September 2000 at the Susquehanna Old-Fashioned Field Days

Old gas engines

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It was the last days of summer 2000, the time of year when the air turns crisp and the breeze has a slight chill in it. It was also time for the annual Susquehanna Old-Fashioned Field Days, a community show that among other things features old gas engines and tractors.

Stored in our trailer were four New Way engines, clean and polished with flywheels gleaming not a speck of rust to be seen. Eddie had tied them down, and they were ready to move to Bain-bridge, Pennsylvania. On Friday, the 16th of September, he hauled the engines north from Mount Joy along Route 441 (River Road) to the northwestern tip of Lancaster County. It took less than one half hour to get to the manicured Conoy Township Park which was beginning to show signs of life. The Boy Scouts were on the job early, directing traffic in an efficient manner. You could see they were experienced at their assignment. Bainbridge is located a few miles south of the infamous Three Mile Island, where a partial melt down occurred in 1979. Interestingly enough, I discovered on the Web that nearby there is a tiny resort area along the Susquehanna River called the Bainbridge Scuba Diving Club.

Susquehanna Old Fashioned Field Days is definitely a family affair. There are the three generations of the Williams family and its well known apple press. Darl Williams is the owner of the press. His brothers and sons, Jeff, Mike and Ben take turns manning the operation powered by a 2 HP Witte gas engine. His three grandsons, Ty, Ted and Cole were present, but much too young to be interested in the operation. The brave sons never seem to notice the very determined bees thirsty for the sweet apple juice, but you better believe I keep a safe distance from them.

Next to the cider press a young man, Jay Williams, who set his l HP Hercules gas engine up to operate an ice cream maker. I did not keep my distance from the chocolate ice cream. It was so good.

Darl is one of the men instrumental in getting the field days started. He usually has breakfast at the cozy Homestead Village Restaurant next to the park. One day he and Alma Zeigler, the owner of the restaurant, had a short conversation which grew to what is now one of the area's big events, maybe equal only to the Goat Races at nearby Falmouth.

Alma is very interested in the local history and its people. This is evident by the interesting pictures hanging on the walls of the restaurant. They take you back to the heydays of the canal and the commerce that went on there as pioneers whose hearts were filled with dreams of a new start in the west began their adventures.

Darl, on the other hand has a desire to save the old farming and historical items once used to build this busy, thriving community along the Susquehanna River. During the field days, the horse drawn wagon tours take you through the area where you can imagine the 'good old days.' A most willing tour guide is available on Saturday from morning to dusk to share her knowledge with you.

There is a family of three generations that help to coordinate the show. First there is Ron Bernhard Sr., who told me the reason why he helps with the show. Ron said 'I am a motor head, and my life is in what I have done with my hands.'

A few years ago Ron bought a threshing machine from Robert McKinney, a tall rugged individual with snow-white hair. He came from his farm in Huntingdon County to see his wonderful old Shaffer Merkel grain separator in operation again. Robert grew up on this farm with his twin sister. Thelma carved out a place in history as a good thresher woman. Her name is etched on the elevator along with notches she carved out as she counted the bags filled with the grain.

Robert's sentimental attachment to this old, well-kept machine is evident as he watches it run. He remembers the many years the family worked together from dawn until dark for eight weeks during harvest time. In the old days the family used a Model A Ford with a pulley assembly off the back end of the transmission to accomplish this work. The pulley assembly was sold from a Sears & Roebuck catalog that had almost everything a farmer needed. This threshing machine was used on the family farm from the 1930s to the 1990s when he sold it to Ron.

Saturday, a 6 HP Gray engine was the threshing machine. It is a local engine from nearby Elizabethtown. In years gone by the engine was used on a planning mill. It powered a Columbia winch. The winch was connected to a wooden elevator and rope to hoist building materials in old manufacturing plants that still stand. Today these buildings have been made into attractive apartments or useful warehouses.

Come Sunday, an interesting Associated gas engine that belongs to Ron Bernhard was the power unit that made the thresher work. The 8 HP Associated was made in Waterloo, Iowa. It is a horse-drawn type of engine with a riding box and a footrest. This interesting engine with the roll top water hopper is named 'The 8 Mule Team Engine.'

Ron and his dad really put a lot of time and effort into making the engine display area orderly and viewer-friendly. Ron's son, Mitchell, 10 years old, is the official greeter and hospitality committee all rolled into one. Mitchell always has a bright smile and cheery hello. He sometimes has a riddle or joke to tell. At the show he told me he has a pig that blows smoke out his snout and a horse that blows smoke out his ears. I think he said they were angry. I discovered these iron critters were very attached to the Maytag engines. How's that, Mitchell? I can hear him say, 'Oooh Noooo.'

His mom, Tonya Bernhard, is the coordinator of the engine area of the Old Fashioned Field Days. Tonya and her helper, Sandy Baker, checks us all in and gives us great display identification material. They are very organized.

This year in memory of Ed Grimsey, Tonya had the 6 HP Vertical New Way he restored pictured on both the tee shirts and sweatshirts. She kept that a surprise, and it touched my heart. That's an example of the heartbeat of a gas engine person. Tonya has her own business making great engine carts. Listen up you menbuy a sturdy cart from Tonya. Get a grip don't be bashful!

