Two words describe the New York Steam Association's annual Pageant of Steam in Canandaigua, N.Y.: perpetual motion.
"This is just an honest working show," says Gary Love, a club director and former president. Demonstrations (planned and spontaneous) fill every hour of the day: plowing, excavation work by vintage construction equipment, threshing, baling, sawing, shingle-making and more. Factor in tractor pulls, parades, dozens of pieces of equipment running at any given time and a very busy flea market, and it adds up to plenty of action.
The show is held on club-owned grounds just east of the historic community of Canandaigua. The club has made continual improvements since moving to the present location in 1970. An office and museum were built in 2006, and the stationary steam display was upgraded and a road project was completed. The site is also host to a spring swap meet and the Two-Cylinder EXPO held every other year, and radio-control flying events.
With activities like that, club members are kept hopping. "We have 1,500 members on the books," Gary says, "and average 60-100 at meetings." A core group of 30 attend work sessions. "Some of these guys live 90 miles away, but they're here every week," Gary adds. "Every Wednesday night, year 'round, is a work night. Last year we had to take Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve off, but otherwise we're here every week."
Gary estimates the crowd at 10,000 during the four-day show. Tractor pulls, he says, generate a fair amount of that traffic. "Tractor pulls using farm tractors from the 1950s and '60s are the fastest-growing part of the show," he says. "We'll pull 150 tractors on a normal night."
Canandaigua's featured engine in August was the Otto, manufactured in Philadelphia, Pa. The 5 hp 1909 Otto engine displayed by Wayne Grenning, Lockport, N.Y., and his son, Alex, worked for decades in New Jersey cranberry bogs. Later the engine was abandoned and rust took its toll. But the Otto was well worth saving. "The Otto company designed 4-cycle engines that were very well made," Wayne says. Historical research is a big part of the hobby for him; another is model building. Currently he's building a 1/3-scale model of an Otto.
Bruce Lawson's 20 hp Otto engine, manufactured in 1895, started life in a glamour job: generating electricity for a Warren, Pa., hotel. By 1918, though, it had been relegated to the oil fields, where it worked for 70 years. "It was really abused," Bruce says. "What wasn't broken was worn out. In the oil fields, nothing was sacred. They even welded the clutch pulley to the shaft."
Bruce has a few small farm engines, but concentrates on oil field engines, and the Otto is among his prized possessions. "People say the Otto is really the Cadillac of gas engines," he says. He kept restoration of his Otto simple. "I didn't re-bore it, but I did put new rings in," he says. "There's no babbitt bearings in it. The original bronze bearings are as good as they were 100 years ago."
Four generations of Rob Charles' family have kept watch over the 5 hp Otto engine he displayed at Canandaigua. The engine was purchased new in 1906 by the Methodist Church in Flemington, N.J., to run a blower for the pipe organ. "My grandfather probably heard it run, because he was a Methodist," says Rob, who lives in Ringoes, N.J. Rob's grandfather bought the engine in the late 1940s, after it had been removed from the church, and used it in his machine shop until 1959. It didn't run again until Rob got it going in July 2006. A month later, joined by his father, Robert Charles Jr., and his son, Patrick, Rob took the Otto to Canandaigua for its show debut.
The Charles' Otto did not require extensive restoration. "It was more cleaning than restoration," Rob says. "The exhaust valve was rusty from sitting. I had to redo the skid, did some plumbing work and added a new fuel pump plunger. We found the fuel pump in a chicken coop just before we dozed it; just kicked it up in the dirt."
Canandaigua's featured tractor was the Rumely, and members of the Rumely Products Collectors turned out in force with a comprehensive exhibit of more than 25 tractors. "I think the Model B is the only one missing this weekend," says Frank Rupert, Battle Creek, Mich. Built for heavy-duty use, the Rumely enjoyed broad appeal. The big models were put to work as prairie breakers on the Great Plains and ran sawmills in the Northeast. Rumely was also a popular choice for county road maintenance operations across the country.
The Canandaigua display ranged from the tall (a 30-60 Model E, the largest Rumely) to the small (a 1-1/2 hp model Rumely "pup"), and included such rare pieces as a Rumely line drive tractor, an IdealPull and a Model K 10-20, the only one running its owner knows of. "The first 100 Model K tractors produced in 1917 had low-tension ignition," explains owner Dennis Rupert (Frank's son), Hillsdale, Mich. "They were called 10-20s, but everything after that was a 12-20. This one is no. 37, and it came out of South Dakota."
Dennis grew up with Rumelys, surrounded by relatives who had farmed with the line. "My dad bought his first one in '56, and he didn't have anything big enough to haul it, so he drove it home … it took two days," Dennis says. "Rumely was certainly not the cheapest tractor you could buy, but it was very heavy duty and well built. There's just no other tractor like it."
Starting in business in 1853, Rumely made its name building threshing machines. The company's claim to fame was quality construction. Business acumen may have been harder to come by. "I think they did not have a lot of business knowledge," Frank muses. "The company went bankrupt three times. They hung with the OilPull (technology) a little too long, and then spent a lot of money buying out competitors."
Ed Dina, Marlboro, N.Y., a fan of large prairie tractors, displayed his 30-60 Model E. "I like the way the Rumely is designed," he says, "and the sound of that 2-cylinder engine."
He's not alone: More than a few Rumely collectors get a catch in their throat when they describe the tractor's unique sound. "There's nothing like the sound of an OilPull running," Frank agrees. "The Rumely has a thump all its own. It's just a mellow, nice exhaust."
How many flues does your crockpot have? Chances are good Asa Burton and Tom Cannon have you beat. The two ride herd over a 150 hp, 15-ton Lucey boiler with 94 flues that provides live steam for all stationary steam engines and pumps at Canandaigua's steam building … and serves as the world's biggest slow cooker.
"We've done roasts on a grill rack in the boiler's smokebox, and ham and pineapple, even peach cobbler and apple pie," Asa says.
Asa is Canandaigua's chief of stationary steam; Tom is an engineer on the crew. The two clearly have responsibilities extending beyond cuisine, but they've developed a tasty little sideline that shows off the show's steam operation. During the four-day steam pageant, Asa, Tom and other volunteers cook 3,000 pounds of potatoes in a converted bulk milk tank now piped for steam. Hot potatoes are delivered (by the "Tator Gator") to five concession stands around the show grounds, where they are served morning, noon and night. "We'll cook 600 pounds in an hour," Asa says. And that's not all. The steam cooker makes quick work of sweet corn (50 dozen ears, husks on, in 90 minutes) and, on special occasions and in much smaller quantities, clams, shrimp and lobster tails.
Built in Chatanooga, Tenn., in 1954, the Lucey boiler - designated as a portable oil field-style boiler - was long used at a Pennsylvania furniture factory. Later it was used at a sawmill at Coventryville, N.Y. Asa and Tom had been on the lookout for a boiler for 20 years when they found it. "When I first saw it," Tom recalls, "my jaw dropped to the ground. We weren't looking for anything quite that big, but we took it anyway."
The Lucey boiler arrived at Canandaigua in 2002. State inspectors conducted a series of tests before the unit could be certified and used, and it is re-inspected annually. Today it holds the proud distinction as the first recertified boiler in New York, and the largest hand-fired hobby class boiler in New York.
Everything about the Lucey is big. It holds 1,500 gallons of water and develops 150 psi pressure. The firebox is 4 feet by 8 feet, and stands 6 feet tall. It's never burned anything but wood, and at a typical show, it consumes two to three full cords. "It's really taken us to an entirely different level," Tom says. "Now we have enough horsepower and reserve to run any engine we want, for as long as we want." FC