969 Iron Bridge Road Mount Joy, Pennsylvania 17552
Our summer vacation of 1993 was going to be unusual. Ed and I had made a commitment to display our New Way engines at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, practically 1,000 miles from our home town of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. I was having second thoughts about this decision.
Every day I scanned the weather map on the Today Show for sunny days in Iowa, but they were hard to find. As a sunny day person, my comfort zone was being invaded big time. We planned to attend the Tri State Engine Show in Portland, Indiana, first, and the thought of being away from home over two weeks made me edgy.
Sharing an air mattress in our pick-up for an extended time with a 13-year-old grouchy Pekingese named Peppy, who gasps for breath without his heart medicine, and Suzie, his lively five-month-old counterpart, was not one of my life's dreams. Things looked bleak.
To add to my dismal outlook on this venture, I was told Mount Pleasant was really big. 'Big' triggers anxiety attacks. But my friends kept telling me, 'You'll enjoy it,' so we proceeded on the path of no return to Iowa.
When we arrived at the show grounds on Tuesday, August 31, the only helpful reference we had was a name, Louis Tuller. I now call Lou the 'shepherd of the gas engine flock.' He personally talked with each participant as they signed in and was diligent to meet all our needs throughout the week.
I began to feel at home when Ed got our New Way display set up and fellow exhibitors came by to chat. The gas engine area was in a really good spot right between the little old-time town at the north end of the grounds and the big row of tents which were set up on what I call 'Fellowship Drive.' From these tents men and women of the local churches served delicious breakfasts and dinners. It was during these meals that we swapped stories of life and customs in the East versus those in the Midwest. There was a stalwart spirit present in these people.
The first place that beckoned me was the indoor antique market I spotted out of the corner of my eye. I can see one a mile away! Being surrounded by old dishes and treasures helps to make my day. Things were looking up.
The next day, while Ed was absorbed in gas engine talk with his new buddies from Nebraska and other places, I ventured out of the grounds by myself. Imagine that! I boarded a bus to town to see the parade which initiated the festivities. Afterward I leisurely strolled through the beautiful shady part in the quaint, picture-book town square filled with fine arts and crafts and collectibles.
The return trip to the show grounds brought a little nostalgia to my heart. For a moment I was in Providence, Rhode Island, 40 years ago standing on a crowded bus homeward bound from work. Had it actually been that long since I had ridden on a city bus? Way back then I had never heard of an antique gas engine. I guess you could say, 'I've come a long way, baby.'
The following day I hopped on one of the many available tractor-drawn wagons to the museum buildings. Not only did I find good displays that pictured country living in the olden days, but to my surprise fabulous crafts with a touch of the Midwest filled the center of the big buildings. Ed had given me a hundred bucks to spend on whatever I wantedwas this Christmas or what? I bought two tiny train sets, as well as tractors, cars and trucks for my grand-sons, Chucky and Scotty, hoping they will have fun bringing them to life with bright and colorful paint. I watched the castings being made from molds right before my eyes. That was fun.
I was impressed by the complete John Deere collection along the front row of the engine area, which as an extra treat included a couple of small scale models of the same brand. Our little Suzie, how-ever, only had eyes for Bo, the eight week old JD 'watchdog.'
I was fascinated by the unusual rhythm and sound of the Workingman engine and was amused at the imaginative display of Granny's outdated unmentionables hanging on a clothesline right next to the old Maytag washer. Ed gazed longingly at the 7 HP New Way in original condition hit-and-missing in the next row. There were many beautifully restored engines, all shiny and proud, and some really nice preserved units on exhibit throughout 'Engine-land.'
Ed and I actually spent a lot of time at our display talking with many people and answering any questions we could for them. One evening as things quieted down we covered our equipment, put our dogs in their wooden wagon and trekked through the grounds passing by the stately old steam engines tiredly hissing and sighing from their activity that day. While the dogs were content and feeling important in their wagon, with more shopping in mind I gently coaxed Ed back to the crafts. Somehow or other, we were sidetracked by the big stationary gas engines located in one end of the museum. I w-a-i-t-e-d as 'shop talk' between Ed and the men manning the equipment floated fuzzily over my head. I consoled myself by crunching caramel com as I sat slumped on a nearby bench until closing time.
Music was another important feature of the reunion. Every evening a capacity crowd filled the big grandstand to be entertained by famous country music performers. We were impressed by the performance of Kathy Mattea. Her music was soft and her lyrics were full of sentiment, a nice way to end a day.
Near 'Engine land' were terrific area groups performing every day and evening in a large tent that constantly overflowed with fans requesting their favorite tunes. It was a setting where you could feel free to hum along, clap your hands and tap your toes to 'good ole country.'
Last, but not least, I appreciated the little chapel set apart at the end of the old-time western town. Its doors were open all day, and I could slip into a pew, pick up a hymnal and sing. A song leader and organist were present at all times. Here was a peaceful spot where my soul could be satisfied. When singing praises to the Lord, no one sounds out of tune to Him, not even me.
Ed and I agree it was especially meaningful for the opportunity to meet the friendly folks from the Midwest. Many gas and steam engine men stopped and thanked us for coming such a long way. Mr. Fricke showed us his commemorative show hat presented the year his steam engine had been featured. On the cap the picture of him and his brother operating the engine was still bright and clear, even after many washings.
It makes me a little melancholy when I consider those who are no longer able to participate, men and women with vision and the gifts of hospitality who have made Old Threshers what it is today. I wonder, is there a book entitled 'The Mount Pleasant Story,' covering the show from its inception?
Saying goodbye was hard, because we had begun to build relationships. There were lots of handshakes and some hugs. We were given a special farewell gift of freshly ground corn meal. This was ground, of course, with the help of a good old reliable gas engine. Next time, maybe even next year, will be a great reunion for us.
Now that we're back home, I can still hear the whistle of the trains and the clang of the trolleys filled with people going here and there. I'm sure the tents are down and the campers are gone. The big two-story barn filled with antique cars is probably empty. I can imagine the beautiful horses that pulled the antique wagons back home munching in their fields, and I wonder if they miss the excitement. The reunion is over, but what remains in us is the memory of those truly sunshiny days filled with good fun and laughter and blessing.
You know, maybe Iowa isn't so far, and 'big' isn't so bad after all.