Lives Engines Dreams Engines

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22530 87th Avenue S.E., Woodinville, Washington 98072

My husband couldn't leave his first gas engine show without one teeny purchase. He wanted his own fine specimen of gears, shafts, and flywheel. An antique engine seemed like a fun thing since he runs a machine shop out of our home. Once he unloaded it, I took a look at his new acquisition. It was no bigger than a 24-inch television set and didn't run too well. I thought it was cute, painted forest green and sporting a pretty brass oiler. And comical. It huffed and wheezed trying to start. My Machine-Man seemed tickled.

And if this were all, I'd have been happy, too.

But soon my husband was gone several nights a week attending the local gas engine club meetings or trading with other collectors. When at home, Machine-Man sat across from me with his face buried in an encyclopedic book titled, American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. If I asked my husband, 'How was your day?,' a voice from behind the book responded with information about vintage engines. 'The Alamo 'Blue Line' was introduced in 1913. . . .'

I attended the club meetings hoping to share my husband's newfound interest. Over potluck dishes there were discussions of Sandwiches, Stovers and Stickneys.

'What do you collect?' one woman asked me in between bites of potato salad. I explained that my husband was the collector. She began to spill her marital troubles. 'My man's out of control. It started with a Cushman, then New Ways and Hercules. Now, I've lost track. Engines are in the garage, the yard, the spare room. He calls one Handy Andy and another Waterloo Boy, as if they're members of our family. Just some friendly advice. Get your husband out. His hobby will take over your life.'

'Oh, I'm sure it won't come to that,' I laughed, noting the woman had the sobering expression of a doctor who's just told a patient she has hours to live.

Exhaust-belching treasures stacked up in Machine-Man's shop. All were in need of a makeover, and M-Man spent much time restoring each one. Tired of purchasing gas engines from other collectors, M-Man detoured through farm country whenever we were headed for the mall or church. With his head cranked toward pastures and rows of crops, he checked out farmers' fields. Once, he slammed on the brakes. As I rejoiced 'hallelujah!' for remembering to buckle up, my husband was in hot pursuit of a rusting flywheel poking out of cornstalks. The farmer asked M-Man to just haul that 'ol' hulk' away for him. As if my husband were doing him the favor. The truth is, my husband was no happier than if Ed McMahon appeared on our doorstep with balloons and a check for a million. M-Man de-rusted, sanded, machined and painted until his find glistened beneath shop lights. Then, the best part. The engine started--sputter, sput, chugga-chug! A smoky ink-like cloud gushed into our house.

'Pleee-ze get a new hobby,' I wailed, feeling a headache coming on. My words fell on deaf ears.

My husband speaks engines, breathes engines, lives engines, dreams engines.

What does he want under the Christmas tree?

'A Lunkenheimer spin-top oiler and a side-shaft.'

Where would he like to go for his twentieth wedding anniversary?

'Montana, there's plenty of stationary engines there.'

Not only are Christmas and anniversaries consumed by the quest for engines, so are our summers. 'Here's a calendar of the engine shows I'm attending this summer. Don't make plans for me on those days.' I noticed only one Saturday in August is free of a scheduled show.

Then there's ribbons. M-Man is awarded a splashy ribbon each time he shows an engine. They come in more colors than the Crayola Company can dream up. M-Man's ribbons cover an entire laundry room wall. 'Skagit Gas Up Exhibitor' and 'Mt. Hood Threshing Bee Participant' shout at me as I toss in a load of clothes. A framed photo of M-Man's prize engine hangs next to the sink. I can't reach for the laundry detergent without thinking of the other love of my husband's life--a 1915 Associated in cherry red glory.

If there's an end to this, maybe it is reaching the ultimate goal. For M-Man, it is to own a Superior. I'm told it stands about fifteen feet high and must be supported by a trailer. It has twenty horsepower and emits fumes so profusely that the fire department must be notified before starting it up. Having one of these towers in our front yard is my husband's lifelong dream.

Last night I sat across the dinner table facing 'the book' as I had so many times before. I was thinking how much life had changed since that first engine show. Suddenly the oversized book slapped shut. From behind it appeared a nice-looking man smiling over at me.

'Who are you?' I asked.

The man seemed annoyed by my question. He said something about wanting to spend more time with me.

I wondered. Could this stranger be my Machine-Man? It had been so long since I'd actually seen his face, I couldn't be sure.