Black smoke billowed and steam whistles sang sad songs of a by-gone age, as the 'iron men' of seven states gathered at the fair grounds in Lexington, North Carolina July 20, 21 and 22.
It was the first convention of the newly formed North Carolina Steam Historical Association, a non-profit group organized to keep alive the memories of the age of steam and to show the old iron engines to the young people of today who may never have seen any of them.
It was also a gathering to give honor to the men who once used steam power for threshing and wood sawing the 'iron men' so called because of the massive iron castings of which the old engines were built.
Bob Powell, of Mocksville, President of the Association, called the convention a success, although it did not draw more than several hundred people as spectators. It was held practically without publicity. An announcement in the 'Iron Men Album' and word of mouth news brought some 150 participants and their families.
There were 14 traction engines on exhibition huge puffing monsters fired and traveling over the grounds under their own power. There were eight 'portables' engines made to turn machinery but which had to be pulled along by horses or mules.
J. W. Nipper, of Warrenville, brought along a three-foot model of a traction engine which operated under its own steam, pulling a red wagon in which he gave free rides. Bill Carrick, of Denton, brought a new threshing machine which was belted to several of the old engines, one at a time, of course, and used to thresh wheat.
Gaither Sherrill, of Troutman, brought a traction engine in perfect working condition, although it was made in 1905. (My own engine was sold by a Virginia dealer in 1901, and is in perfect condition. It was not exhibited this year, however.)
Jack Smith, of Winston-Salem, brought his home built mechanical masterpiece: an elaborately detailed and decorated working model of a British Showman type of traction engine. He also brought a model of a merry-go-round organ and a real pop corn machine steam engine.
There was a 'horse power' a device turned by horses and used in olden times to turn machinery. There was also a saw mill that was operated by the old steam engines. Saturday was Antique Automobile day, an added feature along with the steam engines.
The nostalgia was tempered by gaiety of the children and good-fellowship of the adults. Summerville Baptist Church, of Davidson County, operated two refreshment stands, serving home-cooked cakes and pies along with their ham biscuits, hot dogs, and bottled drinks.
This year's affair lost money for the members of the Association, Mrs. Charles Idol, of Winston-Salem, secretary, announced, after consulting with Vice-President Carrick. But another one will be planned for next Summer, and it is expected that the interest will grow.
Newspapers and television stations cooperated this year to give publicity which will be valuable, it is believed, because it will lead many people to plan to attend the convention next year.