10022 Marnice Avenue, Tujunga, California 91042
Smoke hung over the little town as I approached Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and as I drove through town and saw the pickups, lowboys, cars and busses carrying people to and from the fairgrounds, I knew this was going to be one big show.
For many years I had anticipated this moment, and today I was realizing this ambition; to visit the 31st reunion of the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association. Even through they have converted from coal to wood as fuel in order to cut down on pollution, the smell of wood smoke and valve oil made a wonderful aroma and I hurried through town to get to the fairgrounds, the mecca of all lovers of steam-driven engines.
I had arrived late Wednesday afternoon, intending to stay for the first two days of the show, as prior commitments for the weekend precluded a longer stay. As I drove slowly around the grounds, the hustle and bustle of the setting up for the show was everywhere. Equipment was being moved around, steam engines were being serviced, some cold, some hot and some just setting there with their flywheels slowly revolving, all bringing back memories of my childhood days on the farm.
I was to meet a good friend of mine, Charley Starkey of East Vinton, Iowa, and he wasn't too hard to locate, because Charley talks constantly and usually has quite a large audience. He had his travel trailer with him and we were to bunk down in it. So after getting settled, he took me on a tour of the grounds.
Thursday morning dawned foggy and with the appearance of rain. Picture taking was out, so I devoted the day to getting acquainted and walking. I was amazed at the size of the grounds and the amount of equipment on display. Not only traction engines (65 full size and about 30 models and oddballs) but a couple of hundred gas and diesel tractors, antique automobiles, horses and horse drawn equipment, gasoline engines, flea markets, a railroad train, buildings housing farming memprabilia, including a full size threshing rig turning slowly, propelled by an electric motor, and a complete operating display of beautiful steam engines, including an enormous Corliss compound pumping unit. It quite took my breath away.
Starkey and I had rolls and coffee early, but about 10 o'clock I adjourned to the food tents for a thresher man's breakfast. Three tents were operating by the St. Alphonsus, Methodist, and Faith Lutheran churches. Those ladies really know how to cook, and their hot biscuits, sausage and gravy breakfasts can't be beat.
The setup for threshing was scheduled for 10:30 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. They used two separators side by side each day with a different engine, letting the old timers see just about all of their favorite engines in operation. In the gas tractor area they did the same with their equipment.
One of the highlights of the show, in my opinion, was the horse-operated thresher. I understand that there is an Amish community nearby and they furnished the horses for this operation. Twelve almost perfectly matched Belgians, hooked to an enormous sweep, furnished the power for the thresher, and it was a wonderful sight to see those beautiful animals stepping proudly, and a little nervous, I might add, around and around, and the roar of the thresher and the straw flying in the wind.
Having met a number of engine men the previous day, I went over and renewed acquaintances with a few. Henry Oswald of Monmouth, Illinois, when he found I was from California, took me around and introduced me to a number of his friends. Then there was Milo Mathews of Mt. Union, Iowa; Virgil Coon rod of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Melvin Mathews of Cameron, Illinois, who had the lowest numbered engine at the show, built in 1887 and still running.
As the day drew to a close, the fires were banked and many adjourned to the grandstand where they were entertained by Charley Pride and his group until far into the night. However, I found that after a big meal at the cook tents I was ready for bed, so I headed back to the trailer where I found Starkey, already bedded down for the night.
Friday dawned a little bit better, still hot but the fog had gone away. So I dug out my camera and after another hot biscuits, sausage and gravy breakfast, I headed for the engines, got some shots and then to the grandstand for the big parade. This was something to write home about, first the band concert, then the parade. First were the horse- drawn wagons, buggies and surreys, then the old cars, everything from a one-cylinder Cadillac to Model T Fords and Willys Knights. Gas tractors were next, and to bring up the rear, the steam engines, smoking and hissing and bringing the crowd to its feet with their racket and whistles.
I had told Starkey I was leaving Friday evening, so he decided he had better head for home, too, so we went over to his trailer and hooked up. I bade him goodbye and he headed for Illinois.
Back over to the steam traction engine area to say farewell to a wonderful bunch of men. However, I fell into the clutches of Henry Oswald again who had another fellow for me to meet. This was John Louch, who is a designer and builder of steamboats. We had quite a long talk, as I am interested in the Delta Queen and the old Green Line boats that used to ply the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. We agreed to exchange some plans and tape recordings and on that note I took my leave.
As much as I hated to, I had to load up the car and say goodbye to Mt. Pleasant and head for Kentucky, where the wife and I were vacationing. But as I left this beautiful little spot and headed east, I thought how wonderful it had been to have been able to spend a couple of days with these wonderful, friendly people. They and their wonderful old machines from our past have succeeded in doing what the poet said when he penned these words--
Turn backward, turn backward, O time in your flight, And make me a child again, just for tonight.
The age of ERA has arrived. This young lady and her sister spent a month painting and shining up this Reeves twin cylinder for the show. A beautiful bit of work. Sorry fellows, I didn't get her name.