P.O. Box 55, Rte. #7, Nineveh, NY 13813
It was August 24, 25, 26, 1990 at the 16th annual reunion and
show of the Southern Tier Antique Gas and Steam Engine Association
in the village park of Maine, New York where sudden realization
came to me that most of my pleasures and glorious years of being an
iron nut were behind me. I found cancer was bringing my career to a
close. In my 73 years I have experienced great joy in attending
many shows, meeting nice people and seeing many unusual things.
Time has claimed many of my hobby friends. Last year it was
Warren Howell, whom I first met in 1946 soon after I came back from
the war. He was well past 80 and had been in the club many years.
They called him the Briggs and Stratton king. To keep his memory
alive his widow had all of his engines sold to club members through
the annual auction to be exhibited again.
Knowing that Ralph Loomis was sick because he had been missing
the meetings, we didn’t expect him at the show. It was a
surprise when he showed up with his Oil Pull and shingle mill. He
showed us that there was still life in that old body when, leaning
on a cane with his son hanging on his arm, he demonstrated that he
could still make shingles. Ralph claimed that it wasn’t his
heart condition that got him down, it was sugar. Ralph was one of
the six founders of the club and as a charter member he can’t
be replaced. When his time comes, he will be missed, he was around
before the rest of us.
Jack Green is another of the old timers. He’s ten years
older than I, which makes him well past 80. He seems to be holding
up better than the rest of us. It was his wife who didn’t make
the show. She was missed because she was one of those people who
always did her part in the cake walk and other events.
Time catches up with all of us, but we old iron nuts leave this
world with our mark on it. It’s those youngsters we trained who
will be following in our footsteps long after we are gone. Most of
these youngsters inherited this insanity from the parents. I have
to single out Brian Stevens because his whole family is totally
involved in this craze. His mother and sister are just as much of
old iron nuts as he is. I first met him when he was in grade
school. I saw him graduate from high school and go out into the
world. It’s only a matter of time before the third generation
of iron nuts come along.
Brian is fast becoming an old timer. His youngster days are over
and he in turn has been teaching the next generation those things
we old timers taught him. He has numerous replacements as a
youngster. One in particular has the characteristics that make a
good story. This is Douglas Van Hart who is not even as old as the
club. Doug has a better collection of old iron than some adults.
This doesn’t make him unique-it’s his way with people. He
can talk anybody into anything. Last year he had a cantankerous two
wheel garden tractor that ran great after it tired ten men and a
boy out getting it started. Doug never pulled on that rope more
than twice, he showed other people how much fun it was. This year
Doug talked Mrs. Hahn out of the moped she bought at the auction.
If Mark Twain were alive today he could have used Douglas Van Hart
as a replacement for his fictional character Tom Sawyer.
All of the more than 300 members of the club have their thing
and deserve special mention in this article. Most of them have
passed the youngster stage and have a long way to go before they
reach that time in life when they can be called ancient, they are
still working on those chapters in their lives, their books are not
yet ready to write. I could go on and describe the many things they
do at the shows. It would be quite appropriate to say that the
people who lived during the turn of the century would find all the
things they had right here at our shows.
In their demonstrations, the iron nuts prove one thing: there is
nothing new, it was all thought of years ago. Recently they
discovered in a 2,100 year old Egyptian tomb the model of a glider;
it was very bird-like but closely resembled the gliders of
Not quite so ancient are our old engines. The principle of some
of the century-old engines are used in the more expensive
automobiles of today for fuel economy. Those multi-cylinder engines
whose cylinders are designed to fire only when power is needed were
thought of before we were born. An improved version of our one
lungers is still used in the oil fields of today.
They call the stuff we have antiques, but this is not quite
true. It would be better to call it ‘modern technology from
years ago,’ which brings into the picture another old timer
named Kermit (Whitey) Wingard. Whitey had his share of those old,
scarce and unusual kinds of engines, but graduated from them into
those age old experiments such as perpetual motion, pumping water
with a propane torch, using the sun for energy, and others. All of
these things are working models that make up his exhibit. We missed
Whitey at the Maine show, but saw him the month before at the
Strawberry Valley Farm Festival where they had that 40 foot long
strawberry shortcake. The weather was bad, Whitey’s health
isn’t too good, and he doesn’t drive at night any more.
Guys like this are remembered because someone is always asking for
the mechanical genius.
I thank God for the Gas Engine Magazine and VCRs. When they call
the roll up yonder, others will be down here remembering and
carrying on where we left off. I’m sure that kid scratching his
head will never forget Everett Schermerhorn, Santa will not deliver
the presents he is asking for. Everett’s beard is real, he is
another one of the old timers. I’ll be laughing when they
shovel dirt on my coffin-we old iron nuts don’t die, we just
slowly fade away. Those youngsters we taught will be down here well
into the next century, remembering and carrying on where we left
This is what life is all about, one has to live it and do
something to be remembered when one is pushing up daisies. Those
who do nothing are soon forgotten. I’m proud to say that my
life as an iron nut has been great. I don’t mind when some
people think I am off my rocker when I restore a piece of old iron
that costs more than the total value of the thing. We old iron nuts
have a life after death, we’ll be remembered for our good deeds
and cursed for that troublesome old iron we left behind.