Located in the northern part of the Land of Lincoln's farm country, the 28th annual Early Day Engine Show was held in Sandwich, Illinois, in late June, the 26th and 27th. A small town by city standards is big in the way it welcomes the visitor as it hosts the Early Day Engine Club show held on the Dekalb County Fairgrounds near northern outskirts of the town. The fairground is easy to find, as many signs direct the unfamiliar and entry is quick and easy due to gate attendants who collected the three dollars admission fee for each adult while children under the age of 12 were admitted free. I was never quite able to convince the gate attendant that an 11-year-old boy still resides within this aging 58-year-old body, especially when it comes to farm shows (my wife says it applies to other things as well), and from my point of logic that fact should entitle me to a free admission. The attendant remained steadfast and so, mumbling something about how boys really never grow up when it comes to toys, I opened the wallet and handed over the three bucks. I'll just bet you though, given enough time I could have won him over because I could see it in his eyes that he was beginning to accept my argument as reasonable by basing it on his own experiences with farm shows and toys .
It was just a short ride into the parking lot where many trees shade the grounds, increasing the odds of getting one to park under in order to protect your vehicle from the sun. The shade trees were a welcome addition and were needed because the day was starting out sunny, hot and humid! It's not unusual in the Land of Lincoln to be hot and steamy, cool and dry, or cold and wet, all in one day, for that is how it is when June rolls around in northern Illinois! There was no need for the showgoer to cruise the parking lot hunting empty spaces because the many parking attendants directed you to any unoccupied spaces. I could not help but feel a few pangs of sympathy for them because of the humid and hot day that it was turning into and which could have easily adversely affected their human relations skills; however they remained polite and helpful despite any discomfort. So it continues that farmers adapt well to the weather no matter what meteorological consequence is thrown at them. At least on this day there were some comforting breezes now and again to cool the brow and to ease my sympathies, and of course it could have been a lot worse! Pouring rain from above and sloppy mud underfoot comes to mind!
A survey of the show ground revealed stereotypical rows of tractors waiting nearby to be viewed, touched and fussed over, and was the first thing the visitor saw upon entering. Hiding among these tractors and adding to the contrast of colors were two white IH demonstrators, with plenty of green, red and orange to fill in rest of the palette. Of course many of the other colors making up the tractor spectrum were also represented, although in most cases to a much lesser degree, but all making up the gauntlet that would soon need to be run by this author/showgoer.
Many tractor fanciers I observed were standing around certain tractors here and there talking to each other, lusting, ogling, salivating and pointing. I, not being that well versed and an upstart in the world of tractors, looked at those very same tractors and wondered what it was that I was to salivate, ogle, point at and lust over, but I am sure there certainly must be something very special about each to cause full grown men such as these to ogle, lust, drool and point. As for me all I know is that I like tractors and stationary engines and I like to look at them and watch them run. Maybe someday I will develop the ability to appreciate the individuality and small details of these wondrous old machines, but for now I am satisfied with what they give me and which is enough to cause me to ogle, drool, and sometimes point.
