Old Timers and Old Iron at Southern Tier


Ralph Loomis sawing shingles at the 1990 Southern Tier Antique Gas and Steam Engine Association show at Maine, New York.

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P.O. Box 55, Rte. #7, Nineveh, NY 13813

It was August 24, 25, 26, 1990 at the 16th annual reunion and show of the Southern Tier Antique Gas and Steam Engine Association in the village park of Maine, New York where sudden realization came to me that most of my pleasures and glorious years of being an iron nut were behind me. I found cancer was bringing my career to a close. In my 73 years I have experienced great joy in attending many shows, meeting nice people and seeing many unusual things.

Time has claimed many of my hobby friends. Last year it was Warren Howell, whom I first met in 1946 soon after I came back from the war. He was well past 80 and had been in the club many years. They called him the Briggs and Stratton king. To keep his memory alive his widow had all of his engines sold to club members through the annual auction to be exhibited again.

Knowing that Ralph Loomis was sick because he had been missing the meetings, we didn't expect him at the show. It was a surprise when he showed up with his Oil Pull and shingle mill. He showed us that there was still life in that old body when, leaning on a cane with his son hanging on his arm, he demonstrated that he could still make shingles. Ralph claimed that it wasn't his heart condition that got him down, it was sugar. Ralph was one of the six founders of the club and as a charter member he can't be replaced. When his time comes, he will be missed, he was around before the rest of us.

Jack Green is another of the old timers. He's ten years older than I, which makes him well past 80. He seems to be holding up better than the rest of us. It was his wife who didn't make the show. She was missed because she was one of those people who always did her part in the cake walk and other events.

Time catches up with all of us, but we old iron nuts leave this world with our mark on it. It's those youngsters we trained who will be following in our footsteps long after we are gone. Most of these youngsters inherited this insanity from the parents. I have to single out Brian Stevens because his whole family is totally involved in this craze. His mother and sister are just as much of old iron nuts as he is. I first met him when he was in grade school. I saw him graduate from high school and go out into the world. It's only a matter of time before the third generation of iron nuts come along.

Brian is fast becoming an old timer. His youngster days are over and he in turn has been teaching the next generation those things we old timers taught him. He has numerous replacements as a youngster. One in particular has the characteristics that make a good story. This is Douglas Van Hart who is not even as old as the club. Doug has a better collection of old iron than some adults. This doesn't make him unique-it's his way with people. He can talk anybody into anything. Last year he had a cantankerous two wheel garden tractor that ran great after it tired ten men and a boy out getting it started. Doug never pulled on that rope more than twice, he showed other people how much fun it was. This year Doug talked Mrs. Hahn out of the moped she bought at the auction. If Mark Twain were alive today he could have used Douglas Van Hart as a replacement for his fictional character Tom Sawyer.

All of the more than 300 members of the club have their thing and deserve special mention in this article. Most of them have passed the youngster stage and have a long way to go before they reach that time in life when they can be called ancient, they are still working on those chapters in their lives, their books are not yet ready to write. I could go on and describe the many things they do at the shows. It would be quite appropriate to say that the people who lived during the turn of the century would find all the things they had right here at our shows.

In their demonstrations, the iron nuts prove one thing: there is nothing new, it was all thought of years ago. Recently they discovered in a 2,100 year old Egyptian tomb the model of a glider; it was very bird-like but closely resembled the gliders of today.

Not quite so ancient are our old engines. The principle of some of the century-old engines are used in the more expensive automobiles of today for fuel economy. Those multi-cylinder engines whose cylinders are designed to fire only when power is needed were thought of before we were born. An improved version of our one lungers is still used in the oil fields of today.

They call the stuff we have antiques, but this is not quite true. It would be better to call it 'modern technology from years ago,' which brings into the picture another old timer named Kermit (Whitey) Wingard. Whitey had his share of those old, scarce and unusual kinds of engines, but graduated from them into those age old experiments such as perpetual motion, pumping water with a propane torch, using the sun for energy, and others. All of these things are working models that make up his exhibit. We missed Whitey at the Maine show, but saw him the month before at the Strawberry Valley Farm Festival where they had that 40 foot long strawberry shortcake. The weather was bad, Whitey's health isn't too good, and he doesn't drive at night any more. Guys like this are remembered because someone is always asking for the mechanical genius.

I thank God for the Gas Engine Magazine and VCRs. When they call the roll up yonder, others will be down here remembering and carrying on where we left off. I'm sure that kid scratching his head will never forget Everett Schermerhorn, Santa will not deliver the presents he is asking for. Everett's beard is real, he is another one of the old timers. I'll be laughing when they shovel dirt on my coffin-we old iron nuts don't die, we just slowly fade away. Those youngsters we taught will be down here well into the next century, remembering and carrying on where we left off.

This is what life is all about, one has to live it and do something to be remembered when one is pushing up daisies. Those who do nothing are soon forgotten. I'm proud to say that my life as an iron nut has been great. I don't mind when some people think I am off my rocker when I restore a piece of old iron that costs more than the total value of the thing. We old iron nuts have a life after death, we'll be remembered for our good deeds and cursed for that troublesome old iron we left behind.