Following in PAP’S FOOTSTEPS

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Dianne Crater

406 Lynnewood Watsontown, Pennsylvania 17777

As a little boy, I lived close to my grandfather Pap. Every day
after school the bus would drop me off at my driveway, and instead
of going right home, I would take a slight detour to Pap’s
house. I would sit with Pap for hours and listen to his stories of
growing up in ‘the good old days.” I sat and listened
for hours to the tales he would tell. At that age I don’t think
I really understood what it would be like to work a steam engine,
but I still loved to hear all about it. During the summer months I
would stick like glue to Pap, and as I grew older I wanted to be
just like him, do all the things he had done and see all the places
he’d been. Even then I realized that those old days were left
only in Pap’s mind and in his stories; when he passed away the
verbal pictures he painted of a landscape dominated by steam
engines and other equipment would fade and be gone forever.

One crisp autumn day, Grampa Crater took me to the Nittany
Antique Machinery Association Show at Centre Hall, Pennsylvania.
Then came the biggest thrill for a ten-year-old boy. I found myself
surrounded by row after row of the old things my Pap told me about
dusty threshing machines, shingle mills and steam engines belching
smoke. I felt like a kid with a quarter in a candy store. All
Pap’s accounts of the past came to life as I looked at all
those real tractors, engines, farm equipment just as Pap had
described, but that I thought I’d never see. I thought I must
have died and gone to Heavenall those stories surely were true, and
here I was face to face with the big, hot, dirty steam engines! It
was all Grampa Crater could do to get me in the car to take me
home. I didn’t want to leave. After I got home I ran to Pap to
tell him all about it. I remember to this day the sparkle in his
eyes and I know it must have made him really proud to know that I
genuinely enjoyed his storytelling, and I got to see what he was
talking about. The only thing that bothered me was that he had
gotten to use one of the big engines and I didn’t. But I guess
I was content to settle with Pap’s memories.

August 8, 1993: Loyalsock Valley Antique Machinery Association
Show at Loyalsockville, Pa. Mark H. Bowersox sitting on 1915 Case
50 HP steam traction engine owned by Dan Carey, Williamsport, Pa.
Photo by Dianne Crater.

After graduating I tried to follow in Pap’s footsteps. I
joined the Navy as he had done in World War II, and he had the
privilege of seeing me in my uniform before he passed away. I
forgot all about the ‘good old days’ for awhile! I guess
that without Pap around I didn’t have anybody with whom to
reminisce. While in the Navy I put Pap’s memories aside, but
never forgot the things he taught me. Then I met a shipmate who was
also an antique tractor nut. It was easy for us to sit and talk for
hours about the shared experiences of our childhood. Like me, he
too had learned from his grandfather. I eventually transferred off
that ship, and again had no one to share my love of antique
tractors.

As time went by, my mother for some strange, unknown reason,
developed an interest in antique machinery. (MY MOTHER!!! MY
MOTHER!!! liking old greasy, noisy tractors and steam engines!) She
was attending the Loyalsock Valley Antique Machinery
Association’s Early Days at Loyalsockville, Pennsylvania and
other shows, meeting folks who owned those great big wonderful
machines. She remembered how mesmerized I was by Pap and his talk
about the old days, and asked me one day if I would like to learn
how to work a steam engine. I believe I had total heart failure.
Here I was a man with only memories of Pap’s yarns getting the
chance of a lifetime. I jumped at the opportunity to learn. I was
starting my second childhood, and what a way to start it off
learning how to work a steam engine that many years ago my Pap had
used and was the subject of many delightful stories for me. It is
said there are only a few things that happen in a man’s life
worth recalling. The highlights of my life have been my marriage to
Karen, my daughter growing up, and the anticipation of the birth of
my son. But learning how to fire that Case 50 HP steam engine and
bring it to life was the icing on the cake!

Today as I watch the crowd from that platform, I know what they
are thinking as they stop to stare at the engine. They are
remembering the days when they used to work with one. It gives me a
feeling of deep satisfaction to know that by taking an interest in
history, and by running this engine, I can make it possible for
other folks to remember the stories handed down to them by their
grandfathers. My greatest thrill is to have an old-timer ask,
‘How about giving the whistle a blow for old time sake?’
Then I’ll reach up and grab the chain and give a pull. The
steam races upward through the polished brass whistle to make that
distinctive resound, each one unique to its own engine. Then the
old-timer looks up and gives me a nod, and says, ‘Thanks for
the memory,’ and walks away grinning from ear to ear. Many
people come up and ask questions about the steam engine. I stop
what I’m doing, hop down and tell them all I know. Then cameras
appear, several pictures are taken with the kids and maybe with
Grandpa standing by the engine.

It may be a dirty job and a long day on the steam engine, but
after being with her all day, I go home knowing that today I have
brightened the day for an old-timer or a little kid, because I was
there to make it happen for them. Seeing the appreciation in
people’s faces makes all the work and time worthwhile.

There seems to be an upsurge in interest in history and
preserving traditions of the past. I am 28 years old and I love
this stuff. I feel that if we as a group of antique buffs could
somehow start to get younger generations involved they would see
how much fun old machinery can be, not to mention the camaraderie
and fellowship of other members of the many antique machinery
associations developing here in Pennsylvania. When my children are
old enough, I’m going to give them the opportunity to be around
antique machinery so they too can take it to heart and try to keep
alive some of my dreams. I can now say that I know what Pap felt
like when I, with childlike wonder, asked about the steam engines.
It must have felt great for him because it sure does feel good for
me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can find something
of value in preserving the past through antique machinery. For me
it was in knowing that I got to follow in Pap’s footsteps.

I would also like to say thank you to those people who have made
it possible for me to live my childhood dreams:

Grampa Clyde Crater, who took me to my first show; Fred Passeri,
who took me for my first ride on a steam engine; Chad Frederickson,
who gave me a lesson on operating a steam engine Dan Carey, who let
me learn how to operate his engine with John Easton’s
assistance; my mother, Dianne Crater, who put me in touch with all
the right people. And last but not least, to my Pap, Harvey
Bowersox, thanks for all the good memories and for the dream.

Here I was a man with only memories of Pap’s yarns getting
the chance of a lifetime.

Farm Collector Magazine
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