PILGRIMS & CONVERTS

Sometimes, you just have to throw yourself into the fire.

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Prior to becoming assistant editor at Gas Engine Magazine in early August, I admit I knew nothing about gas engines. So, when it came to learning the ins-and-outs of the stationary gas engine hobby, I scanned both volumes of C.H. Wendel's American Gasoline Engine Since 1872, took notes from Mark Meincke's The Complete Guide to Stationary Gas Engines and spent days swimming through the archives of GEM. Even after all of that, I still didn't know a whole lot about the gas engine hobby. But that all changed as soon as I walked into the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Assn. Show in Portland, Ind., the last weekend in August. Many collectors consider the Portland show the "Mecca" of the hobby, and while I may not have arrived as a pilgrim, I most definitely left the show as a convert.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to attend the Portland show will attest to the enormous size of the event. It's considered the largest gas engine show in the world and it didn't take me long to verify that boast. And while I wandered up and down the rutted pathways, taking photos of engines that I knew were probably interesting but not knowing why, I realized I was on the verge of becoming overwhelmed. And that made me wonder how someone like me gets into this hobby. Where are the access points for someone who's interested in the hobby but has no idea where to start? One quick look at the sea of tents of engines told me if there was anyplace to find the answer to that question, it was right here in Portland.

As I walked around the fairgrounds, I saw more than just a bunch of old iron. I saw old friends reminiscing and new friends meeting for the first time; a father and daughter working together on a stubborn engine that just wouldn't turn over; and, above all, kind, patient folks who actually seemed to enjoy taking the time to show a greenhorn like me how all of this stuff works.

And that's when I realized this hobby is much more than simply getting an old engine running. It's about the friendships and quality time that are created by a common interest.

Yes, sometimes you have to throw yourself into the fire. But I know now that if there's a gas engine nearby, you can always count on someone being there to pull you out.