Joe Fahnestock

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.

Joe Fahnestock

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

Spark Pluggers from five states throughout the midwest and beyond congregated in one mighty horde at Portland, Indiana -- there to wind up their antique gas engines, tractors and classic coupes, thence to sort of un-wind their winding arms while basking in the pollution thereof.

Some twelve-thousand strong crashed the gates at the Jay County Fairgrounds to waddle reminiscently 'mongst the four-hundred eleven popping and banging gas engines while creaking, centipede-like tractors of yesteryear clattered and groaned at flopping leather belts hitched to sawmills and separators at the other end.

'WOW -- is this a show!' exclaimed one lanky, long-legged lad from down Ol' Kaintucky-way as he set foot on Jay County soil and proceeded to survey the melee'. 'So much here I won't ever get to see it all.'

But being the biggest antique gas engine tractor show in the midwest was not the only goal sought by the director-and planners of the Tri-State Association. For along with the vast outlay of internal combustion assemblage of yesteryear there were the many other associated exhibits of educational value, all reflecting a golden age of American ingenuity and inventiveness just past.

While brawny arms heaved on heavy flywheels and yanked on cranks to set antiquated pistons into motion, sawing lumber, threshing wheat and grinding meal, others hawked and demonstrated their wares of early Americana to the evident curiosity and satisfaction of all. Against the steady background din of internal combustion four-cycle, two-cycle hit-and-miss or what-have-you exhaustings, there could be heard the more refined whirr of the ancient spinning wheel, the ticking of antique watches and the raucous blare of old-time radio squawking from vintage horns of the early twenties while agile fingers plucked romantic ditties from the strings of out-dated autoharps exhibited nearby.

At Tri-State Show, Portland, Indiana, last year, Doc Schwanderman's ;antique watch display was so popular he decided this year to fetch along a box of crackers and ring o' boloney so he could stay on the job. He also brought along his cot so he could stay on the job and keep vigil over his 500 rare watches, rather than tote them home each night.

It was three days of pure pleasure, forgetting the mad, mad modern world and revelling in the mem'ries of the past at the Tri-State Antique Gas Engine & Tractor Reunion. No aspirins or modern, high-powered pills required to soothe frazzled nerves or calm upset tummies -- all by-products of an otherwise whirligig world gone mod. For there is a certain, undeniable reassurance in the bygone that is noticeably lacking in the present. A reassurance that became contagious as the big steam engine boiler simmered over the slab-wood fire, making steam for the copper 'kittles' while the womenfolk pared apples which were cut into schnitz for the making of Uncle Charlie Ditmer's special steam engine apple butter. And there was downright fun injected into the homey scene by the Spark Plug husbands who 'stole' some of President Woody Turner's antique applepeelers from his exhibit to generously 'help out' with the womanly chores.

Modern psychologists and political sociologists blame all our troubles on a so-called 'generation gap' -- and quite possibly so. For the parents who got in on the last of the past, before it ceased to be, are acquainted with things that their children are not. But at such as Tri-State the lads go along with their dads, building bridges betwixt the two. All of which explains why a thirteen-year-old, such as Don Marker of Richmond, Indiana, is quite conversant with the things of Granddad's world that made America great.

'That boy of mine loves these old tractors so much, he kept bothering the men to let him run theirs so I decided I 'd try and get him one of his own,' muses Kenneth Marker who always fetches a few antique engines to Gasoline Alley each year. 'Finally I bought up this model of an old Mogul Tractor which Kenny Rismiller built with an old one-cylinder gas engine. He likes it so well, when one man offered to trade him a $1600 12-horsepower tractor with all attachments, like new, for it, he said, 'You go jump in a crick. I can take this tractor to the reunions and drive it but I couldn't yours.'

It was one of the fixtures at Tri-State Reunion, this year, watching the u-biquitous Don Marker who was almost two places at once -- driving his simulated half-size Mogul Tractor model, manipulating the hand-throttle and reverse like a real veteran of yesteryear on 'Uncle John's' farm. The creaking and groaning of the single-belt slip-clutch, designed in the Rismiller woodshed shop, lending even more nostalgia than the prototype which Spark Plug Tommy Lewis was driving over the grounds.

