For as long as I’ve been around the engine crowd, I’ve listened to enthusiasts express concern over how to encourage younger people to join the old iron fold. As we get older, it’s only normal to wonder; who’s going to step in behind us?
Our “hobby” (some people think it’s really more of an obsession than a hobby, but what else do you call it in polite company?) was founded by a unique community of enthusiasts, most of them people with direct ties to the engines and equipment they were set on preserving.
With time, however, those ties have become more tenuous. To be sure, there still exists a significant crowd of collectors with strong ties to their old iron. Yet even then, many of those ties are likely looser than they might have been years ago.
Back in the 1960s, there was a good chance that someone rejuvenating a 1921 IHC 1-1/2 hp M actually grew up with the engine they were restoring. If you were 60 years old in 1966, you were already a young man or woman when that old M came to the farm, and you remembered – directly and powerfully – what that engine meant to your family, and to get it running again was to embrace your history.
Fast-forward to 2016 and that same 60-year-old collector. Born in 1956, if he or she grew up on a farm or in a rural setting, electric motors were doing all the work previously done by stationary engines. Their parents most likely worked around engines in their youths, but if there were any engines on the farm, it was only because Mom and Dad were collecting them, preserving them as reminders of the old days.
That’s still a pretty direct connection, because if you’re that 60-year-old today, you grew up with stories of how work got done back in the day, and you grew up appreciating what these old engines could do.
So if the well of people with a direct connection to the old iron we collect is going dry, who is going to be left to keep alive the heritage we work to preserve?
The answer, I think, lies in that second generation of collectors and people like Jim Faith of Monticello, Wisconsin. Jim’s business immerses him in mechanical activities. He’s also an engine fan, and a committed one. Jim’s dad got him into engines when he was only 8 years old, and he’s carrying on the tradition, teaching his son Joel (18), nephew Dana (16) and their friend Traiten (17) about old engines by guiding them through the restoration process.
Jim and Dana recently restored a 1908 2-1/2 hp Galloway (click here for the story), and while the finished engine is beautiful, its real significance lies in Jim’s mentoring, inspiring the next generation of collectors. If they’re anything like Jim, they’ll pass the torch onto yet another generation.
Richard Backus, Editor-in-Chief; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org