WHERE STEAM IS KING
115 N. Second Street, Oakland, Maryland 21550
With the whistle blowing 'two longs, a short, and a long', the Frick Eclipse slowly puffed through the festival grounds.,
It was going to a section where seven other steam traction engines and a steam roller were already lined up for photographs. The photographic session was part of the opening day activities for the 38th annual Farmers and Threshermens Jubilee at New Centerville, PA, September 5th to 9th.
Each year for the past 37 years, this town in Somerset County of southwestern Pennsylvania has played host to 'steam buffs' in ever increasing numbers. Sponsored by the New Centerville and Rural Volunteer Fire Company, the Jubilee has become an event for the whole community.
Antique steam traction engines are the center of attraction on the festival grounds, but there are many other kinds of engines to be seen along with ancient farm equipment.
'I guess you heard my whistle signals,' laughed Mark Mull after he maneuvered his Frick Eclipse into line with the other steam engines. 'That one has the same deep tone as a railroad engine.'
The 'deep tone' was one of four whistles mounted above the boiler on the Eclipse. They were added when the 1911 traction engine was restored in 1986-87 by the Mull family at nearby Rockwood, Pennsylvania. A family of good mechanics, the Mulls had several other types of engines exhibited on the festival grounds.
As if to emphasize the deep tone of the large whistle, Mark played a little tune on it and the remaining three whistles.
'Of course that's nothing,' he laughed, 'compared to the tractor up at the other end. It has nine whistles in a row. The owner plays a whole lot of tunes you can recognize.'
Nine whistles in a row weren't the only things adapted to that particular engine. It was a composite of several 20th century engines remodeled over the years and equipped with rubber tire wheels. Complete with headlights, it could look forward to being exhibited in the 21st century.
Represented in this row of engines lined up for a photograph were names that dominated rural areas at the beginning of the 1900's: Frick, Peerless and Case. The one steam roller there was a Buffalo Springfield roller, manufactured in Springfield, Ohio. Unlike most of the engines on exhibit the roller did not have its date of manufacture, only the serial number 4551.
A hundred fifty feet away, a Peerless and a Case were getting ready to move into their assigned positions in the row. All together there were 11 operating antique steam engines on the festival grounds. In addition, there were two small, scale model Peerless engines on exhibit.
'Those Peerless models are works of art,' commented Ron Muhl of New Centerville. 'They were made by two machinists named Lancaster from over in Mt. Savage, Maryland. Mr. Ray Lancaster was a very prominent exhibitor at the Jubilee for a number of years. I understand he is in a nursing home now.'
'The Lancaster understood a lot about all kinds of engines. Mr. J.E. Lancaster made a hot air engine that's on exhibit. He picked up spare parts here and there and made the engine. Not very many people understand the principle that makes an engine like that run.'
The Lancaster hot air engine was quietly working in a space that also had a lot of old, two cycle gasoline engines. Compared to the 'hit and miss' noise of the gasoline engines, the hot air model seemed rather sedate.
A manufactured hot air engine was also on exhibit. It was a Sterling Hot Air Pump, which was probably used for pumping water a hundred years ago. A vertical machine, it stood about 5V2 feet tall, and had a much smaller fire box than the new Lancaster engine.
For information about the Sterling, a small sign described how the hot air cycle was successfully adapted for work by Robert Sterling of Scotland in 1827.
The Jubilee organizers have gone a step beyond simply showing antique steam and gasoline engines, they put them to work. All over the festival grounds the engines were operating a variety of equipment.
Not far from the Sterling engine, a 1899 Keystone well drilling rig with a vertical boiler and steam engine was slowly punching a hole in the ground.
Near the Keystone rig a 1912 Farquhar stationary engine was supplying the power for a shingle mill. Operating at 80# pressure, the Farquhar flywheel delivered its power to the shingle mill by a belt.
John Miller of Rockwood, PA, who was firing the boiler, kept a close eye on the steam gauge.
'All the boilers on the festival grounds have been tested and OK'd by a state inspector,' he said, pointing to a chalk mark on the boiler. 'But if a fellow is doing his job right, the pop-off valves shouldn't have to let off any excess steam.'
Situated near the middle of the festival grounds is a one story corrugated iron building that hummed with activity. Inside was housed a large stationary diesel engine and an equally large gas engine. The gas engine was clicking away and driving an Allis-Chalmers generator which supplied electricity for part of the grounds. Built in 1920 for Hope Natural Gas, it eventually ended up at New Centerville where it was restored by Mel Bailey and friends.
Two hundred feet beyond the corrugated iron building a man and woman stood looking at another exhibit.
'You really get a feel for how things were on the farm a hundred years ago,' he remarked.
They were looking at an 1890 Eclipse stationary engine connected by a belt to an 1859 Fearless thrashing machine. Later in the day the Fearless, manufactured at Cobelskill, New Jersey, would be operated as part of the ongoing festival activities.
Although the main attention of the Jubilee was focused on antique steam traction engines, there were also other farm implements to be seen. The eastern end of the festival grounds was lined with antique and 'not too old' gasoline tractors. As a tribute to their owners, all of them were well maintained and beautifully restored. Each one of them looked as if it could be fired up and put to work at any time.
All festivals have a well planned program, and the Jubilee was no exception. Each day there were scheduled activities that ranged from parades to demonstrations to races. During the day there were also eating places open for the hungry, and at night bingo games were run for the enjoyment of the lucky.
'Come back next year,' was the goodbye phrase of the volunteers operating the gates to the grounds at the close of the festival.
It is almost guaranteed that folks will return next year, because the annual Farmers and Threshermen's Jubilee at New Centerville, PA is worth visiting. It has something for everybody interested in things mechanical, especially for those who like steam engines.