It appears as though I am starting to notice the little things that need to be noticed, because before long I came upon a display of Ford tractors, several of which had flat head V-8's in place of the in line fours which are normally the standard fare. I have since learned that these beauties, although being somewhat on the rare side, were actually sold by Ford dealers as an option. Tucked in a corner was another one of the V conversions and I, being the novice authority, immediately noticed something amiss. Looking closer one could plainly see that on this particular V-powered machine there were four extra wires leading to four extra spark plugs. Now, I am by no means a real expert on Ford tractors but I do possess enough expertise to know that any V-8 engine requires only eight wires and eight spark plugs, not twelve. I also believe myself authoritative enough to know that Ford only used its flat head V-8 for these tractor conversions, not a Lincoln V-12. After seeing this marvelous piece of engineering, I never gave it a thought that the Lincoln division of Ford could have easily loaned Ford's division of Ford its engine for use in a tractor as well as using it in their highbrow luxury automobile. Using a Lincoln V-12 flat head for tractor power seemed like a good idea to me, so I placed the new found information into my growing file of knowledge as another piece of data to be used later on when the time was right. Well, to my surprise and a credit to my original mastery of the Ford tractor, it was revealed that Ford never did in fact call upon its affiliate to borrow the V-12 cylinder flat head Lincoln engine to be used in any of its authorized tractor conversions. This perfectly stock appearing conversion standing before me is the materialized dream of its builder and for all I know is a one of a kind. The workmanship is superb, and if one were not well versed on Ford tractors, one would never know that the V-12 conversion was not a factory stock option. While discussing this unique machine with its owner/builder, he suddenly asked me where one might check the engine oil level, if he had a mind to. I thought to myself, 'Well, if you don't know by now and are the builder, who am I to let you in on the such a trade secret?' However, in an attempt to help the gentleman out of his dilemma, I confidently called upon my 'expertise' and searched the entire machine for anything that might resemble a dipstick to dunk, sight glass to glare into, or even a finger hole to poke. I found none! With a burning desire to add to my expertise, but reluctant to publicly display my ignorance, after much searching I finally took a big gulp of pride and asked to be shown the mysterious hidden means by which one would check the oil level, if he had a mind to, that is! Pointing to a little gadget needle on top of the engine, the owner proudly began to explain how it worked. Yes sir, right out in the open where any novice or 'expert' could easily see it, was the hidden measuring gadget device! The builder/owner slyly smiling and satisfied that he once again fooled the casual observer and 'expert' alike, went on to explain that the brass-needled device is linked via a series of levers and plungers to a float in the oil pan. What's more, he supposes (probably quite correctly and confirmed by this 'Ford expert') that the device was so designed that the operator of such a luxury vehicle as a Lincoln would not wish to dirty himself with any old oily dipstick. And so, all any oil checker need do on this engine is to look at the gadget needle on top of the intake manifold near the back of the carburetor, line up the needle with an index mark and thus check the oil level in the pan below. Ingenious! And gosh, any true Ford expert such as I would surely have known about a simple thing like that, now, wouldn't he? Once the secret location is revealed and you see the darn thing for yourself finally realizing what the little brass needle thing-a-ma-jiggy does, from then on it keeps popping out at you slapping you right in the face each and every time you sneak a peek at that great big V-12. Unfortunately, I am as good a chronicler as I am a Ford Tractor expert, and failed to obtain the name of the owner/builder of this unique and interesting machine; my apology goes out to him for not doing so.
Walking further down the line with my tail tucked neatly between my legs, licking my wounded pride and softly babbling to myself, I began the process of digesting my recently consumed snack of humble pie and came upon yet another unparalleled contraption by the Ford Motor Company. Unlike the Lincoln powered tractor, this adaptation was actually an authorized variant using the Ford tractor as its production base. Calling it a Dearborn Road Maintainer, anyone seeing it for the first time is left with the impression that a Ford tractor, sans its front wheels, is pushing a road grader minus its rear wheels. Looking strangely as though the front road grader portion was an afterthought when the tractor builder realized he forgot to assemble a set of front wheels. So, in his attempt to cover the mistake he added anything that might fill the space normally occupied by the front wheels and in this case it happen to be a road grader! Produced in 1951 by Ford, Dearborn Division, the going price at the time was $1925. The Dearborn Road Maintainer weighed in at 2900 pounds and stretched its length to 18 feet. Reversing a heading required a generous amount of real-estate due to its 39 foot turning radius. The workmanship is excellent but it still leaves one with the impression that someone took a perfectly good 8N tractor, sawed off the front wheels, moved them forward about 10 feet or backed the tractor portion up a like amount, depending on how you look at it, then simply welded a road grader blade and its controlling paraphernalia in the new found space in-between. Possessing a beauty all its own, this machine is likely the sole survivor of only 50 known to be produced, making this unique Ford a very rare one indeed. I like it and the uniqueness it possesses, however it continues to appear strikingly odd to this Ford affectionado, and once again goes to prove that beauty always lies in the eyes of its beholder.
