Story - The Old Guy At The Tractor & Engine Show
By “Country” Elliott Domans
I’m sure that all of us enjoy attending those great antique tractor and engine shows that are starting up this time of year throughout the country. One of my favorite shows used to be the Kutztown Folk Festival in Kutztown, PA. Just off I-78 (what used to be old Rt. 22).
The Kutztown Folk Festival was held each year at the same location from late June through the 4th. Of July, and it was truly a country folk festival of predominately Amish and Mennonite families who would demonstrate the “old ways” of farming, craft making, quilting (a favorite of my wife Carol’s) and apple butter making, and much more.
A particular part of the Kutztown Folk Festival that intrigued me was always the antique engines and the antique tractors. They would thresh wheat and bail hay and make fence posts, but it always seemed that when I got to this section of the festival, the farmers were taking a break and the demonstrations were shut down ! I was constantly disappointed, and only on a couple of occasions did I ever witness these farming feats !
I always told myself that, one-day, I would buy one of those antique tractors and one of those funny sounding hit & miss engines. Then I could run them whenever I wanted to and operate them as long as I wanted to !
My friend Dennis Townsend, who already had a 1946 Farmall A and 3 gas hit & miss engines, took me to another antique tractor & engine show. This one was in Bangor, PA. put on by The Blue Mountain Gas & Steam Engine Association. WHAT A SHOW ! Here was an entire grove and several pastures filled with every type of antique tractor and gas engine you could think of ! They even had an International Harvester W-9 belted to an American Saw Mill sawing lumber board siding, and a shingle maker making cedar shake shingles, belted to a hit & miss gas engine! Everywhere I looked I saw another tractor or engine doing some sort of task ! It was terrific… water being pumped, corn being shelled and ground into meal. There was even a guy who had devised and fabricated his own personal aluminum can crusher! Talk about your modern day recycling done with a 70-year-old gas engine!
Well, I was hooked and hooked BIG TIME ! I ended up buying a 1946 Farmall M tractor from a farmer I met one day in Pennsylvania. The tractor was sitting right in front of his barn door and it beckoned to me to “take me home”. I remember calling my wife Carol and telling her… “Honey, you’ll never guess what I just bought !” and she didn’t guess either. I guess a tractor was the furthest thing from her mind even though it would have been MY FIRST GUESS !
When I got the Farmall M home (it had to be flatbeded from Pennsylvania to New Jersey) I remember telling my wife what “mint condition” this tractor was in, and how it wasn’t going to need much work on it at all. Sometime a little later I remember driving it around our back yard when the “M” up and stalled and I couldn’t get her running again for love or money! I can still remember Carol telling me that “A mint condition tractor isn’t supposed to break down in the yard is it?” These are ALWAYS the times that us men wished would never happen…the old “ I told you so” occasions that allow wives to always get even with their husbands! Somehow we always bring these times on ourselves by making some stupid statement that we know we can never back up, or that we’re sure will come back to bite us on the butt!
Well, several more weeks and a lot more money, and I had that “mint condition” Farmall M running like a top! Even my wife Carol was surprised that I could drive it around the block and get it back into our yard without needing a flat bed truck or a chain or anything resembling a tow truck!
This experience built up my mechanical confidence so much I was sure that I was ready for a hit & miss gas engine to broaden my collection. After all, the gas engine was only one cylinder…the tractor had four ! Therefore it had to be one fourth less complicated to work on than the tractor…RIGHT?… WRONG !!!
I found an old gentleman in Stroudsburg, PA and he gladly showed me 4 whole sheds full of engines that he had collected over a twenty-year period. Naturally I admired and fell in love with only the engines that he wouldn’t sell. Finally I asked him that fateful question…“Do you have one that you will sell me?” Right then I should have known by the gleam in his eyes that I was about to buy his one and only headache engine. It was an Economy 3 ½ horsepower hit & miss engine with some kind of a belt pulley attached to the flywheel, and welded onto the pulley was a “v” belt pulley. “Will she run?” I asked him. “Sure she will” he replied,“But she needs some tender lovin’ care and a little work to keep her running smoothly”.
We made a deal, and away I went…convinced that I just got the best deal anyone had ever gotten on an old hit & miss engine! WRONG ONCE AGAIN! This time it took more time and money than I had spent on the tractor to get my “little engine that could” restored and running for more than a 5-minute period without stalling! Add to the stable a 1948 Farmall Cub; 2 trailers; an 1898 Buch’s 2 hole wooden corn sheller; 2 hand operated corn shellers; a 1915 Bell feed grinder, assorted planters, sickle bar mowers, tobacco cutters and MORE…and you have my whole garage full of “junk” as Carol likes to call it!
I know I may sound bitter, but actually I was “happy as a clam” with both my tractor and my engine! The times I spent working on both of them were learning experiences and I wouldn’t trade all the bruised knuckles and bloodied fingers and grease-filled clothes for anything! Just ask anyone who has an old tractor or engine and they’ll tell you the same thing.
I have taken my Farmall M and my Economy engine, my Cub and the trailers full of stuff to countless numbers of shows and parades. I would always ask the old timers questions about their restorations, and how they did it. In all my shows I’ve never met a person who wouldn’t take the time, and actually felt flattered being asked questions about his equipment and knowledge. I learned a lot from those men, and I was very thankful that they enjoyed answering my questions,
Well, I guess enough years have passed since all those early show days and I’m slowly realizing that I am becoming the “old timer” at the shows. I don’t know how it crept up on me, but none of us ever realize how time does that to a person. Just like all those “old timers” who taught me, I’m flattered to be asked questions by the younger men and boys who are just getting started in this hobby of old tractors and engines. I may not always have all the answers, but the ones I know I eagerly pass along. That’s how our hobby grows and how it is passed on from generation to generation.
Sometime after I’m gone, I know that some young person will discover my tractors and engine and old farm stuff…my wife Carol will see to that RIGHT FAST! Whoever it is I know he’ll be full of wonder and enthusiasm and eager to acquire such antique farm equipment! He’ll plunk down his money, load it all on his flatbed trailer and race home to show HIS wife what “mint condition” tractors and engine and the like he just bought from the widow lady. Then it will be HIS turn to pick up the gauntlet, get his hands greasy and carry on just the way we all have done in discovering our mechanical treasures. It’s funny though how fast we turn from the young men asking questions to old men trying our best to answer them!