Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
Spark Plugs, that noble gentry lately arrived on the scene with an eye to the preservation of Agricultural Americana, sometimes gather in groups their august purpose to pursue. Like, for instance, the great Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor conclave which drew antique gas engine and tractor devotees from throughout the midwest to the well-shaded Jay County fairgrounds in Portland, Indiana, during the month of August.
Spark Plugs here, Spark Plugs there, Spark Plugs everywhere - all frantically fidgeting with feeler-gages for spark gaps, goosing carburetors and yanking on heavy iron fly-wheels by way of the 'Armstrong Method' - each trying to outdo the other in getting their engines to out-pop and out-perform whatever else had been trucked onto the grounds.
It was only their second time to gather, the first of which was but a two day stand at the Fort Recovery village park, in western Ohio, the summer of '66. But unlike the long-standing conclaves of steam threshing brethren, who have grown steadily over the years, the Tri-Staters suddenly burst forth in a grand extravaganza this year that bodes second-fiddle to none. Heretofore the gas-engine segment of the annual threshermen's reunion appeared, at best, only the tail-end fighting for its rights to exhibit a very important and significant era of American farm life at the perimeter outside the main arena of mightier smoke-belching monsters which hogged the center of the grounds. But no more, for Tri-Staters, having come of age all of a sudden, could well be the 'tail that wags the dog'.
'Altogether we've got around some 130 stationary gas engines, and over 25 or 30 antique gas tractors on the grounds,' summed up President of Tri-State, Woody Turner, in a rare moment of relaxation from his busy schedule of directing the numerous operations all the way from threshing with old-time farm tractors to tractor-pulling contests and every conceivable stationary engine performance.
And, to sort of let the 'other side' know who was boss at the big Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor reunion, there was a solitary steam traction engine which was permitted to 'sneak through the gates and allowed to chuff at will over the lovely, shaded fairgrounds - just to remind folks that gas engine and tractor historians have a warm spot in their hearts for 'those things' too. And when it came time for cigar-chewing 'Uncle Charlie' Ditmer and Hugh Hartzell to exhibit the brewing of apple butter in copper kettles, the old-fashioned farm way, well, the old steam engine came in mighty handy, the steam from its big boiler being just the stuff to keep the big 'kittles a-b'ilin''.
Too, the Tri-State reunion was the perfect haven for me, popping and chugging around over the grounds astride my mighty 'Joe Dear' one-lung Delco light-plant garden tractor which I'd made years ago to cultivate the good earth but which has been serving more as a conversation piece at engine meets and vantage seat for yours truly, cameras and recorder strapped to shoulder, in quest of those noble souls known better as 'Spark Plugs of the Month'.
For here it was, from my balcony seat atop the old 'Joe Dear' which starts and runs like an old John Deere, that I ferreted out some of the interesting exhibits and operations whenever and wherever my single 2? inch Delco piston would shuttle my baggage and me. Like the solemn-visaged Ray Stall who was bending over a truck-load of stationary gas engines parked in a prominent place on the gay gas-engine midway at Tri-State.
There were eleven engines bolted onto the bed of his ancient 1930 model -A Ford truck.
TRI-STATERS ATTRACTED EVERY KIND AND VINTAGE OF GAS TRACTOR - Everett R. (Pete) Peters (on far end) drove monster, like primordial creature over the grounds. Says Pete, 'A fellow really needs a seat-belt on this thing. If he didn't know how to hold on, he could wind up being tossed over into his neighbor's cornfield'.
At Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association reunion, Portland, Indiana, Ray Stall looks over his exhibit of early gas engines. Stall, with two other men, owns altogether some eight tractors and 80 odd gas engines.
TRI-STATERS THRESHED NUMEROUS JAGS OF WHEAT - Ancient Huber Super 4 belts up with Spark Plug, Ralph Horstman, helping line up the belt ('neath that cap). Young lady at throttle does her stuff at putting the old Huber through her paces.
'Three of us fellows from Findlay, Ohio, have fetched along some of our engines and antique tractors,' explained Stall, flicking the ashes from his drooping fag - 'We have a 1905 2 H.P. Perkins Engine, a 1927 11/2 H.P. John Deere, a 1917 1 H.P. Wittle, and 1898 Arro bearing serial number one with no horsepower rating, a 1928 Economy rating8 H.P., a 1924 Sattley, 1905 International Famous and a 1912 Woodpecker Engine,' continued Ray, who, in the next breath between cigaret puffs added, 'We also have such old-timers as a 1915 Nova, a 1912 Bluffton and a 2-Horse-power engine we're a-wishin'a name for. We were all three raised on farms and never got it out of us. Together we own about eight old-time tractors and some eighty gas engines of all makes and vintages.'
