Thousands of people saw an exhibit, demonstration, and parade of 'Steamers' of the good old days at the New York State Fair, Syracuse, N. Y., September 4th to 12th, 1959.
Not since the hey day of Steam Power on the farm has there been assembled at the State Fair such a collection of Historic Steam Engines. The event was a part of the State of New York 'Year of History' Program, and was a free feature at the big Fair which is under the direction of Harold L. ('Cap') Creal, a prominent farmer and Agricultural leader, whose farm home is located near Homer, N. Y.
The area provided by the fair authorities for the pageant was a paved field 200 x 750 ft. adjacent to the large Farm Machinery Building. The big show highlighted the machinery developed and used in the State during the past century. Recognition was given to the New York state pioneer farmers and small manufacturers who searched for new farming methods and machines to increase food production during the westward advance of the frontier. It was in this period, 1830 to 1880, that most of the modern machines were developed in crude and sometimes hand-made form, within the boundaries of New York State. Research has proved that the State is the birthplace of the great Farm Machinery Industry.
Many old timers came to look, stayed a while, then came back with their families to show them the kind of power that was used on the farm when they were kids. Nine Steam Traction Engines were in operation every day. No accurate estimate can be given as to the number of 'Old Time' Engine operators who were welcomed by the owners of the Historic Engines and who were permitted to pull the throttle just once more and drive the old Engine of their choice. A letter received after the fair from one gentleman said: 'I usually found five or ten former operators of Steamers around the old Engines and they could not drag themselves away. Besides them were hundreds who viewed and handled the engines lovingly. In ever knew anyone who really loved a Gasoline Tractor, but those old Steamers have been loved by almost everyone who had anything to do with them.'
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were a part of the free entertainment attractions at the Fair. Edgar spent some of his spare time visiting with the owners of the old Steamers and driving them to the delight of the large crowd. He said that his father was a Steam Engine Thresherman in Michigan when he was a kid. Now his hobby is an old Steamer 'like his Daddy's' which he operates on his Sunset Boulevard Ranch, Hollywood, California.
Both Horse-drawn Steam Engines and Traction Engines were exhibited and demonstrated by their proud owners. Old Case Horse-drawn Engine No. 1 was sent down by J. I. Case Company from Racine, Wisconsin. To keep it company the Ames Iron Works, Oswego, N. Y. sent down their Engine that was built about 1866. George Van Atta, Tioga Center, furnished a 'St. Johnsville' (N.Y.) Horse-drawn Engine.
The gentlemen who owned the 9 Steam Traction Engines and who spent their time with them during the period of the Pair were:
Lester Norris, Marcellus, N. Y.
Lang & Buttor 1909
Wm. and Geo. Van Atta, Tiaga Center, N. Y. - Westinghouse 188
Donald Field, Lafayette, N. Y.
Charles Denman, Brewerton, N. Y.
Robert Marshall, East Bloomfield, N.Y.
Kenneth McCormack, Jordan, N. Y.
(Water Tenders were provided by
Lester Norris and Charles Denman.)
The development of Farm Power was visualized by the exhibit of pioneer Gasoline and Kerosene operated Farm Tractors. Among them were the Titan, Waterloo Boy, International 8-16, Case 3 Wheel 10-20, Case 15-27, Moline Universal, Fordson, and an old Holt Crawler.
A spectacular and dramatic parade of the Historic Machines was probably the high point of the pageant. On Thursday, September 10th, Governor Nelson Rockefeller reviewed the parade at Empire Court. 'Deacon' Doubleday, the well known Farm Editor and announcer of Radio Station WSYR Syracuse, described the event and advised the thousands of listeners what the Engines and other old machines were, who owned and were operating them. A visual reminder of the development of labor-saving Farm Machinery was the appearance in the parade of a McCormick Horse-drawn Reaper built in 1875 followed by the latest type McCormick-Deering Self propelled Combine. Other farm machines of the very latest type for different farm operations were in the parade line.
A 'Lane' shingle making machine, owned and operated by Walter Rumsey, Spencer, N. Y. made shingles each day. One of the Steamers furnished the power needed to make the thousands of shingles which were taken home as souvenirs of the event.
On Governor's Day oats were threshed by an old 'Brasher' Thresher built in 1860. The thresher was equipped with Hand Feed and Straw Carrier attachments. It was made by P. E. Kennehan, Brasher Falls, St. Lawrence County, N.Y. The Thresher was also in the parade, having been drawn by the old Westinghouse Steamer.
Another feature of the event was the 'Baker' type fan furnished by Lester Norris, Marcellus, and driven by the big 80 hp Case Steamer owned by 'Bob' Marshall, East Bloomfield, N. Y., and operated by Homer Prudon. This outfit in action really made the old Steamers talk and was music to the ears.
Engines, Machines, and Implements in the display area were
Fairbanks-Morse 15 hp Diesel Engine Fairbanks-Morse 6 hp Portable Kerosene Engine
One horse and a two horse tread power Ground Hog Pioneer
Thresher Cylinder Fanning Mill built in 1825 Westinghouse 7 hp
built in 1913
Appleton Husker and Shredder built in
Case Steel Thresher built in 1920 New Racine Thresher built in 1918 for
use with the Fordson
Johnston Harvester Co. Reaper and
1895 McCormick Corn Binder
Kemp Manure Spreader
Crown Grain Drill
Walter A. Wood Mower that was exhibited at Paris World Fair in 1867 and received the 'Grand Prix' award.
100 year old Horse drawn reversible
On Governor's Day a luncheon was held at which time Dr. O. C. French, Head of the Agricultural Engineering Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., in behalf of the State of New York, thanked the owners of the Historic Machines for their cooperation and effort in making the Historic Farm Machinery Exhibit such a successful educational and historical event.
R. C. (Bob) Burnette of Skaneateles, N.Y., who during World War II worked with the War Food Administration in Washington and later for several years was the Managing Director of the New York State Farm Equipment Dealers Association, wrote about the thrill he used to get out of the Steam Engine and Thresher working on his father's farm. The supreme thrill was when the Engineer on the old Steam Traction Engine said, 'All right, Bobby, pull the cord twice.'
After the two healthy toots of the whistle the Engineer pulled a big lever and the long, swaying belt started to slowly move to the accompaniment of the slightly labored puffs from the exhaust. Within seconds there was the shout from old John Ransberger on the thresher feed table -'Giff me grain, giff me grain.'
Mr. Burnette closed his letter with this statement: 'There's something about America in those memories. Sure, just a kid pulling a whistle cord. So, what's the score? Just this: men and machines have pioneered a new way of life in this country, a way of
having food in plenty for everybody, leaving many hands to build the other comforts and necessities of modern living, and most of this has taken place within the period of your memory and mine.'