The Hunts of Columbia, Pennsylvania, displayed an interesting old Conestoga wagon. This wagon surely looked like it would produce a rough ride. It was, however, strong and well built by good craftsmen of that era. I'll take my Ford diesel over them, although on any given wet day it gets wimpy and needs a tractor to rescue it.

Cameron Reigle and his wife Billy-Jo have a great collection of pedal tractors. They are transported in a classy enclosed trailer with colorful pedal cars painted on it. I mention Billy-Jo because I watched her help Cameron unload these heavy toys. I can see she is a very good wife. In his youth, Cameron never had a pedal tractor and worked hard on his dad's farm. He has restored some of these tractors and says restoration parts are readily available, except the body parts that have a waiting period of six months. Cameron also likes to obtain old, clean tractors in original condition.

This interesting family has expanded their interest as proprietors of Bill's Toy Shop, Down on the Farm, Central Pennsylvania's newest farm toy store. The store is housed in a restored-to-original section of his father's old barn located at 405 South Deodate Road, Middletown, Pennsylvania. E-mail at I talked to Harold Seibert. Like his father before him, Harold likes to build gas engine models. He has very pretty (sorry men) engines, a Domestic, Red Wing, Meyers and Olds, and one Flamelicker model that he made from scratch from plans out of an old Popular Science magazine article. His son, Randy, also carries on the tradition. Models always make a bright and shiny addition to an engine show. I say 'pretty' because I think they would look nice as part of the decor in a family room. Many of you will remember Harold's father, Dick Seibert, who displayed engines and helped with the Rough and Tumble Show at Kinzers, Pennsylvania.

Eddie and Donny Grove set up next to each other. Donny is a perfectionist and his engines show it. Among his many well restored engines he brought his new unrestored Handy Andy. It once belonged to me, but I couldn't stand that look of longing on his face one day, so I sold it to him. The engine needed a coil. He found one, and my (oops) I meanhis engine ran like a champ that day.

Once again the faithful old winch noisily cranked up and Eddie's four New Ways rolled down the ramps. Many commented on the shiny flywheels that were loaded with that Gibbs stuff. The engine people and the crowd remembered them from last year and stopped by to watch them run and visit with us as they ran all day long for two days.

A few of us invited Jack Alleman from Halifax to bring his 15 HP Reid oil field engine down to the show. It recently was rescued out of an oil field ten miles north of Oil City, well head #15 at Cenpenco. The engine dates back from 1902 to 1910. Bob has it running very smoothly on propane. This large engine parked next to the threshing machine drew a crowd, as the local people had never seen one like it before.

The show had a big variety of tractors, some trucked in on large rigs. They were all very well restored, and the people enjoyed seeing them in the daily parade.

Adjacent to our spot was the Lee Singer family from Columbia. They seemed to adopt Eddie's lively puppy, Tabby, for the afternoon. Their family circle included her as she sat proudly in the center enjoying their love and attention. Lee and Millie are the proud owners of a nice tractor that I like very much. It's pictured here, at right.

The Oliver HG-43 Cletrac was rescued from the scrap yard by Lee when his neighbor agreed to sell it to him. Lee had never been to an engine or tractor show, so he took his time doing the restoration. He completed it on September 5, 1998, in time to bring it to the Old Fashioned Field Day Show that year. It is a single row tractor. Though smaller than many tractors, it is an eye catching piece of equipment, and it holds its own in any tractor parade as an outstanding old piece of machinery. It has a pressed paper pulley on it. It is a wonder to me that the pulley is still in great condition. This family is enjoying the fruits of Lee's labor as they find a home in the friendly atmosphere of the show. It was good being neighbors with them. Their son, like mine, is interested in auto racing, but one day we are sure they will both be converted.

Perhaps from spectator view the most important facet of the Old Fashioned Days is the talent folks display as they show their crafts, and the variety of activities that take place during this show. There is always something going on for the children, mostly without cost. They are old fashioned games, face painting, singers, dancers and storytellers, and flea market vendors.

Among all the activities we are blessed with are the young children, our most precious possessions. For two days they take unlimited turns riding free of charge in the barrel train throughout the show grounds. Their smiling faces are the payment for our efforts, as we smile and wave back to them. The children's delight is made possible by the Bernhard and the Williams family who put the barrel train together, and Paul and Verna Brubaker who brought their model Oil Pull to give relief to the John Deere tractor that pulls the train.

Many area residents attend the Sunday morning church service. After the service, the large crowd fans out from the bandstand to the many food concessions run by local organizations. Also available are delicious meals served at the restaurant.

Their Mission Statement says it all, and I quote:

'To provide a weekend of fun, education, and promoting pride in the community. With this is mind, we will encourage family participation, keeping the costs affordable, along with including a touch of history, religion and hands-on learning in our programming. We will strive to have enough money left each year, from the celebration, to promote Susquehanna Old Fashioned Field Days the following year.'

The folks to thank for it are Barb Alleman, Kim Alleman, Ron Bernhard II, Jill Bartles, Earl Fuhrman, Randy Keck, John Lokey, Cindy Smith, David Stapler, Nancy Sweigart, Darl Williams and Anna Zeager, Greg Good, Harold Gerber, and Pam Kern-Clouser.

The sponsors of the food are the willing workers of the local churches, the Conoy Lions, and the Bainbridge Fire Company.

Each year, we look back to a job well done!

A Show with a heart that features life in the quiet communities along the Susquehanna River. A celebration that has room to expand as the years go by.