Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
Gaunt looking antique tractors, towering like primordial beasts of prey, chugged and clattered down Main Street of Portland, Indiana,-snaking their way cross town and into the beautifully shaded Jay County Fairgrounds, lugging their burdens of popping gas engines behind them.
It was the weirdest menagerie of historic agricultural Americana ever to be paraded down the main thoroughfare of any midwest county seat -- and Port-landites and crowds from far and wide congregated to witness the sights thereof.
Jaws dropped and old-timers shifted their cuds from cheek to cheek while 'young-uns' gaped in awe at the strange spectacle unwinding before them as if time had indeed moved backwards - all marking the third annual reunion of the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association, the largest in the nation.
It was a very hot and humid day-that 23rd of August. And I had worked feverishly in the 'pits' on last-minute mechanical adjustments on the 'mighty Joe Dear Delco-powered garden tractor that I, too, might join the parading extravaganza. But unloading a little three-wheeled monster such as the Joe Dear, single-handed, can have its difficulties -- a situation which left me just enough time and energy to grab my camera and get a picture of the big parade, headed by Russ Flora's lumbering Case Tractor, as it was emerging through the county fair-ground gate.
No sooner had the strange apparition made it entry, followed by hasty un-hitchings and setting up of exhibits, than brawny-armed Spark Plugs began fidgeting with carburetors and spinning fly wheels, exploding the entire fairgrounds into a veritable symphony of popping and banging gas engines.
'This year we have more than twice the equipment we had last year,' announced head-Spark Plug, Woody Turner, President of Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association, as he surveyed the grand panorama of hundreds of fellow Spark Plugs laboring over tractors and engines to get the big show rolling. 'Al together we'll be exhibiting about forty antique tractors and around two-hundred and fifty gas engines of every variety and vintage.'
FORERUNNER OF THE MODERN SMALL GARDEN TRACTOR - The little York Tractor, manufactured by the Flinchbaugh Mfg. Co. of York, Penna. back in 1910 was proudly displayed by owner, D.J. Hafer of Larue, Ohio. Engineering foresight of that day provided double-clutch and gearing for two speeds either forward or backward. 'We've gotten many an hour of belt work out of this little tractor over the years,' says Hafer.
But this w as only the basic ground-floor structure of the big show for yet other Spark Plugs were already busy driving in impressive line-ups of painted and polished historical vehicles Model-T Fords, vintage Chevvies and Dodges, four-cylinder Buicks culminated by a magnificent specimen of a 12-cylinder Lincoln refurnished like new by Lowell Shreeve of Portland, Indiana.
All this in addition to the some eighty garden tractors congregated on the fair grounds by more and more Spark Plugs for the big Saturday night small-tractor pull. And the unscheduled surprise of an unofficial tractor pull which transpired when Ralph Ary and his half-size model Rumely Oil Pull decided to take on all comers out pulling four small garden tractors with his well geared three horse antique gas engine before the little fellows decided to call it quits.
It was pure delight, meandering around among the large and numerous flea market exhibits headed by that noble big-game hunter and mountain climber, Gilbert Sheard of Middletown, Ohio, whose display of historic publications, auto tires, antique lamps, steam whistles and what-nots blended nostalgically with old-time phonographs, crank-telephone, pendulum-clocks, crocks and jars lining the rest of the gay Tri-State midway. For the serious collector, there was such as the nationally-famous display of some five-hundred historic pocket watches, representing thousands of dollars in investment by non other than O. H. 'Doc' Schwanderman of Fort Recovery, Ohio.
But over and above the purely historic and mechanical aspects of Tri-State was the brotherhood exhibited between gas engine bugs and steam engineers, with Iron Men, Charlie Ditmer and Hugh Hartzell brewing genuine homemade cop per 'kittle' apple butter with one of the five steam engines on the grounds furnishing the heat to cook the apple 'schnitzels'.
For the stomach-weary, there were the genuine, full-course thresher-filling dinners cooked and served by the loyal ladies of the Rosary Society of the local Immaculate Conception Church of Port land. For the soul-weary, spiritual food was provided at the Sunday morning services without a single engine popping and all Spark Plugs 'tending as the organizations' chaplain, the Rev. Lillie Black Mote, abjured one and all to trod the 'straight and narrow' with an eye to 'laying up treasures in Heaven'...
'And, in closing may I ask you men that, while enjoying your engines this lovely day, let's do so without taking the name of the Lord in vain,' reminded Chaplain Mote to which most men complied for Tri-State is a wholesome organization dedicated to the best in both engines and men.
As the big Tri-State show ground out Sunday afternoon, the largest melee of both machines and men congregated from all over the midwest to witness the most diverse operations of threshing, saw milling and fan-testing that any such like organization of Spark Plugs has ever put on. So great was the activity that one could but limit his attention to the sights and sounds immediately before him, unconscious of what was transpiring elsewhere on the sprawling fairgrounds.
LAW 'N ORDER WAS KEPT AT TRI-STATE '68 - Everett L. Moody of Muncie, Ind., bedecked in all the original decor of the flicker-era Keystone Motorcycle Cop, kept constant prowl on the grounds stamping out sin and evil. His 1912 Harley Davidson is equipped with all the modern technical paraphernalia of candle-stick telephone, beepers and buzzers to dispatch the law promptly and efficiently.
Whether it was pumping water by an ancient Yellow Jacket pump-jack or generating electricity by Delco light-plant for overhanging bulbs, milling flour by gasoline engine, sawing boards by McCormick-Deering, separating grain by Hart-Parr, whirring the Baker Fan by Rumely Oil-Pull or just watching that old Super Huber cutting circles in the grass without a driver it was all grinding out simultaneously and one had to hustle from place to place to see it all.
'The Rumely people said that the seams of a belt should not be more than three inches apart,' yelled Spark Plug, Ralph Horstman, over the steady chug of his Oil-Pull jerking the Baker Fan at a good clip. And walking down along the flopping belt to measure it, Horstman verified it wasn't more than three inches to the crowd of onlookers, as proof of his superb showmanship at linging a ma chine up to its work.
There was the usual humor too that transpired 'mongst Spark Plugs at Tri-State. It was a heavy blow of iron on steel that sounded as Spark Plug Horst man let go with a sledge-hammer onto the big steel tire of Harold Ary's huge Rumely Oil-Pull that was just parading by. Whereupon Spark Plug Ary, almost swallowing his cud at the din thereof, suddenly began cranking an old-time siren improvised for such emergencies in the Rumely cab, summoning Everett L. Moody, motorcycle cop of the Holly wood flicker-era, racing on his 1912 Harley Davidson to restore law 'n order.
One can well say that, what transpires annually round Tri-State is what's good for a modern world gone mad. For here it is that Spark Plugs yea, even Iron Men can vent off their steam before blowing their heads. It's a kind of much-needed therapeutic benefit get ting together like good Spark Plugs and doing just what you've always wanted to do, but can't get away with back in the hometown neighborhood.
Glory -- what a tonic to frazzled, modern-day nerves that need unwinding!
Our hat is doffed to Tri-Staters, their Spark Plugs and their engines. May you and yours keep on and on giving America just what it needs, nursing it back to health and well-being by reminding us of our glorious heritage.