Wives' Part in A Man's Hobby

Vacuum engine

William Rogers' Taylor Vacuum engine, 1928 type C, #15091 bought in 1983.

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6637 Pendleton Avenue NW Roanoke, Virginia 24019

I have been a dedicated fan of GEM from the very first time it was introduced to me over twenty years ago. When the new monthly copy arrives everything goes on hold until I have read it from beginning to end. The stories, the ads, the classifieds, I devour the whole bit.

Over the years, I have discovered the stories and articles month by month primarily fall into about four or five categories: The prize find and getting it home; the step by step restorations; the participation in shows; and the technical and historic articles. All are quite interesting and enjoyable. The technical information, from time to time, is very helpful in many restoration projects and most appreciated in the special problems one encounters every now and then.

Only on very rare occasions do I ever hear about the wives. Where are they when all of this collecting and restoration is going on? Occasionally a story will include the wife, but generally the wives are given little mention or credit. Where are the stories and articles by women collectors? I believe they are about as scarce as the proverbial 'hen's teeth.'

I know in the early manufacturing days of the engines and tractors being collected and restored today, the women of that time were supposed to cook, keep house, quilt in the winter time, and raise a garden and prepare the family's winter food supply in the summer. In the fall, they made a kettle of apple butter, filled a ten-gallon stone jar with cabbage for sauerkraut and another with pickled beans. However now we are generations down the road. Women nowadays climb utility poles and fight in our wars. They work in the factories and help build our tractors and engines for our automobiles. Come on! There surely have to be some wives out there with their own collections and restoration stories.

Two separate occasions in recent months prompted me to write this article. Both involved women. The basics are factual; however, facts sometimes are a bit more interesting if a little fiction is injected here and there.

The parts women have played in the few stories and articles I have been obliged to observe have fallen into three or four distinct categories: enthusiastic, tolerant, cooperative, and hostile, as demonstrated in the rest of this article. Some wives went on the 'witch hunts,' with their husbands who had gotten a whiff of an old engine somewhere in the boondocks, usually miles away and in the mid of winter. Rain, snow, or sub-zero weather only made the hunt more interesting. Often the engine was located in a creek bed partly covered with sand and water or in an old shed half-rotted down, way out in the 'back forty,' or sometimes in a patch of brush and briers, lying on its side with a six-inch sapling growing through the flywheel spokes. In looking the rusty hunk over, a few mental notes were made of a part or two missing. The carb or the mag or maybe both are gone-probably been robbed by someone long before this visitor came along. There was a great feeling of exuberance over the 'find,' along with a feeling of satisfaction when they returned to where the old pickup was parked. Start her up. Turn the heater on for the cab to warm up, while the wife took off her mittens, blew on her hands a few puffs and poured two cups of coffee from the Thermos. As the heater warmed the cab, a cheese and bologna sandwich, dampened with sips of the hot coffee, had never before tasted so good. With lunch finished, and the conversation centering on the 'find,' the three-hour return home was over before they hardly realized just how long they had been traveling. On the way home, they had the return trip to retrieve the 'prize' all planned. They would make the return next week on his day off from the shop. She would take a vacation day from the store. Through a few phone calls that night, additional help was rounded up sufficient to make loading of the engine a relatively simple chore.

When the engine was finally home, both husband and wife hurried through supper. Giving instructions to the kids to clean up the table and do the dishes before beginning their homework, they both were off to the shop to work on the new 'find.' Grease, dirt, and grime, along with a skinned knuckle once in a while, was nothing new to this wife. Even though she washed, cleaned and polished the best she could, her nails never looked too good when there was an engine rebuilding going on, and especially when trying to hurry up for completion before time for a local show coming up.

With the '99 show season quickly coming to an end, I hadn't been able to attend a single show. I don't tolerate the heat too well anymore, and it had been in the high 90's most of the summer here in Roanoke. We did, however, decide to attend the Boone, North Carolina, show. The temperature in Boone is usually ten degrees cooler than here in Roanoke, as Boone is in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Over the years we have attended the Boone show several times. It's not a large show, but due to its location, both close to the Smokies and to the town of Boone, makes it a nice and enjoyable show to visit.

When I say 'we,' I usually mean my wife and I. This time, though, our youngest daughter, Kay Meredith, who lives in Midlothian, Virginia, and teaches high school English at Powhattan, Virginia, went along and furnished the transportation in her new Jeep wagon. My wife, bless her heart, has tolerated me for over 60 years, along with my many wild ideas. And now the last few years with my 'engine bug,' she continues to tolerate me but perhaps with lots less enthusiasm than some wives. I know it had to be 'boring,' as the kids would say, sitting in a vehicle, often in the hot sun, trying to pass the time, while I am out there visiting, watching the engines run, and thoroughly enjoying myself. We have attended lots of shows cruising several states while I was searching for 'My Little Engine' (see story in August 1998 GEM). I am still getting mail referring to that story. In fact, I received a letter just recently inquiring if I had found the fodder cutter yet. The writer also enclosed a picture of his pride and joy. The answer to the fodder cutter question is both 'yes' and 'no.'