A short distance away was the standard display layout of stationary engines. Now, I like tractors, any kind of tractor, but it seems I like stationary engines even better; steam, diesel, gas, it doesn't matter. But when it comes to hit and miss engines? Well, what can I say, there is something very special about watching and hearing one of these mechanical contrivances run with their distinctive pop followed by the lazy chugging as the engine waits to fire once again. There were many of these marvelous devices on exhibit to look over, lust for and point at, however the subject of this particular article is to examine a few of the unusual vehicles and not my beloved hit and miss engines. That, my friend, is a story for another day. Just allow it be said that there were enough different brands, sizes and models of these incredible machines on display to cause me to spend the entire day just ogling, drooling, lusting and pointing.
Parked off to one side and under another shade tree was a semi truck tractor and grain trailer. Okay, semi trucks are parked all over the place at these farm shows, so what? Big deal you say! Well, here was a Frieghtliner or other such flat nosed semi truck parked with the cab over rolled forward exposing its diesel engine contained thereunder. It is a big deal, but in a small way, and was enough to cause me to question whether my 58-year-old eyes and childlike mind were finally beginning to fail me after all these years. Appearing as though it may be parked a great distance away, the darn thing looked a bit on the small side to me for a big rig. The people walking around it attested to its actual size however, proving that this 18 wheel semi truck had in fact shrunk!
Belonging to and the brainstorm of Kelm and Son of Earlville, Illinois, it is not quite a half scale grain hauler scaled down to where the average size man was slightly taller than it was. Using an Isuzu four cylinder diesel engine as the power source, the illusion is perfect as the small scale plays tricks with the perspective so that outwardly the engine might appear to be a big Cat or Cummins tucked neatly into the engine compartment, chrome exhaust stacks finishing off the illusion. Upon hearing this Cummins, uh, I mean Isuzu run, even the distinctive diesel sound is scaled down from that normally associated with a big rig by being slightly higher in pitch. Yes, it is true that although smaller in size this diesel still belches smoke from the dual stacks, the trailer dumps, the cab over rises to expose the engine, and it owes it all to the baby Caterpillar (Isuzu) engine and a maze of hydraulic lines, tanks and pumps, each hand made to fit the application. Seating arrangements in the cab are quite intimate, as one would expect, and requires the occupant to squeeze into and out of the cab through the miniature but fully functional doors which open and close just like the doors on any other truck. In this little truck with the big sound (it has working full scale air horns) using the sleeper at the rear of this cab is left up to only the brave or very foolish, for if one were to spend a night sardined in this bed, arthritis would certainly see to it that you never walked again. That's assuming of course that you were nimble enough to get into the sleeper in the first place and not arthritic enough to get yourself back out onto terra firma in the second! The only thing lacking is a scaled down version of a load which, just to maintain the scale of course, could be a heaping pile of mushroom spores or a like amount of corn pollen simulating grain. All in all it is a very interesting and entertaining vehicle which took the builder two and a half years to complete and me better than a half hour to enjoy.
I wonder what would happen or what other road jockeys would say if this little big rig were to be driven into a truck stop somewhere along the interstate and park among its 18 wheel cousins. Our driver (who might be dressed in clothes at least two sizes too small, looking as though he were ready to burst at the seams) could squiggle out from the cab complaining to all who will listen that he has never in his life ever seen it rain as hard as it did in the storm he has just drove through a tick back down the road. Or better yet maybe he could casually ask around as to whether anybody knows what it feels like to survive a trip through the Twilight Zone. I just can't help but wonder!
If you're in the neighborhood next year around the same time in June for the 29th Sandwich Early Day Engine Club show, you can't go wrong stopping in. If nothing else just to see, ogle and point at the Dearborn Road Maintainer or maybe Kelm and Sons will give you their permission to do a walk around on the little big rig whacking a few tires with a sawed off piece of a Little League Slugger.
Contact Ed Bresley at 338 Jackson Avenue, Libertyville, IL, 60048.