By: TOM DOWNING
The activities at steam and engine shows take place primarily outside and so are greatly subject to weather conditions. Some might argue this fact is a good argument for having a four-day show or longer, as most rainy spells don’t commonly last that long, so the chances of having a decently profitable show are good, even if one day is a rainout.
That was our experience at Portersville this year. We had three nice days and Sunday was a wet one. It started about 9 a.m. and rained for several hours.
I know of shows that turned out worse, like the 50th anniversary of National Threshers at Wauseon, Ohio in the 90s. I probably would not have gone to the show, based on the weather forecast, but my elder daughter was working at Cedar Point so we visited her, stayed overnight and went on to Wauseon the next day.
Their relatively flat fairgrounds were covered with four inches or more of standing water and engine movement was nearly impossible. They did manage to get a couple engines lined up on Baker Fans, but it was messy to say the least. In a case like this, having buildings for interior displays helps a lot.
Most people have not had the experience of having a traction engine stuck in mud, though you may have read a story or two about such difficulties and the means used to extract them. Many years ago at the Lawrence County Fair, when we had a sizable display, it was the practice to run antique tractors and traction engines through the Cavalcade, which was a grandstand parade to show off the equipment at the fair.
The antique area was to the southeast of the fairgrounds and it was a low area. There was a shallow ditch of sorts also. When we had a hard rain, the water ran down that depression to a depth of several inches.
Well it rained the afternoon of the Cavalcade and things were a bit soft. Walter Blinn, on the ’07 Frick, was ahead and walked right through that spot on the way back to the display area. I was helping out on Clarence Fisher’s 50 Peerless, driven by club president Charlie McMurray since Fisher could not stay into the evening. McMurray’s Case was probably on the sawmill and he didn’t want to take the belt off for the parade.
Anyhow, when the Peerless came to the wet spot it broke through the sod and in a couple turns of the wheels was sitting on the ash pan. In that case, the solution was to bring a large new tractor from a display up on that part of the fairgrounds and hook a chain on the Peerless, and out she came.
In the old days another engine that could stay on hard footing, or a team of horses that could be used with a block and tackle to a tree, could be used. Walt McQuiston told me of using the latter method once, going to a remote farm across a field. His engine, also a Peerless, dropped into a dead furrow ditch and declined to come out under its own power. The horse team of the farmer they were to thresh for helped pull it to the dry ground .
I mentioned the Portersville experience, above and as luck would have it, the next two weekends were perfect show weather, but alas there were no local shows scheduled. As we approached the Labor Day weekend, which has more shows than any other, it looks like the remnants of Hurricane Isaac might spoil many eastern shows.
It didn’t come as far north as predicted, but extreme heat and humidity was still a problem. I went to one of my favorite shows at Milton, Ontario, Canada and it was plenty hot, even north of the lakes, but cooled off nicely to allow good sleeping at night. Perhaps some articles in the hobby magazines will tell of some shows in the path of the hurricane that were disrupted, but I don’t personally know of any.
Sunshine will bring out the public to view the show activities, even if the weather is cooler than usual. Threshing, baling, sawing, parades and other activities can all be viewed to the best advantage.
The weekends of September after Labor Day are some of the most pleasant for shows, and this year was no exception. A carload of us went to Somerset, County, Pa. for the New Centerville Threshermens Jubilee. They do an especially good job of the threshing demonstration, which many shows have let slip, even though that action was a main impetus for the show activities.
They have about five or six threshers set up in a row, starting with a chaff piller, or hand machine, to hand-fed regular machines and self feeder and wind stacker machines.
Their sawmill is a different setup from most, being a Bartley direct drive machine, where a piston valved vertical engine is set up on the husk of the mill, acting directly on the main shaft, which is really the crankshaft. It needs to run fast to keep up speed on the blade and the piston valve is necessary for that. I saw a similar machine at Williams Grove show many years ago, but I don’t know if they still use it.
The first time I saw the one at New Centerville many years ago now, some men moved into the mill when they shut down to get a better look. One old gentlemen tucked his thumbs into his braces and said to the sawyer, “I never saw an outfit like this. When were they popular around here ?” To which the Sawyer replied, “As far as I know the blessed thing was never very popular anywhere.”
It rained Friday and Saturday in Somerset, so I don’t know how they fared overall.
So, what can we do about the weather ? Just grin and bear it, or enjoy it if we are fortunate to have the good side of things. Not much different from the rest of life.