Tri - State Gas Engine Show

Gary Hengstler
May/June 1973
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Portland, Indiana 47371

One of the most interesting aspects of the annual Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show is the fact that each year at this time, its leaders engage in 'conservative inflation' in their predictions for the upcoming show.

Take last year's for example. About one month before the 1972 show was held, Tri-State President Woody Turner, RR 6, Portland, Indiana, told this reporter he hoped for about 600 gas engines to fill the Jay county Fairgrounds at this central Indiana city near the Ohio border. And when he made that prediction he was 'inflating' the total number of gas engines which had come previously.

To his surprise (and pleasure) over 700 came. Not only that but the attendance jumped almost 5,000 from about 15,000 to over 20,000 in the three-day show.

This year's show will be held Aug. 24, 25 and 26 at the same above location. And, as has happened each of the past seven years since its origin, this year's show promises to be bigger and better than ever before.

Turner said some of his fellow club members have estimated there will be over 1,000 gas engines. One reason why the guess can't be any more accurate than an ordinary prediction is that no prior registration is required. Whoever shows up during the week preceding the show gers a space for his engine. Turner never knows ahead of time who is going to show.

'We take them all,' he said. 'If somebody comes with his gas engine or steam engine or antique tractor, we make space for him.'

In addition, scads and scads of antique dealers set up their displays. And special shows such as an 'old-time fiddlers' contest' are held. Special crafts out of yesteryear such as making apple butter, leather working and threshing to name a few are available to the crowd.

It is easily the biggest and most enjoyable event not only in Jay County, but perhaps in the east central section of the state all year.

There are undoubtedly many reasons why the show has caught on with so many viewers as well as those who come to display their exhibits of Americana. Perhaps the most predominant of all is the fact that the Jay Fairgrounds has plenty of shade trees among which the crowd can stroll and the demonstrators can 'do their thing' in relative comfort.

Turner said he is making plans to acquire additional parking space which the size of the crowd requires.

Another reason may be the fact that the club is not trying to use the event for any fund-raising project. 'We're not interested in making a big profit,' Turner has said, 'we just want to make enough money to meet our expenses. We have never asked for charity. We believe in paying our own way which we have done each time.'

Since the value of the machines and displays on hand easily run into the millions of dollars, Turner has also taken extra precaution in lining up police protection for the show. The Civil Defense volunteers, auxiliary police, and members of a local citizens band radio club regularly patrol the fairgrounds along with members of the Portland Police Department and the Jay County Sheriffs Department.

'With all these people coming, you have to have food available,' Turner said,' so we advertised for some group to come out and serve food there. The Rosary Society of the Immaculate Conception Church in Portland took this function on and have done a magnificent job for us.'

He explained that the club doesn't admit other groups to prepare food because 'the other groups want short orders when the Rosary Society serves meals which there isn't too much profit on. We would be undercutting the society if we accepted the short order groups.'

Although most engines naturally come from surrounding states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, Turner said he has had some requests for information from as far away as California.

Now that Turner and the other club officers can bask in the success of their efforts, they can look back more easily on the origins of the show when things weren't so certain. 'Some of the members wanted to organize a club,' Turner said. 'I think the first one to mention it was Morris Titus from Pendleton, Indiana, our secretary-treasurer.

'So we met with the Fort Recovery, Ohio, Jaycees who were then interested in a fund-raising event, and we decided to go in with them for our first show at Fort Recovery.'

Turner said a meeting was held in 1966 to further the project. 'I sent out 35 cards for that meeting,' he recalled, 'and it was about 10 below zero that morning. Nevertheless, about 13 fellows came from a 100-mile radius. From that, we organized our club.'

Turner continued, 'we had our first show on a Saturday afternoon and night and on Sunday. But on Saturday then, we had a storm which just about fixed us. We still had about 500 paid attendance. This meant we went pretty badly in the hole. I personally was ready to give up but the rest of the fellows aid, 'No, let's go.' '

In 1967, the club arranged to have the second show at the Jay County Fairgrounds. That year, Turner said an estimated 2,500 paid to attend the show. 'This pretty well took care of our expenses,' he said, 'and things went much more smoothly.'

The next year the crowd jumped to 3,500, and the show was on its way.

Turner said the show's popularity, while strong among older persons who can remember the days in which the antique machines were commonplace, also catches the fancy of many younger people as well. He said the show always has a large number of young people who are interested in the machines with which their parents grew up. 'Several young people have taken up gas engines as their hobby,' he added.

Make no mistake, Turner and his compatriots know what they want and have largely achieved it. They set the show up with the specific intention of correcting what they believed were errors in other similar shows around the Midwest.

For example, no carnival rides will be included in a Tri-State show. Turner and his fellow members want no part of commercializing their venture. The show is an event for the basic appreciation of those antique pieces of equipment that helped push America to the forefront technologically.

The nostalgia which surrounds the Jay Fairgrounds those three days cannot be surpassed. Turner said, 'One of the other reasons we have progressed as we have is the fact that we have studied other shows and copied what people said they liked about them and discarded the ideas people didn't like. We have stressed quality and action. We think we're the first show to have the quality in engines and antique displays that we do have.'

Yes, there is a great pride in Turner and his fellow club members for their show. They built it and their efforts have paid off. They believe their show is as fine as any offered in the country if not better.

Certainly, they haven't lacked the energy to make it so.


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