Bernardston, Massachusetts, Gas Engine Show

By Staff
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Some boys like their engines mid-size . Motor fans pause to listen to the solos and the symphony. To others it is like so many conductors performing their craft
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Tools of another era, many made in local cottage foundries. These hand tools, some from larger foundries like Stanley and Millers Falls, illustrate how basic and how simple our early engines were to maintain.
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'Some boys like their engines small ...' Old timer recalls times of larger versions of these models displayed.

P.O. Box 681 Amherst, Massachusetts 01004

Some boys like their engines small, some others like their
engines large. The boys and their engines came in all sizes and
ages to the Bernardston, Massachusetts, Gas Engine Show, held the
weekend of May 29-30, 1993. Bernardston, an honorable old New
England Yankee town of about two hundred years vintage, is a
stone’s throw south of the Vermont border and a wink off the
main north/south highway, Route 91, a serpentine roll of tarmac
that divides New England in half, parallel to the Connecticut River
rambling lazily nearby.

It was a festive atmosphere, not unlike an old-time New England
country fair. But the music was not banjos or guitars or bass
fiddles. The music was engines, engines, and more engines, all
singing their solos. Some sang intensely and fervently, but more
engines were singing to the beats of different drummers, soloing so
casually and deliberately and steadily.

The usual summer engine show gypsies camped on the spacious
hayfield and availed their wares while spinning their tales for the
engine fans and enthusiasts. Enthusiasts ventured from as far as
Pennsylvania farmland, a day’s journey from the south, to the
Green Mountain state of Vermont, to the north, a few minutes for
the crow in flight. And they came from Canada, the behemoth farther
yet to the north that rains its geese (enroute to sunnier and
warmer climes) upon New England’s fields each fall.

Locally manufactured engines were sprinkled here and there among
the many common makes. One, the Holyoke, was from a small foundry
out of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Once one of the great paper
manufacturing cities of the country, Holyoke, a milltown girded by
canals and rivers, is now a shell of its former self, a rusty and
decaying reminder of an abandoned inner city.

For this Massachusetts native, however, it was a real pleasure
to see the local gas and steam marques. Originally used in the
grist mills, lumber mills and furniture manufacturing industries
that dotted New England’s many rivers, the engines once again
sang their symphonies but not to produce products. Now they
produced pleasure for the ear of the beholder. The old timers
remembered with relish the beat of the tunes of steel and steam,
gas and air in this pastoral town at the foothills of the rolling
Berkshire Mountains.

What I particularly enjoyed were the trans generational
exchanges that I witnessed, as father and son, grandfather and
grandson, and uncle and nephew or niece carried on their unique
duets singing the virtues of their machines as they recalled them
or as they manufactured big tales. Is it not a reward to witness in
this age of disharmony and distraction from family wholeness some
of us knew in our youth, a common thread of interest in the fabric
of American life many of us experienced on the farm, in the shop or
at the local mill? The legacy of the machinery fires in us who
appreciate, maintain or restore a sufficient inspiration to finish
another project for a show next year.

Besides the pleasure of recalling a simpler time, engine and
vehicle restoration encourages us to play at that which once
represented labor for so many Americans. But perhaps more
importantly, it allows us to keep a slice of our history alive
while we renew and recharge our memory juices and reaquaint
ourselves with a kind of passion or, if that is too strong an
impulse, an appreciation for working machines and the engineers who
conceived them, the men who made them in the foundries and machine
shops and persons like you and me who run them and maintain

Yes, I am saying that a person can love even an inanimate object
like an engine or a tractor. A machine is just so much more than a
hunk of iron or a skeleton of steel with arteries of copper or
brass feeding it its staff of life, water, oil and fuel. It is so
much more than electrical impulses and rubber footwear keeping
steady pace. It is so much more than all of this wrapped in a coat
of shiny new paint. It is part of our past. We are part of it. The
Mississippi writer, William Faulkner, once wrote, ‘History is
not past. It is not even history.’

At the Bernardston Engine Show, as at shows throughout the land,
the past is not relegated to the dustbins of neglect or indifferent
memory. It lives on in our shows and in the participation of the
folks who appreciate shows across the land. We ought to appreciate
our efforts and those of our neighbors, whether they be from old
New England Yankee towns or from the open plains in the Midwest or
the mountains to the far West or from the sun belt of the rural
South. We all ought to appreciate our-selves as we doctor a part of
our history into the realm of rebirth. As I visit these shows I
constantly marvel at the feeling of renewal I feel when watching,
hearing and feeling life sigh, sputter or surge from an old

I have a tired 1938 Allis Chalmers WC on steel sputtering right
now. If you see it next summer at a show here in New England, you
may be surprised at its transformation. But I won’t be. It will
have been nurtured, coaxed and weaned to accept new challenges
dressed up in its graduation finest.

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines