Pennsylvania's Menges Mill Show highlights the best of the state's agricultural heritage
It was a scene from another era. Men in straw hats and denim bib overalls greeted each other and exchanged the latest country gossip. Women worked in the kitchen, preparing home-style food for visitors and exhibitors. The sound of many engines once used on every farm provided a soothing background.
An elderly man sat in a lawn chair next to a gently chugging steam engine.
"That's music," he said. "I could listen to that sound all day. It's music."
The Menges Mill Historic Horse, Steam and Gas Association holds its annual show the third weekend in July at Elicher's Grove in southern Pennsylvania. The grove, once used for church picnics, is set in the York County countryside, just a few miles from the community of Spring Grove.
Shaded by mature oaks, it provided the perfect location for a community event that commemorates the area's agricultural heritage. No suburban developments marred the rolling hills and woodlands. An air of tranquillity transcended the sounds of farm equipment and the buzz of cheerful conversation.
C.E. Stambaugh's buddies described him as "an engine doctor." The 83-year-old resident of Spring Grove brought his threshing machine and two restored Rumely OilPull tractors to the show.
"The threshing machine was made in 1928 by A.B. Farquhar in York, Pa.," he said. "It was one of the last ones made. I've had it for 25 years, and I keep it in good shape. It's powered by a 1927 40 hp Rumely OilPull, which is fueled by a mixture of kerosene and water."
C.E., who used to sell farm machinery with his father, said the Menges Mill show is the only one he attends. He obviously enjoyed visiting with his friends and overseeing the threshing demonstration put on for an appreciative audience.
Robert Urich, 81, Lewisberry, Pa., spent more than 50 years in the lawn and garden business. He started his collection of garden tractors with a couple basic push mowers. His show exhibit included a Sumar tractor from the 1930s, a 22-inch power mower made in 1920 by Ideal Power Lawn Mower Co., Lansing, Mich.; and a David Bradley Tri Trac made for Sears in the 1950s. Only 3,000 Tri Tracs were built, he said.
"We go to shows to keep from getting old," he said, introducing his wife, Edna. "We like to keep moving. My wife is older than me, and she's the boss."
Robert said rotary tillers were developed in Switzerland by the Sumar Company, and imported into the U.S. in the 1920s to add to the "Earth Grinders" being developed by Rototiller of New York. The early tillers, he said, weighed almost 600 pounds and were not very practical. By the 1960s, after numerous company acquisitions and design changes, the tractors were renamed Troy Built in honor of Troy, N.Y.
Steve Nafe of Glen Rock, Pa., brought his grandfather's turn-of-the-century shingle mill to demonstrate the production of cedar roofing shingles. It was powered by a 1938 Frick 50 hp steam engine.
"We just go to different shows and play with it," Steve said with a smile. "This is a very expensive hobby."
Richard Wisner of Spring Grove took pride in his expanding dairy collection, dominated by a life-size model cow hooked up to one of his milking machines.
"I just like anything to do with milk," he said. "When I was a kid, I milked two cows every day, and worked on my uncle's farm. I just love this stuff."
There were many kinds of gas engines, some set up to perform a function such as pumping water. There were displays of corn shellers and Maytag washing machine motors. An awesome collection of old farm equipment repair manuals and catalogs took I up several large tables. More than 50 tractors of all ages, makes, models and colors were lined up along the edge of the grove.
David Hilty of Spring Grove showed off the log splitter he designed and built 20 years ago. Powered by a German air-cooled four-cylinder Deutzs diesel engine taken from a reaper, it will split four cords of wood in an hour.
"I used to split a lot of logs when I first had it," said David, who is a trucker by trade. "Now I use it to play with. I take it to shows to demonstrate. Shows need entertainment activities for people; otherwise, they leave."
This year's show attendance was adversely affected by temperatures near the century mark but there were still plenty of young families strolling under the trees, enjoying a cool drink, watching the demonstrations, and listening to live country music. Others sampled the food while they rested on benches in the open pavilions.
The Menges Mill Historic Horse, Steam and Gas Association was founded in 1986 to encourage preservation of Pennsylvania's early agricultural heritage, according to the group's president, Harold Sheaffer, Kutztown, Pa. The group has about 250 members from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
"We have a real good cross section of people and exhibits," he said. "The show is growing by about 10 percent a year, but we don't want to get too big. We want to stay small with top quality exhibits. We're always looking for new and different ways to preserve our heritage."
There are no admission or exhibitor fees at the show. The non-profit organization brings in money to cover expenses by renting space for flea market stalls and by preparing food and beverages.
"This is a family program," Sheaffer said. "It's a place where people can learn about their heritage." FC
For more information: The Menges Mill Historic Horse, Steam and Gas Association, Donna Sheaffer, (610) 683-3607; online at http://www.mengesmillssteam.com.