That's Pretty Near Beautiful, Isn't It?

Weldon Glick

Weldon Glick.

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P.O. Box 15368 Pensacola, Florida 32514

Bill Orr looked like the legendary Wizard of Oz at his organ, both hands at the controls regulating the operation of the big old black diesel engine. He throttled back and let the engine slow down almost to stopping with nearly no sound, then advanced the throttle. As the engine labored to catch up with its resonant 'Chunk ... chunk' cracking above the crowd, it blew perfect white and black smoke rings 30 feet in the air from the twin exhaust stacks and sounded like music to the ears of the enthusiasts clustered around.

Amidst a cacophony of many engines chugging, coughing, cracking, and 'chunk . . . chunking,' the peanut exhibit was drawing spectators. There were two balers, one a green John Deere 1936 3 HP, the other a red 1946 International Harvester 3-5 HP. A 1936 peanut picker driven with an eight inch belt from a 1936 Farmall tractor (approx. 36 HP), pulled peanuts off the vines, its fan blowing leaves and vines out the back of the picker. There the cast out vines etc. were picked up with pitch forks and fed to a hay baler and baled for future use.

Phillip Hunter, the narrator for the demonstration, recalled the old days when the peanut vines were stacked in the fields for four to six weeks to dry them. When they were ready, the farmer would set up a picker in the field. In 1936 they could pick about 500 pounds a day. Today's equipment only requires peanut vines to dry about a week before feeding them to the picker.

Turning in a tree-lined clay road to Landmark Park you come upon beautiful green, close-cropped, lawn-like grounds with buildings from the wire grass farming heritage. The Waddell House, a turn of the century farm house, sitting on brick piers; log cabins; log corn cribs; a blacksmith shop; a church; with a country store in the works; and farm animals provided an exceptional setting for the engine show. There was a line of tractors, flywheel engines hit-n-miss, steam, diesel, gas, lawn mower, washing machine, ? HP to 120 HP, small enough to hold in one hand to 16,000 pounds with 12 inch cylinders. Many engines were hooked to period farm implements or machines cross cut saws, water pumps, cane mills, peanut pickers, hay presses, corn shuckers.

This was the 1994 Pioneer Peanut Days celebration with the Dixie Fly-wheelers Association being held at Landmark Park just north of Dothan, Alabama, on October 22 and 23. Teresa Smallwood, representing the Alabama Peanut Producers Association which is one of the yearly sponsors of the event, said this celebration is a way of preserving and honoring the past at a time when peanut farmers are having trouble keeping the farms together.

William Holman, Executive Director of the Dothan Landmark Foundation (a private non-profit club with about 1700 family members), said the park started about 16-17 years ago as a local historical society concerned with the preservation of the local farming heritage wire grass region (Southeast Alabama, Southwest Georgia and Northwest Florida.) They have 100 acres, several old buildings moved to the park and one or two replicas made from old designs and materials.

Among the exhibitors, Weldon Glick had a display of small steam engines. One was a rebuilt (refurbished) 1905 steam engine from a popcorn wagon. He built four others, one a full-scale copy of a steam engine from a 1913 popcorn wagon where the steam engine stirred the corn and oil as the corn popped. They were real operating steam engines, colorfully painted with highly polished brass. Weldon said it took longest to make the twin-ball weight, centrifugal governor on the replica he had made about 15 years ago. A ratchet type oil pump fed lubrication to the steam chamber to lube the valves and cylinder.

Weldon, a slim 75 year old, was dressed in khaki shirt and trousers, straw hat with the yellow Pioneer Peanut Days button pinned in the center of the bright white, green, yellow hat band. His dark rimmed glasses accented his ruddy complexion, while black shoes and a red bandana with white polka dots hanging from his back pocket completed the country gentleman image. Weldon said the Dixie Flywheelers Club was started about 12 years ago by Ron Franz, Jerry Holland and Larry Joeckstock. The Club's first show was 10 years ago this is the 9th annual at Landmark Park. It now has about 110 members15 active.

Weldon was the 1983 president of the Clock Collector's Club in Pensacola, where he was one of the rebuilders and restorers of the city clock currently mounted outside the County Court House on South Palafox Street.

