Old Gas Engines

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.

Joe Fahnestock

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Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'

'Oh come, come, come, come -- Come to the church in the wildwood. Oh come to the church in the vale ...'

There's no place so dear to this Spark Plug man, as the little white church by the side of the road where Woody Turner preaches 'salvation' for the lost souls of old, rusty gas engines.

The coal oil lights flickered late into the night at the little old Antioch Methodist country church. But there was no choir beckoning us to its door with the rendition of that old-time hymn, 'The Church In The Wildwood' as there once was calling sinners from across fields and meadows back to the fold. No bell was ringing in the belfry overhead.

As we entered the silent portals and stalked quietly and rather hesitantly through the tiny vestibule, as if afraid we might disturb the evening worship, we almost wished there were a choir to stare at us and heads twisting on necks throughout the congregation as if asking, 'Who are those strangers in our midst?'

But, alas, the little country church has gone the way of other Americana so dear to our hearts -- a victim of the modern age. The human element of choir and congregation singing forth about the old-time religion was strangely silent. Instead there sat a solitary figure, feet propped up on some old wood crates and lolling back in an old swivel chair, blocking the aisle where once the deacons passed the collection plates. He seemed tired from his day's labors. Like a country preacher, looking over his evening's sermon, he was thumbing thoughtfully through some tattered pages -- not pages of Holy Writ, perhaps, but papers and programs pertaining to the forthcoming big Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Reunion soon to be held up Portland, Indiana-way.

The 'preacher ' was none other than Woody -- Woodrow Wilson Turner, famous for his 'League of Notions' when it comes to ideas and innovations for planning and running an antique tractor and gas engine reunion. Like his famous predecessor, President Woodrow Wilson, author of The League of Nations, Woody Turner has that certain fertility fermenting in his noggin that has set him up as number one man in the hearts and minds of gas engine bugs throughout the great midwest. Not a man in the organization that you can ask about Woody Turner but will answer, 'We've got the best president that any bunch can have. That Woody Turner is tops.'

It was a maze of old-time patriotism flavored with memories of country religion that hung like an aura over the specimens of early Americana -- the ancient gas engines, oil lamps, printing presses, lard presses, cider mills, wooden pumps and whatnots that Woody Turner had collected in the old church to rehabilitate and preserve for posterity. In the once vocal choir loft, there now stands an assortment of old farm gas engines with others likewise are spotted in the crowded church aisle here and there where once the church pews held human worshippers singing praises to God. Up on the rostrum where once the preacher pounded the pulpit, warning of hell-fire and brimstone and calling sinners to repentance, there now stands an old printing press with type-sets, upon which President Woodrow Wilson Turner prints up his 'League of Notions' about how the next gas engine and tractor reunion will, or should be run. And smiling benignly on his labors is a faded portrait of Father George Washington, hanging a bit askew on the wall, while Old Glory lends authenticity to the proceedings even if its field of stars should be displayed to the left instead of the right.

SPARK PLUG WOODY TURNER'S THEME SONG TO DEAN AND FORGOTTEN OLD GAS ENGINES IS THAT FAVORITE OLD HYMN - 'Come, Come, Come to the church in the vale' When folks ask Woody Turner what he's going to do with that old engine, it may sound sort of unorthodox to say, 'I'm takin' it to church.' But that's exactly what he does. Shown here, Woody is unloading an old Anderson Reliable Gas Engine, made in Anderson, Indiana.

'Yes, I'll have to reverse the flag,' replied President Woodrow Wilson Turner, after my school ma'rm wife had reminded him of the correctness of hanging the American flag. Over the vestibule entrance of the old church, where once folks entered to seek the Gospel light, there now hang rare remnants of another kind of light -an old kerosene headlight which a friend had given him from an ancient stream thresh engine, an old coal-oil bandstand park lamp, a spidery looking gas light relegated from a village Odd Fellows Hall -- all early forms of human attempts at giving light to a darkened world.

To the left. as one enters the sanctuary, there is Woody Turner's well-catalogued department of old gas engine parts, valves, rocker-arms, compressions springs and magnetoes.

And yet we've only begun to describe the main items of interest, let alone those possibly just as signilicant but less noble in proportions.

True, the old upright church piano may no longer be plunking out tunes about the old-time religion but it's a mighty handy place to set such things as antique kerosene railroad lanterns and half-horse electric motors on. And the main aisle where young marriageables, bent on matrimony, marched altarward to the tune of 'Here Comes The Bride,' rendered by the church 'pie-anist,' now boasts having the first cider press ever installed in a Methodist Church. All of which would require very little conversion to dispensing communion grape juice should the old edifice ever return to its churchly functions.

Overhead hangs kerosene headlight from an old Thresh Engine, a coal-oil park bandstand light and gas light from a village Odd Fellows Hall. Woody Turner is holding an apple peeler from his collection. Beneath juts the head of a Gray Gas Engine.

Though it may sound sort of unorthodox, whenever someone asks Woody what he's going to do with that gas engine he's just bought at a farm sale, and he answers, 'I'm going to take it to church' -- that's exactly just what he does. Indeed, it's no laughing matter amongst neighbors who are used to seeing Spark Plug Woodrow Wilson Turner drive up to the little church by the side of the road, unclasp the chains, and lovingly lug off from the bed of his pickup truck another and another old gas engine, tenderly carrying them through the vestibule portals. Once in the inner sanctuary, like a country pastor administering to a dying, lost soul, Woody applies all the miracles of the proverbial Spark Plug that restores the old engine to a new chug and purpose in life. And from thence, if some eagle-eyed engine swapper doesn't arrive at the church on time, before he can move it out, they eventually wind up in his spacious engine barn, at home, where they are mounted on his big red fire truck for the next Tri-State show, come the middle of August.

'Whether it's cider presses, lard presses, cherry seeders or apple-peelers or gas engines -- it's mighty hard to outsmart Tri-State President, Spark Plug Woodrow Wilson Turner who collects and cherishes them all.

An honored seat in the Spark Plug Hall of Fame to Woody Turner for his tireless efforts at searching out the unusual and worth preserving of our great American past. And for his tireless efforts at planning, guiding and bringing into fulfillment such an outstanding show as Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show, with all the sideshows of old-time fiddlers' contests, apple-butter makin' by steam engine, the exhibits of rare old watches and early American radios, boots 'n shoes and even the spinning of flax and cotton thread -- we simply cannot thank him enough.

'The biggest thanks 1 get are never said,' sighs Woody. 'It's just in knowing that folks get to see things at our show they never have seen before.'