Emphasis on Old Engines at Portland Show

The Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor show in Portland, Ind., featured old engines from around the world

| November 1999

Rhythmic putt-putt-putts of gas engines, puffs of smoke belching from coal-fired steam traction engines, acrid smoke and shrill engine whistles welcomed about 65,000 visitors to the 34th annual Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show in Portland, Ind., Aug. 25-29. Exhibitors came from 37 states, Canada, Australia, England and Sicily, and visitors – including a group of engine enthusiasts from the Netherlands – came from all over. 

Old engines and tractors evoke memories of a simpler time, when family farms were the backbone of the Midwest economy. In the early years of this century, engines ranging from 1-10 hp provided power for everything from washing machines to lighting systems, water pumps to corn shellers, grinders and saws. Steam engines furnished the power to thresh grain and run industrial machinery. This equipment represented the peak of technological achievement in its day. However, much of it was obsolete by the 1930s, as electricity became an affordable alternative. The workhorses of an earlier age were largely forgotten until they were rediscovered by collectors in the 1960s and 70s.

Scott Hirshey, Geneva, Ind., finds the classics offer a link to the past.

"I enjoy the people and the constant activity," he says. "People stop to say 'I remember when Dad (or Granddad) had an engine like this' and then share their tales of life before electricity."

Scott doesn't remember his first show: He was just 2, and traveled by stroller. Two years later, his grandfather – the late Harold Hirshey – exhibited a small engine in Scott's name, and a collector was born.

Scott's pride and joy is a 1914 Mogul sideshaft 8 hp engine. He rebuilt the sideshaft, put in new bearings and did the machine work.