516 East Third St., Bloomsburg, PA 17815
It was my mistake so I really shouldn’t complain. I saw an
ad in our local paper for anyone who was interested in antique
engines. Little did I know, when I pointed out the ad to my father,
that this ‘hobby club’ would turn into a lifetime
My father answered the ad and went to a couple of meetings. In
December of 1979, the North Jersey Antique Engine and Machine Club
My father, John Willis, Jr., and my brother, Harry, now 17,
decided that to be members of such a club they should have
something to donate. They found a 1917 Ideal Model R,
11/2 HP engine and completely restored
Silly me. I thought this would be their only engine, but it
wasn’t. I was seriously mistaken.
The club’s first show was held in July of 1980, and my
grandfather, Harry Greenleaf, a dairy farmer in southern New York,
decided to ‘join the act.’ He only used John Deere tractors
on the farm and decided to invest in older models of ‘Mean
He purchased a 1940 John Deere B for my brother in December of
1981. My father and brother completely restored it over that winter
and it was ready for the club’s second show in July of
More and more, our Sunday dinner conversations consisted of
nothing but comments about engines and tractors. ‘Where can we
buy one?’ ‘Where did so-and-so buy his?’ ‘Who did
the pinstriping?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ ‘How
long will it take for that part to come in?’ ‘Is he selling
his tractor?’ (I was always tempted to say, ‘Who
That was all my grandmother, mom and I ever heard. It got pretty
monotonous after a while.
Now and then, I would get extremely bored with the reruns of
conversations and I would say something like, ‘Engines and
tractors! Is that all there is to talk about?!’
I would want to talk about other things-anything except this
same old BORING subject. (Needless to say, the three guys in our
family didn’t think this subject would ever be worn out.)
My mother would always tell me to be quiet and let them talk,
which was very contradictory of her. When they weren’t around,
she would complain of them never being with us and when they were,
they never paid any attention to us. Most of their spare time was
spent in our garage restoring engines and tractors.
As time passed, their ‘addiction’ grew. ‘New’
tractors, scrap iron, I thought, were looked at, bought and
restored. Area shows came and went.
Finally, my mother and grandmother gave in and decided they
should follow the old adage, ‘If you can’t beat ’em,
Mom, Grandma, and yes, even I sometimes, accompanied the
enthusiasts to shows. My mother, a cafeteria manager, was convinced
to take charge of the 1984 show’s food stand.
She made me help her out, too.
Together, the three of us found out there were a lot more to
shows and auctions than just smelly old gas engines and grimy steam
engines. Flea markets and antique sales were often included. Such
attractions just happen to be major interests of Mom, Grandma, and
We slowly came to realize that this hobby truly held something
for the whole family.
I went off to college in the fall of 1984, leaving my mom and
grandmother to fend for themselves against the relentless
While in college, I found, much to my surprise, that many
parents were avid hobbyists and collectors. Some of my
acquaintances even thought ‘all-consuming’ was a better
term to use when describing their fathers’ golf outings, their
moms’ quilting clubs and their brothers’ stamp collections.
Almost everyone has something to do that they enjoy
Now, when I return home on vacations, I admit it’s a great
feeling to see a 1950 John Deere G pull out of our garage for the
first time after being restored. Pride wells up inside when you see
your 16 year-old ‘little’ brother driving a ‘Big
Green’ at a show.
Engine collection and restoration gives immense satisfaction to
the owners. A job well done is a thrill to see in the finished
Even though much time and effort is put into it, like Mom says,
‘It’s better than a barstool.’ She’s right.