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I have to confess to not concentrating as well as usual on the traffic on the Stationary Engine Mailing List for the last month, mainly because we had a friend staying with us from the U.S. for an industrial heritage tour of Britain. It is a friendship which came about solely because of the e-mail contact we have on the List, and that, along with a few other recent happenings, has made me decide to change the style of this article slightly in a way which will hopefully give some insight into the daily life of our mailing list.

Of course, just like at an engine show, much of the daily talk is of engines, with tips and advice sought and shared, but also, just like at an engine show, the subject matter can wander far and wide. It is this wandering from subject which allows us to see the characters behind the e-mail addresses and which creates such strong friendships.

A mail which summed up the spirit of the List came from Norman O'Neal, who runs an old iron auction site on the WWW. He also organizes and runs a charity auction held on the ATIS mailing lists for the last two Christmases, and a live auction held at last year's Portland, Indiana show.

'The Goodness of ATIS is vast indeed. We celebrate the joy of our children graduating or winning contests, as well as the recent acquisition of a new tractor, a new engine, even a new tool. We mourn the loss of old friends, the passing of our engines, tractors and even farms on to others. We share our joys and sorrows, as well as our questions and knowledge about our hobby. The ATIS lists are a place where the only stupid question is the one not asked. If one would want a synonym of ATIS, it would be 'sharing.' Sharing in knowledge, sharing with the Annual Charity Auction, sharing in memories past, present and future. Someone once said, 'You can judge a man by the company he keeps.' I consider myself in good company.'

The internet, with its reputation for high technology, deceitful self-descriptions and insular behavior, is an unusual place to find a group of dedicated old iron enthusiasts who have formed such strong bonds of friendship that 170 of the group traveled from all over America, Canada, Australia and England to meet up at last year's Portland show. On the internet there are no barriers of age, sex, race or social standing, and no character assessments made on visual appearance, so our group represents all walks of life. Recently, a young enthusiast from upstate New York joined the group, asking for help in choosing his first flywheel engine. While his finances were lacking slightly, his enthusiasm was not, and a group of list members agreed to help finance his entry into the hobby. The following post described the presentation of the engine:

'I wish the entire list could have been there when we presented Tommy with his Hercules. The look on his face is hard to put into words. I think the engine is in better shape than he expected. We hooked the new coil up while 1 explained the wiring, showed him about the fuel adjustment, then the choke, whipped the flywheels over and bang! Tommy's engine was running. It is hard to put into words how Tommy acted and looked. His whole family was excited for him too. We shut the engine down and I made a few adjustments, explaining to Tommy what I was doing, changing the timing. It was quite retarded so I wanted to advance it. Again we whipped the flywheels over and she was running again. The list should really be proud of what they have done. Tommy told me while we were running the engine that he was never going to sell it, that it was his for life. I want to thank everyone on the list for helping Tommy get his first flywheel engine.'

Recently, Tommy and another list member took their engines to a local school, and Tommy was able to pass on his newly found information to a new generation of possible enthusiasts.

Once again, there will be a big, international ATIS presence at the TriState Gas Engine and Tractor Show in Portland in August, so if you are at the show, come along and say hello. We'll all be wearing ID badges featuring the list logo (as at the top of this article), because the strange thing about the business of meeting daily on the internet is that it's not easy to recognize each other when we meet for real! We'll be holding another charity auction, and who knows what will raise the most? Last year, it was a lavender-painted Maytag with an axe embedded in it ... no, don't ask!!

The money raised at the auctions is divided amongst charities suggested by list members, with the exception of the total of the 1999 Portland auction, which was donated in its entirety to multiple sclerosis research in England, a check which I had the honor of donating, as I am the MS sufferer in whose name the donation was made. The achievement of an international group of antique engine friends, connected by the internet, made for a large story in my local newspaper.

So, this month's column is a little different from the previous ones in an attempt to show what a wonderful group of people worldwide engine folk are. Tools are lent out, engines transported around the country (we've not yet got world engine transport completely organized, but we're working on it!), identifications made and engines dated. Problems are solved, often only after much discussion, and lessons learned are passed on. Many list members have their own web pages, and so can share pictures of their collections and shows attended. It may be that we have adopted a very modern method of enjoying the hobby, but basically, it is the same as meeting up with friends at a local show-just on a bigger scale.

Back to the usual format next month. As I write, there's heated discussion going on about mufflers, stories of engines rescued from decades of neglect, and tips for attracting crowds to your show display by means of putting unusual additives in the drip oilers!