The two men bent to their task with a determination that matched
that of the cantankerous old engine they were trying to start.
While Larry MacClintock opened the choke and depressed the valve
on the antique Witte gasoline engine, burly Jim Whitaker grasped
one side of the flywheel and yanked it into motion, pulling hard,
around and around.
Coughing, sputtering, belching puffs of exhaust, the engine
almost started, but then backfired, and the men began their efforts
anew. This happened time and again. ‘Can’t understand why
she doesn’t want to start,’ Whitaker said, beads of sweat
standing out on his forehead. ‘Is it just this particular one
that’s so stubborn, or is the whole species like this?’ he
asked MacClintock, who is old enough to remember when engines such
as the old Witte were used to do almost every farm chore
Eventually Whitaker, MacClin-tock, and a few others who got into
the act coaxed the engine into turning over and demonstrating to
the crowd at Hanford Mills Museum’s Antique Engine Jamboree its
prowess at running a saw at the other end of a 20 foot belt.
The Witte, donated to Hanford Mills by the Farmers’ Museum
in Cooperstown, was just one of many old engines that gasped,
popped and chugged their way through the two-day September event.
Museum director Jim Williams said that 30 exhibitors from antique
engine clubs throughout the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and
central and southern New York had brought restored equipment to the
jamboree, which attracted hundreds of visitors.
Daniel Rion of Prattsville was one of those who shared his
passion for gasoline engines with Hanford Mills fairgoers. He
brought seven engines and a fully restored 1936 John Deere tractor
to the jamboree, leaving most of his collection of
‘100-plus’ engines and 50-odd tractors at home.
‘It’s a disease,’ Rion said of his mechanical hobby.
He tinkered with a small part he held in his hand ‘igniter
trouble,’ he explained and then continued. ‘I’m just a
collector, I never sell any of my engines. I’m not in it for
the money, just the enjoyment of bringing back the old
Among his engines on display was a 1903 Gilson, once used to
operate a wooden laundry machine on somebody’s front porch in
Windham, a 3 horsepower United that ran a water pump and generator
in a Durham theater, and a John Deere engine bought by an Ashland
farmer in the 1930’s to buzz wood, run a milking machine, and
do other farm chores.
Rion’s pride and joy, however, is that big green and yellow
Deere tractor. It is in original condition, minus the spikes on the
wheels, and it runs like a top.
‘I found this up in Fuera Bush,’ Rion related. ‘Had
to buy four junkers to get it. Paid $ 100 for the lot of ’em,
but since then I’ve been offered $5,000 for this one.’
Restoring such equipment is not easy, but some of the parts for
the tractor, such as the muffler and exhaust pipe, are still
available from John Deere.
A contractor by profession, Rion obviously takes great pleasure
in bringing these once-common workhorses back to sputtering life.
‘I like showing them to people’, he says. ‘Lots of old
folks want their picture taken with my tractor. Most of them used
to have one like this.’
Cros Sheeley, a gasoline engine enthusiast from Kingston, is
another whose interest lies in preserving the past. Sheeley brought
a 1907 three-horsepower Majestic to Hanford Mills. Beautifully
painted and mounted on its original cart, the engine is now
connected to a grindstoneit had been used to cut wood before
Sheeley bought it.
A retired school teacher and administrator, Shelley devotes
untold hours to restoring his 35 engines. And when he’s not
tinkering, he’s reading Gas Engine Magazine or other trade
‘A lot of research goes into this,’ Sheeley explained.
‘You’re never quite satisfied, always changing something
about this or that engine according to new information coming
Carl Williams of Binghamton is a newcomer to the engine hobby,
the proud owner of a 1923 Economy model that once sold for $50 out
of a Sears & Roebuck catalogue. ‘I bought it for $25,’
Williams said. ‘Must have 300 hours into it by now.’
Toure were conducted through the Hanford Mills sawmill.
Onlookers gaped in wonder as a four-foot circular saw whined
through a pine log, driven by the 1926 Fitz water wheel located
beneath the wide-plank floor.
Water was the earliest source of power for the mill, which dates
from about 1820, but it was not the only one. A 1908 Fairbanks
gasoline engine was used by the Hanfords to run a dynamo which
generated electricity. The same 8 HP engine, recently restored, can
still be seen in operation at the mill.
A 16 HP engine, believed to be the last Sta-Rite of its size in
the country, was restored last winter, says museum director
Williams as he gazes across the mill yard at a little girl climbing
onto Daniel Rion’s green and yellow tractor. The youngster sits
triumphantly at the wheel while a few yards away Jim Whitaker,
Larry Mac-Clintock, and a small crowd of other engine lovers
continue to fuss over the obstinate Witte.
At long last the engine cranks into motion, the frayed belt
begins to roll and slap, and the saw comes to life with a rumble.
All about are similar sounds, sounds that are music to the ears of
antique engine fans.
History in stereo
(Article reprinted with permission of the Mountain Arts
News. The Hanford Mills Museum, which consists of seven
buildings and a mill pond on ten acres, is open seven days a week,
10 to 5, from May 15 through October 15. A tour of the facilities
includes its most recent development, a nineteenth-century
woodworking and griting complex operated by water power. During the
off season the facilities are open to visitors by appointment. For
information call (607) 278-5744.