cubic yards an hour, with an average working speed of one to three dippers a minute (a dipper holds three-fourths of a cubic yard). The unit is demonstrated throughout the show.
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Variety spices the mix at Denton show

The Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion, Denton,
N.C., has a history unique among thresher and tractor shows in the
U.S. It started as a fly-in, where proceeds from airplane rides
benefited local charities. That was 35 years ago, and as with the
rest of the world, a lot has changed.

Brown Loflin and Howard Latham, fly-in organizers, soon saw the
need for activities to keep waiting passengers entertained. Local
collectors mustered up an assortment of antique farm equipment.
Before long, responding to popular demand, the organizers abandoned
the fly-in in favor of vastly less sophisticated equipment. Now in
its 35th year, the show has expanded to five days with activities
spread over more than 100 acres. During the annual July show (held
this year July 1-5), volunteers from the Southeast Antique
Machinery Society operate and demonstrate equipment at the Denton
FarmPark, and tens of thousands of visitors from all over the
country swarm the grounds. Their challenge? To see it all!

Ride the rails

Lots of shows have “trains” … charming remnants of amusement
parks, designed to delight the small fry. At Denton FarmPark, the
workhorse of the Handy Dandy Railroad is the real McCoy. “This is a
Porter saddle-tank engine manufactured in 1942 for Bethlehem Steel,
where it was used as a switch engine,” explains Engineer John
Barden during a trial run one morning. After Howard Latham bought
the engine in 1979, he built a tender to add an authentic touch,
and added restored passenger cars and a caboose.

Originally oil-fired, the 70-ton locomotive now runs on a steady
diet of coal. “This is what I call job security,” says John’s
fireman, Tim Hill, as he pitches another shovel full into the
firebox. “It’s always hungry.” In perpetual motion during the show,
the engine requires constant attention, and careful maintenance.
“When we’re not running it,” John says with an affectionate tone,
“we’re working on it.”

Ramble through the enchanted forest

Travel off the beaten path at Denton, and things are not always
as they seem. Take the Tucker 1-1/2 hp Type R gas engine displayed
in the woods, for instance. Chances are very good you’ve never seen
one like it … the Tucker is, after all, a one-of-a-kind engine
built by Randy Tucker, Charlotte, N.C.

Randy didn’t set out to invent an engine. But after a two-year
parts search for a restoration project proved fruitless, Randy gave
up. “I just decided to take that engine (a pushrod Ideal) and make
it into a sideshaft engine,” he says. The conversion required lots
of new parts, which Randy happily built. “I made everything
myself,” he says, “sideshaft parts, governor parts, carburetor,
fuel pump, hopper, cart … it took about a month. But it runs really
good; it surprised me.” He even taught himself how to produce
etched brass tags; the Tucker sports his first effort. “I’m going
to start doing more of that,” he says.

This hardly comes as a surprise to his wife, Kim. “The engines
are his first love,” she declares in a tone of mock resignation.
“I’ve accepted it.”

The Tucker is but one of the delights of the woods. Meander
through, and you’ll encounter a moonshine still (working, but
producing nothing more spirited than distilled water), a swap meet,
countless engine exhibits, and assorted oddities like a handmade,
motorized five-foot tricycle or a winged contraption powered by an
old gas engine.

Make a clean sweep

Drop in on Mark Hernig at the show’s tramping barn for a close
look at a heritage trade. Mark, who lives at Waxhaw, N.C., gives an
entertaining demonstration of the art of broom making, using
technology devised by the Shakers 200 years ago.

From the treadle-powered “kicker” to the stitching vise, Mark’s
equipment is man-powered. The “kicker” holds the broom handle,
allowing additions of broomcorn; the vise flattens the completed
round broom for handstitching. “In on the bottom, out on the top,”
Mark recites as he whips a long needle through the stalks of
broomcorn. “This is my favorite part of making a broom,” he
deadpans, “because you always come out on top.”

When Mark saw his first broom-making machine, it was something
akin to love at first sight. “When I found it, I said to myself,
‘This may be your only chance to buy something like this.'” A
Mennonite broom maker taught him how to make brooms. For three
years, Mark made brooms full-time.

The historically authentic demonstration lacked the horsepower
of a tractor or complexity of an antique thresher, but held
visitors spellbound. “What’s more common than a broom,” Mark mused,
“but less understood?”

Roll up your sleeves at the machine shop

New this year at the Denton FarmPark: a new machine shop with
restored metal-working machinery, all connected to a working line
shaft, the kind of arrangement that a century ago would have been
powered by a single steam engine. Typical of line shafts and belt
systems used to power factories before electricity was commonly
available, the operation consists of about 30 operable machines.
Look for a shop hoist, automatic screw machine, riveter, plow
sharpener, pedestal grinder, horizontal drilling machine, vertical
drilling machine, cylindrical grinder, horizontal milling machine,
vertical milling machine, planer, lathe, shaper, transverse shaper,
radial drill and upright drill, among others.

Pick the best of the litter

A unique feature at a tractor show, border collie demonstrations
are a regular attraction at Denton FarmPark. Donald and Dorothy
Thomas, Jackson, N.C. put their dogs through their paces, herding
sheep and cattle to showgoers’ delight. A blend of skilled training
and patriotism, breed history and more is offered a couple times
each day. Fair warning to the tenderhearted: A litter of border
collie pups is onsite and each is guaranteed to tug hard at your
heartstrings.

