Sent to us by Gary Hargrave St. Lawrence Gas & Steam Engine
Club 10 River St., Norwood, NY 13668
As a child, I grew up the victim of an addictive family. Much
like the alcoholic or the drug addict, my family was addicted to
gas engines. We spent the fastest months of the year, July and
August, traveling all over the state of New York, and I rapidly
became accustomed to the world of gas engines and gas engine shows.
You know, the basic stuff: chicken barbecues, fiddle music, pot
luck suppers, and who could forget the endless rain and mud.
As a teenager, I used to dream about seeing the world, and I had
no doubt that I would, once I got a job and made enough money to
escape the world of the gas engine. I was wrong.
Today, believe it or not, I actually look forward to the gas
engine shows. Needless to say, I don’t hear the chug-a-thud of
an ol’ one-lunger in my sleep, as I have heard was the true
symptom of ‘gas engine fever,’ but I do feel a certain
surge of excitement when the gas engine show season finally rolls
My favorite show of the season, I would have to say, would be
the Canandaigua Pageant of Steam, in Canandaigua, New York. Not
only do you get a step by step drilling of the proper workings of a
sawmill and countless other gizmos and gadgets, you also get the
pleasure of eye and nostril-fulls of black soot from the endless
parade of steam tractors.
But, really, it is one of the highlights of my life, and every
year I take a week of my vacation just to partake of the
Now, at this particular show, it is imperative that one arrive
at least five days ahead of the actual ‘showtime’ just to
get a really good campsite I’m partial to the spots away from
the woods, the ones where the mosquitoes aren’t quite so large,
for I’m told they can reach the size of a gas engine bird over
there. What is a gas engine bird, you ask? Well, they’re quite
common, really. I’m sure you’ve seen them around,
you’ve probably just never re-ally noticed them. But if
you’re still wondering, a gas engine bird is a collection of
tools and other odd junk that is welded together in the shape of a
bird. People like to place them outside their camper door. They
like to think it makes things just a little bit homier.
The areas toward the cornfield are also well-suited spots to set
up your camper. The advantage to these is this if you can catch an
opportunity when the farmer isn’t working in his field, you can
easily swipe a side dish of corn to go with your barbecued weenies
and soggy potato salad. And don’t forget that pesky soot from
the steam tractors. It makes a nice condiment to any meal. Just
think of all the money you’ll save on paprika.
Our day for travel is usually Saturday. We live in one of the
remotest of remote towns called Sandy Creek. (I know, I know,
you’ve never heard of it. I get that all the time.) So,
excluding our numerous ‘necessity stops’ in the bushes and
our saunter through the McDonald’s drive-thru window, it takes
us about 2 hours of camper towing time to get there.
We are usually the first family to arrive to this week-long
suburbia. The field has just been mowed, and as we pick out our
spot, set up our awning and other gas engine supplies, we are
constantly molested by the little grasshoppers, snakes, and other
field varmints that you would only get from such a haven. By the
way, I bear witness that it is almost a necessity to wear tight
fitting shoes for the first few days, or run the risk of getting
these little creepy things stuck between your toes.
The days pass quickly and count-down to the show begins.
Excitement is mounting, and as we head back to our camper from our
jaunt to the downtown P & C, we notice that a few other fellow
gas engineers have arrived. A few stop to say hello as we unload
our groceries. Some of the really neighborly folks offer to help us
cram our sackfuls of frozen corn dogs, cold cuts, and boxes of
ding-dongs into our already too small cup-boards, but, since our
camper is smaller than the pup tent of the old woman who lived in
the shoe, we sorrily have to decline any occupancy more than two
standing at a time.
By the end of day four, only hours away from the big event, you
would think you were attending a summit meeting with the coalition
of the United Nations. People are every-where, from every walk of
life and throughout America and Canada combined. Already you can
see the sparkle in their eyes as the fond remembrance of that
glorious chug-a-thud sound from last summer repeats in their
hearts; their shaky hands held firmly on the flywheel like Wild
Bill Hickok with his six shooter at high noon.
As you look to the west, you can see that the food stand is
already open and a line longer than the Mississippi has formed.
There are children doing cart-wheels off the bleachers where very
soon the tractor pull will be in full swing. Flea market vendors
are setting up their tables. Everyone can feel the tension.
Very soon, the last day of this torturous wait is spent and
tomorrow the show begins. As the sun sinks into her horizon and
darkness begins to settle in, I like to sit out under my camper
awning in my rusty green and white lawn chair and take note of my
temporary neighbors in their portable homes.
Across from me sits a rusty old station wagon. The wheels are
sagging on it, for it is crammed with every possible bit of salable
junk and engine parts one can imagine. They have brought no tent,
no camper, and one is forced to wonder where they expect to sleep.
But no matter, for this is the family I most admire. This is the
family that takes the saying, ‘Another man’s trash is
another man’s treasure’ to heart. Junk is like gold to
them; money in the bank. It kind of reminds me of a traveling Gypsy
wagon, or what P. T. Barnum was like before Bailey ever came along.
(Do you sup-pose they ever went to gas engine shows? Could be.)
Anyway, to the left of meand we mustn’t forget them is the
New York State famous ‘Limburger Club.’ This is a club of
men, and surprisingly quite a few women too, who sit around a
sagging cardboard table (etiquette states to bring your own folding
chair) and pile down everything from Polish sausages to pizza until
the last man passes out from indigestion. Initiation requirements
to this club, you question? Well, now that’s the catch.
Anything is acceptable, just as long as it has Limburger cheese on
it, and you have to eat it yourself. You can’t bring your dog
to eat it for you. I tried that once, but my dog turned out to be
smarter than I thought. She turned, tail between her legs, and ran
the other direction.
Meanwhile, the stench of Limburger is slowly looming over me,
and as I realize I will soon be forced inside my cramped and
crowded camper, the crew talk of everything from the rising price
of Limburger to the latest dirty limerick. I swear, I never knew
there could be so many versions to ‘The Old Man From
And yes, the inevitable occurs. The stench becomes too strong
for me, so with my eyes watering and my clothes reeking of that
sweet aroma, I head to bed. The day is slowly brought to a close
and soon the Limburger Club decides to adjourn until the next
meeting tomorrow night. (Or else they are all passed out from a
colon block I cannot be too certain, and I dare not check.)
So while everyone lies in their moth-ball-scented sleeping bag
awaiting the first day of the gas engine show like children on
Christmas Eve, I am forced to wonder about the original owners of
these old relics. Did they ever feel that good ol’ chug-a-thud
sound to be so sweet? Would they have ever dreamed such social
occasions could be formed from their heritage? Somehow, I can’t
help but feel that they will be watching over us tomorrow, clad in
coveralls and workboots with their pitchforks in hand and their
teams harnessed. I can see the pride in their smiles now. Can’t