Witte Gas Engine

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.

Joe Fahnestock

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

Even engine shows are quaint and different down in Old Kaintuck where the tall 'baccer grows and the soft, southern drawl bespeaks a friendliness and hospitality known only 'mongst the mountain folk.

The countryside was dry as tinder down yonder in de land o' Dixie, come August first, the only greenery dotting the landscape being the tall southern pines and the burley as high as an elephant's eye. But the Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Show went right on as scheduled at the Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky 'fire-grounds.' The ancient, century-old wooden amphitheatre, supported by the tall, rough-hewn pine-tree pillars and timbers lent a background of fairyland charm to the sputtering and chugging steam and gas engines of antique vintage gathered for the first organized engine show in the state of Kentucky. The tiny, quarter-mile race track, hardly big enough to turn a horse around on yet an arena for many a fierce contender for equine supremacy in years past, lent a nostalgia that rarely is seen in this modern day. The quaint gingerbread architecture of the judge's tower jutting skyward in the center of the tiny track, overlooking the spacious open-air box-seats of the prominent town social set with their names painted thereon in big, bold letters, all lent a richness of splendor reminiscent of an opulent age quite befitting the array of old-time farm machinery displayed nearby.

Even the toilets, though spic and span, were quite different in Kentucky-land. And I never did figure out why the men's shower was directly positioned to inundate the solitary Jon seat in the private latrine. Nor could my wife understand why I stopped her from rinsing my underwear drawers in a certain inviting trough with running water as though it was made for that purpose. But we had fun in Kentucky, simply because everything in Dixieland bespoke a friendliness and charm quite unlike that in our native Buckeyeland.

'After attending engine shows in various outlying states, and realizing that many a fine old engine was being sold from down here and going elsewhere, I decided to start a show in Kentucky to preserve some of our own engines for future generations,' explains Carl Secchi of Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

It all began sort of humble-like, The Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Association. Carl Secchi, not a native-born Kentuckian, but hailing from the state of Massachusetts, had for years run a so-called Carl's Fix-It Shop down in the county seat of Harrodsburg, located in the lovely rolling hills of Mercer County.

Holding a small, unofficial meeting, together with Frank Cornish, Bill Wheeler, Forrest Cunningham and Angereau McConnell, back in September of '69, the group decided to give it a try and told Carl to 'go ahead and see what he could do.'

Having no treasury to draw upon and hiring a lawyer for legal advice with funds out of his own pocket, Secchi and his faithful foursome began organizing a group which they called, for obvious-reasons, The Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Association -- the first of its kind in the state.

But although Carl Secchi had keenly observed how various other shows were being run in the bordering states, there was the question of raising membership in the home state where no previous organization of that kind had existed. But right to the fountainhead he went for the information and cooperation he needed.

Neath the spreading chestnut tree he stood - Spark Plug Carl Secchi - president of Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Show -- grinding corn with his 12 horsepower Fuller and Johnson Engine. Daughter, Sandy, sacks the corn meal for their corn-bred Kentucky brethren.

The sprightly exhaust of the big Fuller and Johnson Engine soundedlike Aunt Sadie hobbling on her high heels to market. He'd run it awhile, then rest it for a short siesta -- then start it again and the show would pulsate to its rhythm.

'I wrote to Irene Gertzen of The Stemgas Publishing Company and asked for a list of all Kentucky subscribers to their magazines,' says Carl. ' 'Irene cooperated, and we sent out invitations to our Kentucky engine men to attend our first meeting back in January, 1970.'

'We set up our plans and I took all the financial gamble myself as such a thing as a treasury was non-existing,' quoth he. 'I began owing the lawyer for his services, but we made our plans for our first show, and the rest is now history,' muses Secchi with a chuckle of triumph.

'We are not so much interested in making money as we are in preserving our heritage of antique and historic engines,' says Carl, now heading an organization boasting a hundred and twenty-five members, including some from Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. 'We are also interested in helping such worthy organizations that are bent on civic good, like the Ruritan Club of Salvisa, Kentucky, which is raising money for a fire truck for their community by serving dinners on our grounds.'