Other unique features at Denton not to be missed: Remember Alvin
York of World War I fame? His Allis-Chalmers D14 (SN10104) is on
permanent display in the Exhibit Building (also home to the last
car owned by Mayberry RFD’s Aunt Bea) … an authentic “tramping”
barn, where horses thresh grain with their hooves … the Sligo
Seven-In-One Woodworking machine (featuring a combination table
saw, band saw, planer, shaper, jointer, mortise tool and tendon
cutter, belted to a 4 hp Cushman binder engine) … and a 125-ton
cotton compress more than 100 years old, used to compress cotton
bales to a size manageable for transport. The steam-powered
monstrosity remains under restoration but 30-foot timbers and a
10-foot piston cylinder make clear the size of the device. Its
impact, too, was huge: The compress was said to nearly equal the
cotton gin in importance to the Southern economy during
Reconstruction. Using 4 million pounds of force, the compress
literally doubled the volume of cotton that could be transported by
trains and ships.

See how it’s done

Visit Denton FarmPark, and you’ll think you’re in Missouri, the
“Show Me” state. Start with field demonstrations (plowing, binding
wheat and combining). Move on to threshing and baling, then the
sawmill and veneer mill, wood splitter and rock crusher, steam
shovel and crane, shingle mill, grist mill, corn shelling and
cotton gin, powered by everything from horses to steam to
tractors.

Hunt up some horsepower

Hundreds of antique tractors are displayed at the Denton
FarmPark, and each has a story behind it. Take the exhibit shown by
the Bledsoe family of Glen Allen, Va. A gleaming Farmall Model B is
flanked by a Super Duper C … a custom-built lawn tractor for the
Bledsoe kids (Stuart, 13; Kaytlynn, 12; and Drew, 8).

The 1947 Model B was given to Marshall Bledsoe. “It was a rust
bucket,” he recalls. “It was terrible.” It was his introduction
into tractor restoration. “It was all about proving a point,” he
says. “I decided I was going to restore that if it was the last
thing I ever did.”

Restoration took the better part of a year. “I had every part
off of it, but I wanted to have it ready for the Rockville, Va.,
show,” Marshall says. He met his goal … just barely. “We put the
decals on two days before the show,” he says.

If the Model B was the chicken, the Super Duper C was the egg.
“I told the kids I’d fix a mower for them to pull with, and I had
all the old rough parts from the B,” Marshall says. A friend gave
him a 1968 Toro, and he was off and running. “I cut down the
fenders and used the grille from the B,” he says. The fenders,
notes his wife, Becky, were the result of a majority vote. “He
wasn’t going to put the fenders on it, but we talked him into it,”
she says. Custom decals completed the package.

A few other projects await his attention. “We have an
Allis-Chalmers C at home, and a John Deere wide-front 60, and a
1979 Chevy pickup,” Marshall says. One thing’s for sure: The whole
clan will be involved. “We enjoy it,” Becky says. “It’s our family
thing.”

Read all about it

Communication today is instantaneous and informal: cell phones
and e-mail rule. At the FarmPark, go back a century … take in a
bulletin hot off a 104-year-old printing press, in operation daily
at the Exhibit Building. The Chandler & Price press is powered
by steam and demonstrated throughout the show, with printed sheets
literally sailing out of the press. It’s just part of a varied
display within the Exhibit Building.

Start a collection

Antiques and collectibles are offered for sale at a few
buildings at Denton FarmPark, including the Service Station.
Shelves inside the station groan beneath the weight of collectible
petroleum items, original and reproduction porcelain signs, and
other service station collectibles spanning a period from about
1930 to 1960. “When I was young, I always liked this stuff,” says
station proprietor Mike Hinson, Oakboro, N.C. “And I still do. Most
people around here remember these things, and they like it; it
makes them think of the past.”

Porcelain signs, he says, are the hottest collectible in his
category – and the most expensive. “You can’t hardly get them now;
people are wishing they’d gotten into it 20 years ago.” New
collectors must be careful, he adds. “There’s a lot of repro stuff
these days,” he says. “It can be hard to tell. Bootleggers will
scratch a new sign, or bend it or dent it, just to make it look
old.” His advice? “You’ve got to be patient, and look close, and
ask a lot of questions. There are still lots of friendly and honest
people around.”

Not shopping? Pull in anyway, and nab a cold Coca Cola (in the
old short glass bottle) from the cooler: It’s a guaranteed trip
back in time.

Grab a bite

If you go hungry while at the Denton FarmPark, it’s your own
darned fault. The show’s massive, shaded midway is home to a
panoply of regional delights: fried pies, roasted corn, down home
barbecue, rib eye sandwiches, fried seafood, fried okra, corn dogs
and burgers, ethnic foods, roasted peanuts, ice cream of every
flavor, snow cones and more. Take a sitdown at one of the ample
picnic tables, soak up the local flavor and watch the hungry hordes
pass by. Sure bets: fresh-squeezed lemonade, barbecue with the
“eastern” sauce (a tangy, vinegar-based sauce), and ice cream
cranked by – what else? – an old gas engine.

For more information: Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion,
1366 Jim Elliott Road, Denton, NC 27239; (336) 859-2755; e-mail:
manager@threshers.com www.eventdirectory.com
www.threshers.com

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