Steam and Gas Fairs Recall Bygone Times

| January/February 1990

National Geographic News Service National Geographic Society Washington, D.C. 20036

Only a few thousand remain today: monstrous, shrieking, potbellied marvels that helped usher mankind into the industrial age.

'This machine has a lot of sentimental value,' says Wilbur Engle, a 78-year-old Easton, Maryland farmer, as he perches on the steam engine that once belonged to his father. 'Folks didn't have any other kind of mechanization at the time, and this machine seemed like magic.'

Bedecked with American flags, this two-cylinder steam engine puts on a show for visitors to the 16th annual fair of the Tuckahoe Gas and Steam Association in Easton, Maryland.

Engle used to accompany his father on winter sojourns in the woods of Maryland's Eastern Shore, taking the family steam engine from farm to farm and connecting it to a round saw that split trees into clean strips of wood.

In their heyday, steam engines did a lot more than that. They also threshed wheat, milled flour, pumped water, and crushed stones.