One of the most impressive gas engine exhibits at Tri-State was the big outlay astride the long, historic 1911 La France fire engine, owned by President Woody Turner who was too busy directing the daily programs to have his 'pitcher took'.
Too, the sights and sounds of the old pump-jack engine, lured the old 'Joe Dear' garden tractor to turn its nose in the direction of Calvin Berry's quaint Tri-State. exhibit, as if the old Delco light-plant engine seemed to recall the good old days out on Uncle John's farm when Delco ran the farm lights, and gas engines pumped the water for the thirsty cows and horses, come evening.
'I purchased this old McCormack Deering kerosene burner and pump-jack back in 1960-paid only fifty cents for the engine,' explained Berry who had fetched it from over Berne, Indiana-way, 'I rebuilt the pump-jack, cleaned up the engine, built me a water tank to hold the water - and here I am pumping water at Tri-State all day.'
Morris Titus, secretary of Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association, Pendleton Indiana, out of the some fifty engines he owns, brought his Tom Thumb International Air-Cooled engine, Associated Air-Cooled Engine and an old International of uncertain vintage. Altogether Titus includes among his stationary menagerie, two old Ford-sons, a couple of John Deeres and (believe it or not for a gas engine man) a real-for-sure Baker 23-90 Steam Traction Engine.
One of the most unusual and eye catching sights at Tri-State this year was the long, bug-like contraption caught by the camera's eye ambulating beneath the shade trees of the county fairgrounds, like some primordial creature.
'This outfit surely needs a scat-belt,' yelled Everett R. (Pete) Peters of his sprawling three-wheeled 1922 Avery 9-18 11.P. tractor, with him desperately hanging onto the seat projection at the far end. 'If a fellow doesn't know how to hold on, he could easily be tossed over into his neighbor's cornfield.'
'There are only five of these old tractors in the state of Ohio,' explained Peters. 'It sold a little high - carried a price of $915 when new. Made to plow corn - guess a fellow could have bought a good team of horses for that.'
And that weather lined but very benign lace peering from the cab of Earl Sottong's old Hart Parr gas tractor which the 'Joe Dear' puttered up 'longside for me to interview:'
'Meet Eli Puterbaugh - he's 92, the oldest thresherman here,' yelled Earl Sottong from Tipton, Indiana. 'Eli's getting an engineer's cab-side view of our Tri-State meeting. Wants to watch the old-time hand-fed threshing. Gets a bang out of feeling the straw to see if the separator's missed any beards.'
In the melee at the big Tri-Slate meeting, the 'Joe Dear' seemed to gel lost among the numerous concession stands of the flea market - one of the largest such markets at any midwest reunion. From my vantage point, atop the 'Joe Dear' seat, I could better see over the heads of the crowd at the objects being sold below. (Not so good for the pocketbook - carting back to the camp several old railroad lanterns of questionable vintage, a high, ladder-back rockin' chair, a few railroad books and what have you.)
And not to be outdone by any steam threshermen's reunion, the Tri-State old-timers prided themselves in threshing numerous jags of wheat - belting up variously their numerous Oil-Pulls, Hart-Parrs, anything that could turn a wheel and yank a belt to the ancient separator, including the 11 ton Avery and a very 'auld' Huber Super 4. (It tried Hard!)
Oldest thresherman,92 year old Eli Puterbaugh, gets cab-side view of Tri-State meet, perched on right-hand side of Earl Sottong's old Hart-Parr tractor.
'Looks like he's belted up before,' snapped one old-timer as he watched Spark Plug, Ralph Horstman, line up his big Rumely Oil-Pull. 'He drove it right up in place - didn't have to try a second time.'
'This is a great place to have fun,' yelled Spark Plug, Russ Flora, belting up his large 1917 Case Gas Tractor, after Horstman had finished with his jag.
To the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association must go the credit for preserving much that has endeared itself on the American farm scene, during the transition period from Old Dobbin to mechanization. Those old Delco light-plant engines a-thumping, that old pump-jack a-popping, those tractors a-grinding and old cars still in prime locomotion - what an endearing tribute to Tri-Staters who've labored into the wee hours while others slept - that Americana might live!
New Way 8 Hp., owner unknown. Powered a small Sterling separator at the Toledo, Washington Threshing Bee in August, 1967. (Fan belts off).