It wasn't until President Carl Secchi turned over the heavy flywheels of his 12-horse Fuller and Johnson Engine which began popping in a lively rhythm, not unlike Aunt Sadie hobbling on her high heels to market, that the Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Show got under way officially. 'Neath the spreading chestnut tree he stood, like a king, the big, throbbing engine shaking both him and his trailer-load of other engines and contraptions as it heaved on the belt that was running the mill at the opposite end.

It was like 'off again, on again, gone again, Flannagan,' the popping of Secchi's Fuller and Johnson exhaust -- like a shot in the arm giving new life to the show till he shut it down for a spell to do other chores of the presidency, then started it up again, over and over, not unlike a symphony conductor leading an orchestra.

Brotherhood of steam and gas was shown at Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Show when Keck-Gonnerman Steam Engine was pressed into service to start a 15 hp. Witte Gas Engine - which it did!

Frank Cornish and grandson, Travis Wheeler, loll on the vibrating deck of the 20 hp. Minneapolis Steam Engine, after threshing at The Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Show. Enroute to the show, Frank's engine lent charm to historic Fort Harrodsburg as it wound through the county seat thoroughfare.

'These Kentucky people work a while, then rest awhile -- they really believe in their afternoon siestas,' said the wife. 'And we both liked it that way. For there was time to listen to all the engines -- and then time to sort of relax, take it easy and visit with friends during the 'in-betweens.'

Brawny Bill Wheeler starts his big 25 hp. Pattin Brothers Engine -- calling for the help of father-in-law, Frank Cornish (left), for moral support in getting the flywheels turning over. This engine ran 52 years in an oil field pulling 15 oil lifts almost without stopping. Originally, it ran on natural gas, now on bottled gas.

But then after a brief lull, we d again see Carl Secchi climbing up onto his wagonload of engines, like the conductor mounting the podium to direct his orchestra, and, turning the heavy flywheels, the big Fuller and Johnson would soon be falling into its lively exhaust rhythm, grinding more and more shelled corn which his daughter, Sandy, sacked and sold to their corn-bred Kentucky brethren. However, we are of the sincere conviction that Carl's motive for running the Fuller and Johnson was more for the fun of hearing its spunky exhaust than that of feeding his hungry public (which really wasn't starving at the time).

And, too, Secchi had other engines -- a 1 hp. Alamo, 3 hp. F. M. (Model Z), a Hercules 6 hp. and a 1? hp. John Deere which he liked to show off as well as other gas-powered shop tools he explained during the lulls.

It lent a rather nostalgic charm to the log fortress of historic Fort Harrodsburg, when Frank Cornish and grandson Travis Wheeler steamed down the public thoroughfare on the deck of his 20 hp. Minneapolis Thresh Engine, enroute to the Bluegrass Show, where he did a few jags of wheat through the grain separator, along with Paul Crump's Frick Engine and Dick Gibson's Case. Cornish, Mercer County Engineer, is a sort of combination Iron-Man and Spark Plug, in that he was also represented by his ancient 1918 4-cylinder 2-ton delivery truck with solid tires as well as a rare 1920 2-cylinder Eagle stone-crusher.

But the rarest display of brotherhood betwixt the steam engineer gentry and the gas bugs was exhibited when the big Keck Gonnerman Engine was belted to a 15 hp. Witte Gas Engine in order to coax it into starting (which it did).

Meantime, at the opposite end of the Harrodsburg Fairgrounds, brawny Bill Wheeler kept wrestling with the huge flywheels of his 25 horsepower Pattin Brothers Engine 'Ekonomy Model' which finally started banging away its authoritative exhaust that could be heard clear down to the courthouse of the county seat.

'This big engine pulled 15 oil-lifts in an oil field at Leko, in Wolfe County, Kentucky, for fifty-two years, almost without stopping,' explained Wheeler. 'It ran on natural gas, but I run it on bottled gas -- and it still runs like new.'

It was a sight to behold, watching Bill Wheeler start the big Pattin Engine -- the effort sometimes calling his father-in-law, Frank Cornish, away from his Minneapolis throttle to help get the huge flywheels to turning over.