'We get a bang out of Don and his little Mogul,' laughed President of Tri-State, Woody Turner. 'His family came a little early and, you know, Don drove ten gallons of gas through that little tractor before the show even opened up. He drove down to where some of us were cleaning up the grounds for the sawmill, wanting to help out with the work, so I just told him to hitch onto one of those tree limbs and drag it out. Was he ever pleased to lend us a hand.'

And, too, it was no little honor for Don Marker to head up the big Tri-State parade which packed the Jay County race track coliseum to a capacity of 2500 who watched the passing Americana of old-time gas tractors, wagons of antique gas engines, steam threshers, and the long parade of classic, early-American automobiles all rehabilitated to a glistening sheen.

One of the great new attractions added to the Tri-State Reunion agenda by President Woody Turner this year was that almost forgotten segment of old-time American country life known as the fiddler's contest.

At Tri-State '70 Show Don Marker drives his model Mogul one-lung tractor. His dad bought it from Kenny Rismiller who made it, simply to keep Don from heckling other Spark Pluggers to run their tractors. Don had so much fun driving it around (almost two places at once), that he burned up ten gallons of 'company gas' before the show even got started. But he earned his keeps, dragging a tree limb around for President Woody Turner.

At Tri-State '70 Show, old-time radios proved quite popular -- but where were Lum 'N Abner, Amos 'N Andy and Ma Perkins?

15 year old Ted Davis, farm lad turned electrical genius, repairs old time squawkers and gets 'em to working. From crystal sets to one and two-tubers, on through super heterodynes - Ted had 'em all perkin'. (The stiff katy is not an antique - neither is Ted.) But he did put on his best Sunday smile when the camera pointed his way.

'We'll put out the call for old-time fiddlers and see what comes of it,' said Woody. And what came of it was ten bowmen from as far away as one hundred miles, all of them fetching their bows 'n fiddles on which they fiddled the old-time fav'rites of yesteryear -- Arkansas Traveler, Mocking Bird, Hornpipe, Turkey In The Straw and others, world without end. Tunes that young and old liked so well they almost split the sides of the race-track amphitheatre with applause while Bob Seavers of WOWO Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 'emceed' the agenda of performing fiddle-tuners and their repertoires.

In fact the sheer fun of old-time fiddlin' spilled over into the horse barns, after the fiddlin' contest ended, where hangers-on lingered spellbound at the genuine barn-dance that transpired with clown, Shorty Hudson, pulling his antics while steam engineer, Dave Sullivan, of Mechanicsburg, Ind., pounded the 'pie-anna.'

For the many hundreds of memorabilia collectors at Tri-State, there were the unique exhibits of old-time battery-powered radios -- everyone repaired (and working) by 15 year old Ted Davis, a farm lad genius in early-day audio electronics. Although we heard antique tin and paper-mache loudspeaker horns squawking, as in the olden days -- our ears pined for the old-time soap operas and 15-minute supper-time re-hashes of such as Lum 'n Abner, Amos 'n Andy, Ma Perkins and the like. But nevertheless we were satisfied and forgiving.

The crowds that filed past Doc Schwanderman's huge collection of antique American watches was so great last year that he said, 'Next year I'm going to take along a box of crackers and a ring o' boloney so I won't have to take time out for lunch.'

And that he did, even to the point of fetching along his cot so he could stretch out and keep 24 - hour vigil beside his priceless watch cases.

'Thought I'd best sleep with the watches,' quoth Doc, 'rather than having to pack up five hundred cases and works each night and taking 'em home with me.'

Spark Plug Sam Schnurr displays his unusual electric interurban car. Two years ago we had a picture of him working on his two-cylinder Detroit gas engine (right). This year he had also built a generator and little electric car which was running off the generated current -- nice doin' Sam'l. (Don't know the man to right, but it looks like 'George-do-it' Schwanderman peering at left.)