Weldon introduced me to Bobby and Machie Adkins who were demonstrating a cane mill. The green painted cane mill is mounted to a trailer. An old Ford rear end from a model T truck (worm gear) is mounted to the top of the mill which is driven by a red International Harvester 3-5 HP (came off a hay press). White cups of the cane juice were parceled out to spectators Good!!!

Bobby and family live nearby and have eleven tractors and eight flywheel engines for display. He said it wasn't the same this year without his dad (85 years old) in the center of things as usual, during the show. Talking about the blacksmith exhibit, Bobby said he was going to try blacksmithing as soon as he got the time. Bobby, secretary of the club, said new officers were to be elected the next day.

Some exhibitors were from as far away as Michigan, Louisiana and South Florida. Wayne and Mary Crandall traveled the farthest Homer, Michigan, with their tool board and hog oilers. Bobby Newton traveled from Anacoco, Louisiana; Fred Maick from Arcadia, Florida; John May-hall from River View, Florida; William and Dorothy Noble from Ocala, Florida; Raymond Taylor and Stew Henderson from Pensacola, Florida; and as many as 53 exhibitors, friends from Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

There were 126 engines of all types exhibited, 12 tractors, 30 tool displays and farm equipment, one 1930 peanut picker, one 1936 picker, two hay balers, one hay cutter, one peanut sheller, one hammer mill, one cane mill, etc.

Ron Franz, one of the early presidents of the club, wore faded bib overalls, felt hat, closely trimmed gray beard and sun glasses as he worked on his 1923 Fairmont railroad engine from one of the old open cars used to travel the rails to inspect rail conditions. A lively spectator talking about club members' love of engines said, 'I used all of them machines, peanut pickers, hay balers, tractors. Worked all day didn't make enough to pay social security,' he laughed.

'That's pretty near beautiful isn't it?' said Raymond Taylor, with that sly grin of his, showing off his green, 1919 Fairbanks-Morse 1 HP hit-n-miss which was so finely tuned it just nearly stopped before hitting again.

Bill and Dorothy Noble from Ocala demonstrated an 1890s Butt braiding machine driven by an old International flywheel engine. The braiding machine was from New England, had 32 spools, 16 orange, 16 black. The spools traveled around the machine in a sinewave pattern and wove the braid around the center cord or wire.

Bill Orr, this year's club president, works at the city water department. As a private collector and restorer he brought the humongous 16,000 pound Fairbanks-Morse diesel 32E, two cylinder, 120 HP. Bill had to run the air compressor and air tank to above 130 lbs. pressure in order to start the big diesel engine. He controlled it from nearly stopped to the regular speed of 360 RPM to blow the smoke rings. One cylinder blew most of the black smoke since Bill hasn't had the time to balance the fuel to both cylinders.

The engine had been located on cotton gin property in Headland, Alabama, and was originally purchased by a Mr. Shelly in 1939 for $3183.60. It was sitting on the gin property for a long time before it was acquired and moved to south of Dothan, where it just sat another six to seven years when Bill got possession. He dismantled it at the site, brought it home in pieces and reassembled it at his home. He found the bearings okay, located gasket paper and got it together. It cranked off the first time he tried. He put it on a low trailer so he could demonstrate the engine better.

In the gazebo in the center of the park, strains of country bluegrass (wire grass??) music were played by six local musicians two guitars, a banjo, a bass fiddle, a violin (fiddle), a harmonica while one of the guitar players sang the country lyrics. There were craft tables around in front of the gazebo, benches, and a food trailer with conventional sandwiches, spiral fries, drinks and a unique blooming onioncut with a special gizmo, batter-dipped, and deep fried in vegetable oil.

The show was interrupted about 12:40 by pelting rain and a wild thunderstorm which sent participants and visitors alike running for the registration tent or the porch of the Waddell House, among other temporary shelters. Standing on the rear porch of the Waddell House, the rain was really beating down! The wind was so strong the rain was blowing over the top of the corn crib and cane boiling buildings (syrup shed), creating a white froth in the air just above the peak of the roofs. Tents blew out, equipment got soaked, folks were drenched to the skin.

The show was pretty much over for the day although the rain let up an hour or so later.