Visit the Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Association Show, just north of Easton on Maryland's eastern shore, and it's the next best thing to being "beamed up." As you enter the show grounds through a break in the trees, spinning from nearby traffic that's hurled you in like a fastball, you instantly leave the world behind.
Eric Harvey, Easton, was the show chairman of the 2005 show, held July 7-10. A youngster in the world of show leadership, he carries impressive seniority nonetheless. "This show has been going on for 32 years," he says, "and I've been to 31 of them." His memories stretch to the days when the 43-acre club-owned grounds were a dense forest. "This was all woods," he says. "It all had to be cleared."
Club members wielded a careful hand at that task, and the result is an enchanted forest with nooks and crannies for tractor displays, stationary engines, a flea market, picnicking and "lots of miscellaneous." The grounds are packed without seeming so. "We're expecting 300 tractors," Eric said on July 9, during the show's biggest day, "and we have eight steamers here today. We have a large local collector base: We're almost 1,000 members strong."
Those members clearly relish variety. The Tuckahoe show offers scads of antique tractors, steamers, cars and trucks, horse-drawn equipment and stationary engines, a scale, as well as a small gauge passenger train, and model trains running like clockwork. Demonstrations abound: rock crushing, shingle making, sawing, plowing, lumber planing, colonial crafts and blacksmithing are among the offerings. Take in all that, and there's still the Rural Life Museum with professional quality, comprehensive displays of everything from a vintage machine shop to a turn-of-the-century country store … and then there's the collector exhibits.
As a collector, Allen Thomas, Conowingo, Md., has broad tastes. He's collected gas engines, farm tractors, steam engines, air compressors, sprayers, phone insulators, pipe wrenches, garden tractors and lawn edgers. But what he's really nuts for is the lowly vise. "It's an obsession for me," he says, readily admitting that he has little competition. "I don't know anybody else who collects vises, even though it's a tool everybody uses."
Allen's been collecting vises for more than 10 years. Although his collection includes big vises (he started out with an anvil vise), he prefers small ones. "The smaller, the better," he says, smiling. "They're easier to carry."
His collection includes vises unique to every trade: machinists, carpenters, blacksmiths, jewelers, plumbers and pipefitters. "Once I started collecting them, people started bringing them to me," he says. He also finds vises at flea markets. While prices are generally reasonable, there are exceptions. "I've seen tiny ones sell for anywhere from $125 to $250."
Allen's collection numbers 85 altogether. The biggest, an 8-inch vise, weighs as much as 45 pounds. The oldest, a blacksmith's vise that once belonged to his father-in-law, is more than 100 years old. He has vises made in Germany; a pair that resemble mini-handcuffs (used in watch repair); a hand vise used to hold small saw blades; and a swivel vise that spins. Some he's restored; others remain original. Most are made of cast steel, and the oldest ones feature solid handles and wing nuts.
It's not every collector who can convert his hobby into a roof over his head. Eric Harvey, Easton, Md., is among the select few who could. His exhibit at the Tuckahoe show is a working Lane Shingle Mill, manufactured in Montpelier, Vt., in about 1918. "We're the second owner of this piece," he says. "My dad restored the unit in the 1980s, but it was actually still used to make shingles up to the time my dad bought it."
Lane produced shingle mills from 1878 to the 1950s. (The company also made automatic sawmills.) Although the unit is sometimes contrary to operate, the initial engineering was sound. "The same basic design is still used," Eric says. "And until last year, you could still get replacement parts." Powering the shingle mill is a 7-1/2-by-9 Frick Eclipse steam engine owned by Jamie Hale, Churchill, Md. Still in original condition, the Frick goes to shows on a regular basis.
When George Murray's original collection (handy oilers) stalled out ("It got to the point where I couldn't find any I didn't already have"), he started over with something decidedly less common … antique blowtorches. "You can go to any show you want, and you're not going to see a display of blowtorches," he says. "And they're all different. No two are the same. I never even know when I buy one if I have one like it."
A natural collector, George (who lives at Newark, Del.) expanded into auto torches, which were used to light igniters on early automobiles. "I sold two to a guy for his Model A and Model T door panels," he says. "And plumbers carried them in their tool boxes; there was a slot just right for them."
Soon, he'd created his own niche that might best be described as "things that get hot." He began picking up antique self-heating branding irons (used to mark lumber) and self-heating soldering irons, as well as a weed/brush burner, a sort of prehistoric flamethrower.
Auto torches were used from about 1900 to 1930, are generally made of brass or bronze and all have the same size tank. The earliest torch in George's collection dates to about 1918. Prices have risen quickly in the past two years; entry level pieces sell for $18-20, at flea markets and on eBay.
The old-style blowtorches were produced from about 1900 to 1960, George says. Although common torches can be found at affordable prices, he's seen rare pieces sell on eBay for as much as $800. Monitoring online auctions, he says, is a good way to keep tabs on the hobby; he also recommends the Blow Torch Collectors Association, with more than 200 members nationwide.
Horace and Norma Potter, Milford, Del., know farm collectibles. They've collected virtually all of them at one time or another (gas engines, tractors, old trucks, wrenches, toys, seats, pocket ledgers, memorabilia, oil cans, toys and model engines, implements and equipment), attended countless shows and even hosted their own event (The Hickory Ridge Antique Farm Show) at their farm for 20 years.
So, at a time in their lives when cast iron seemed to be growing heavier, they regrouped. Two years ago, they created a rolling show display in a trailer with sides that pop up during the show, and down when weather or travel warrant. "It's a lot easier for us, and we enjoy the shows more," Norma says.
The trailer's inventory is a lively mix of cast iron seats, toys, a 100-year-old pea sheller, models, ice cream molds, barbed wire, wrenches, oil cans, signs, memorabilia and more. The variety reflects the couple's interest in vintage farm relics. "We have a rope maker, a strawberry cup (the wooden baskets berries were once packed in) machine, a broom-making machine and a wooden Champion thresher," Norma says. "We try to find different things, but that's getting hard to do."
Judi Coleman doesn't work full-time at collecting antique farm items: It just looks that way. A collector for just three years, Judi, who lives at Ellendale, Del., has amassed a very respectable collection of kitchen items, wrenches, cream separators, corn shellers and hog oilers … and she's nowhere near ready to stop.
Take in the breadth of Judi's display, and you might begin to feel sympathy pangs in your lower back. It's work, hauling all that iron and setting it up, but for Judi it's a labor of love. She gets a helping hand from Junior Bradley, a collector/restorer in his own right (Massey engines and tractors, following in his father's footsteps), and the two clearly enjoy the hobby. "We set up at shows about three times a year," Judi says. "It just grows on you. It's lots of fun."
The display touches on several categories: Antique kitchen devices (peelers, pitters, stoners, juicers, grinders and doubtless more) are clamped to the edges of antique wood-topped ironing boards, putting them at a convenient height and angle for viewing. Corn shellers ride sawhorses, and cream separators are lined up nearby, complete with their respective cleaning racks, wrenches and oil cans. Hog oilers, a bit of an oddity on Maryland's Eastern Shore, ring the front.
When she started collecting, Judi's first interest was wrenches. "Then I got into apple peelers," she recalls, "things with cutouts of clover and hearts. I love anything with cutouts. Then it was corn shellers and grinders. I do like old kitchen stuff, but I've branched out; there are just so many neat things out there.
- For more information: Tuckahoe Steam and Gas Engine Association, c/o Lawrence Patrick, P.O. Box 636, Easton, MD 20743; e-mail: email@example.com