One of the cutest contraptions on the entire grounds was the picturesque little green 'fruit wagon' which Edward Haggard and son Ivan drove all over the place in true father-son relationship. Both tiny of stature, they looked for the world like 'toy people' going to market in a toy tin-lizzie, their trim little straw hats and red hair, their neatly-pressed blue overalls contrasting quaintly with the bright green flivver with white curtains as it sputtered around with its 2-cycle Maytag 'motor.'

And when Saturday night arrived, the usual rituals of taking the family bath lent an old-time vignette of down-on-the-farm life. For father Haggard dutifully went through the rituals of wiping clean his son Ivan -- washing not only his face and back behind the ears but up and down his overall pants legs with the self-same wet wash rag. And little Ivan's face reflected all the misery that only a little boy's face can when it's time to take that Saturday night bath.

'You can tell they're from town,' said my wife with great amusement. 'They always dress in neatly-pressed overalls for this 'country occasion' while all the rest of the engine men come in just trousers and shirts. It's real cute, it is.'

'Yes -- I'm a supervisor in a Sylvania Electric Plant,' said the little and trim-overalled Mr. Haggard in his 'country attire,' as he visited the Stemgas Publishing stand.

And, although it was so rewarding meeting so many new friends who wanted to know where we were from -- and I'd answer, 'I'm a damyankee from up in Buckeyeland,' there were the times that were not without an accompanying pain.

'Mr. Fahnestock, do you have any aspirins? I've got a tooth that's killing me,' said little Mr. Haggard, whose fun with son and fruit wagon was impaired for a few hours till he could sleep away his tooth pain on Sal-Fayne, after which he was right back 'on the wagon' delivering fruit with his little boy blue. And sometimes the down-right katzen-jammer antics of the little ones trying to get the tiny green fruit wagon started would become so side-splitting that toothaches were soon forgotten.

But we felt so honored that our fine new Kentucky friends came to us for whatever help they needed -- feeling they relied on us as if we were almost an extension of Uncle Elmer's pontifical arm in both healing and the dissemination of Gas Engine knowledge.

And especially did I experience the real brotherhood of our Kentucky friends when the 'Joe Dear' sputtered and limped on a tank full of cut-rate filling station gas, enroute to fetching a watermelon from a neighboring market.

'Here's two gallons of good gas -- fill 'er up with this,' said Angereau Mc-Connell, handing me the can. Whereupon I drained the cheap gas from my tank and told McConnell it would probably be good enough to wash our hands.

After the Bluegrass Show came to rest, I was afforded the rare opportunity of driving Frank Cornish's ancient 1927 sleeve-valve Willys-Knight sedan around over the grounds. And boyhood mem'ries returned, when Dad had a 1924 Overland Bluebird, and we could only dream of someday riding in a sleeve-valve Willys-Knight (which I finally got to do).

'We've had over three thousand here in attendance. Not bad for our first show,' said Carl Secchi after the din had died down. 'I've ground almost half a ton of shelled corn these two days. I don't want to see any more corn for a long while.' (But he did grind 1100 pounds of corn later with the Fuller and Johnson at the Shakertown Festival where Carl is employed.)

For which we reserve a niche in our Spark Plug Hall of Fame for one Spark Plug Carl Secchi and all his Spark Plug helpers -- for their tireless efforts at preserving our grand and glorious heritage in gas and steam engines in their first show organized in Kentucky -- The Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Association, Incorporated.

And to this, we feel we hear Uncle Elmer saying a hearty and resounding, 'Amen!'

Saturday Night Bath 'down on the farm' -- at Bluegrass Steam and Gas Engine Show. L. to R. -- Hisle Lutes scrubs down Dave Lutes, 6, and Edward Haggard applies the soapy rag to the jowls of son, Ivan, also 6.

Father and son stand in front of their quaint little green Fruit Wagon, powered by a two-cycle Maytag Engine. Their trim straw hats and red hair and well-creased blue overalls contrasted with the green of the little Fruit Wagon -- lending a real old-time 'Farmer-ish' flavor of Father and Son going to market.

(You might know -- I just love this picture -- Anna Mae.)