Our son lives in Detroit, Michigan, and he found a cutter there, as a result of the story. It operates on the same principle as the one that burned in the barn fire. The cutter knives, however, on the one he found are attached to a circular drum approximately eight inches in diameter. Yes, I have it. On the other hand, the one that burned had a flywheel with knives attached to the wheel exactly in the same fashion as an ensilage cutter. No, I haven't found one yet like the one that burned. And, although time is getting shorter every day, as I am in my eighty-fifth year, I haven't given up in finding my cutter 'prize.'

The letter I received was from Mr. William Rogers from Hannacroix, New York, and in fact, the letter and picture which he sent, and a sign that I read while attending the Boone show, is primarily what prompted this story. In his letter, Mr. Rogers tells me about enjoying 'My Little Engine' story, and goes on to say, 'I'm lucky to have an old engine, too, that is special to me. I enclose a picture of it. It's a Taylor Vacuum 2 HP hit and miss. I keep it in the house, as at the present time I cannot physically handle it. I get a great deal of pleasure just having it near so I can see it.' He did not tell me, however, of his disability or why the engine is so special to him. From the picture, you can see that it is a beauty.

As I said, my wife tolerates my engine hobby, but an engine in the house?! I'm not quite sure what it would take for her to go that far. Mr. Rogers' wife must be a saint! I am also a horologist and I collect, as well as repair, clocks. My wife is much more tolerant of the clock collecting than of the engines. We have at least one clock in every room of our house and as many as twenty in some rooms. I had over sixty at last count. As I say, she is tolerant to a point. When I am about to leave for an auction where there is a clock or two listed, she will often remind me that, 'We don't need any more clocks.' All I have to do though is ask her when she plans to run her first ad in competition with the Piece Goods Shop at the Mall. That nearly always works, because she has practically every drawer in the house stuffed with piece goods and also some on shelves. She even has some print feed sacks that we used to get chicken and dairy feed in before we left the farm in West Virginia and moved to Roanoke, over forty years ago. One day, as a matter of curiosity, I decided to count the spools of thread she has. I found, in addition to lots of black and white, all the colors of the rainbow, along with many in between. I got confused and stopped counting at ninety some spools. She is an excellent seamstress and quilts beautifully, so I don't mind her collecting sewing materials as long as she continues to alter a pair of britches for me now and then.

Then there is the wife who has supper in the oven on that cold snowy Saturday night when her husband and his uncle return from a long engine hunt that had begun that morning with a four o'clock breakfast of hot biscuits, fried apples, and hash browns. Then while the men were eating she packed a lunch with a Thermos full of hot coffee. All the while, remember that this is Saturday when she could be sleeping in a little late with the kids which she normally did on weekends when there was no school. Well after dark, the men return and the wife listens intently to the discussion of the exciting happenings of the day, while they eat the supper she had prepared. When they had finished eating, before she cleaned the supper dishes, she put on her wraps and went to the shop with the men and held the light while her husband backed the truck up to the door to unload the 'prize.' The last thing she remembered as she dozed off, 'Do they have that special engine paint at the new store?' 'Yes, honey, it's on your work bench in the shop just inside the door.' Now that's what I would call a cooperative wife!

Back to the sign which I mentioned seeing at the Boone show. As we all know, at a show one wanders around from one exhibit to another, making conversations, visiting, and getting information, as well as passing on some information now and then. As I walked up to this particular trio of engines, I noticed that two were running while one sat over to itself quite obviously in need of a great deal of TLC. Two lawn chairs close by. One chair was occupied by a man dressed in bib overalls, while the other seat was empty. A large cooler separated the two chairs, and a sign displayed next to the running engines read: 'My wife told if I ever came home again dragging an old rusty engine, she was going to leave. My, how I'm gonna miss that woman!' Teasingly, and to make conversation, pointing to the empty chair I said, 'Looks like she has already gone.' 'Yes,' he said, 'she left this morning all hostile when the man dropped that one off,' motioning to the dead engine there in the grass. 'She just dragged the cooler there off the truck, along with my tool box and the gas can, climbed in the cab and took off. I think I know where she went, though. She did the same thing once before. That time she went to her sister's up in Pennsylvania. I'd almost bet a silver dollar there's where she's headed for again. When she left the other time, she was gone for over a year. I finally called her by phone and told her that she could come home now if she wanted to because I didn't have a rusty engine on the place any more. I kinda' neglected to tell her that I had two more engines, which I had restored and painted since she left. They all shine like new! Not a flake of rust to be found! She didn't believe me and told me so, but said she would come home and see. When she arrived home, before she set foot in the house she went straight to the shop. She opened the door, took one glance around, slammed it shut, and lit into me something terrible. 'Hold on,' I said, 'there is not a single rusty engine in there.' She had to admit that I hadn't storied to her at all. I had told her that there wasn't a rusty engine on the place. She agreed and finally settled down and promised to stay. That's been four or five years ago now. I had never bought another engine since then. Everything had been going along fine. We have been attending shows and having lots of fun. I'll admit, though, I haven't bought any engines until yesterday. But when I saw that terrific bargain, I just couldn't pass it up. I don't know what I'm going to do though, this time, to get her home. I don't want to give up the engine, and I can't use the no rust story again. Do you have any suggestions?'

Actually, I couldn't come up with a thing that I thought would help the poor man. Is there anyone out there who can lend a hand ?