At Tri-State '70 Show the brawny-biceped Roe Cook was busy heat-tempering a mare's shoe which he had just pulled from his blacksmith forge.

Interspersed among the antique gas engines and tractors that stretched as far as the eye could see were those 'nit-pickin' model makers who always enhance a historical reunion by the wonderful models they meticulously fabricate. There was 'Ol Needle Eye' of Spark Plug fame who had brought along his latest model of a Stickney Engine. Two years ago we had taken his 'pitcher' drawing scale plans from Spark Plug Marion Ertle's prototype Stickney in The Darke County Threshers' Gasoline Alley. At the Tri-State Reunion we saw the finished model -- a veritable gem of perfection which James Maloney ran alongside the real Stickney just to show how perfectly it functioned like the original. To my ears and eyes, the Stickney model was perfection in itself -- for Spark Plug Maloney, who does not use common castings or pre-fab parts, always fabricates his models from solid stock, even making his own tiny hex-bolts with metric threads, while such refinements as miniature water pumps and oilers equal the craftsmanship of the watchmaker's guild.

At Tri-State '70 Show - the greatest number of gas engines and tractors, as far as the eye could see.

One of the really unusual model exhibits was displayed by Spark Plug Sam Schnurr from up Alvordton, Ohio-way. We saw the model two-cylinder Detroit Gas Engine, which he was pictured working on two years ago, actually hooked up to a small electric generator he designed, and together they were generating enough electricity to run the tiny interurban electric car that Sam designed in his cornfield workshop. (How 'bout a ride, Sam?)

And, adding to the early American quaintness of the Tri-State Show, 'neath the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stood. The brawny-biceped Roe Cook was busy heat-tempering a mare's shoe which he had just pulled from his blacksmith forge with a pair of soot-black forceps. Even the cotton-candy man, Ray Winthrop, gave up his stand to help out, but he wasn't sure which side of the shoe you put the horse on.

When Sunday morning church-time arrived, the big Tri-State Show paused, as it always does each year, to give time to recognize and worship the Creator of all. The old-time hymns were sung, the old-time religion preached by the Rev. Lillie Mote, chaplain, and the old-time collection plates were passed to the tune of clanking coins in fundamental country fashion.

Not only did Tri-State 70 outdo all previous years in the number of antique gas engines and tractors exhibited, but also as a well-rounded-out show with an appeal to every walk of life it was the best ever.

'Our Tri-State Show is so big this year I 'm almost afraid to talk about it,' chuckled George Schwanderman, better known as 'Let George do it,' around the grounds.

To President Woody Turner and all his helping 'George do-its,' the board of directors and planners, as well as the hundreds of unnamed Spark Pluggers who dragged their prize engines and tractors to make Tri-State 70 the greatest, most diversified, we doff the Spark Plug katy and say 'Well done, boys. We know you'll do it again and again.'

And now a big, wide niche in the Spark Plug Hall of Fame for all who made it so -- bridging a generation gap by preserving our great American heritage.

At Tri-State '70 Show, 'Ol' Needle-eye' (James Maloney of Indianapolis, Ind.) shows off with his precision model of a Stickney gas engine. The model which is a beauty in perfection, ran alongside the original from which it was modeled and fired right along with it. Maloney, a retired instrument maker for the navy, fabricates all parts from solid stock, even his own metric threads and tiny hexagon bolts. He also makes the tiny water pumps and oilers that are used in his models.

At Tri-State '70 Spark Pluggers vied with womenfolk at peeling apples for Uncle Charlie Ditmer's special steam engine apple butter. But it looks like Spark Plugs Wayne Whitenack and Marion Ertle 'stole' a couple of Woody Turner's antique apple peelers to catch up.

At Tri-State '70 the Old-time Fiddler's contest boiled over into a genuine all night barn dance at the horse barns. Clown 'Shorty' Hudson is at his special drums which cost him only 35 cents in plastic cast-off lids and pans. Steam engineer, Dave Sullivan of Mechanicsburg, Indiana, bangs chors on the old upright 'pie-anna.'