Many times, when a loved one or a friend dies, we mourn their passing and wish we had had one more chance to say 'I love you.' I would like to take that opportunity now to tell my friend, Don Bellach, what he means to me and my family, before it is too late.
It all started about a year ago. Well, actually it started back longer than that. I had wanted a flywheel engine for a long, long time. Seeing as how I grew up with such things on the farm, and my wife and I collected antique 'just about anything,' a flywheel engine was just right to fit the bill. We traveled a lot and even made it to a couple of engine shows, the Florida Flywheelers at Avon Park being one of them.
A true friend, Don Bellach represents what ultimately draws many of us to the old iron hobby.
It didn't take long to get the wife's approval, and one day we brought home our first flywheel engine, an 1HC LB 1 to 2 HP. It was in pretty good shape and didn't need much work at all. However, as we all know, this wouldn't be the last. Next was a McCormick-Deering 3 HP, then a Monitor with a pump jack, both 'barn fresh.'
It was during the restoration of the Monitor that I was looking for a couple of valves. The local mechanics shop was unable to help me, but referred me to a man they knew who collected small engines, too. That man was Don Bellach, and it turns out Don lived only about a mile from my house and had lived in the neighborhood five years, about as long as I had.
A knock on his front door took him away from his TV and got him out of his chair. I introduced myself and explained my predicament. And then we started talking. Following Don through his garage to his workshop that first time, I began to realize the scope of a true collector.
Engines lined the shelves from floor to ceiling on both sides of his garage. A small trailer in the back yard held more engines partially exposed to the elements. There were more engines in his workshop, more shelves and even some engines making a row of their own down the middle of the small building (I didn't even know about his Florida room yet!).
Piled, stacked and stored in amongst the engines were parts of every shape and size. A short search soon located the necessary valves and even a few extras, 'just in case.' Thanking the man and trying to pay for my small treasures, I soon realized our brief encounter meant more to him than a few dollars.
We talked a while longer, and soon the conversation turned to the condition of his show trailer. That's when I learned of his heart troubles from a few years ago and how and why he had been out of the circuit since then. I finally made my goodbyes and headed home.
As I started back to work on my Monitor with my new valves, I couldn't help but think about that old man and his engines. And over the next few days an idea started to form in my head. Most of the fun and pleasure of collecting these old irons is getting them running again and back in 'show' condition. I could just as easily work on Don's engines as I do my own. I could think of no other way to repay him for that first (and since then many more) favor.
Convincing Don to let me take his trailer full of engines back to my place was quite a chore. After all, who cares about old people anymore? And why should I want to help him? I, of course, invited him to come to the house, too. During that first visit my two kids just clambered all over him. We sat and talked for a couple of hours about this and that and engines (of course), and his Navy days. I guess we passed muster, 'cause I inherited the honor of restoring his show trailer and engines.
Our first big show together was an auction in Washington, N.C. -took us two trips to bring back all our goodies. Then from there a show at the Pinellas Park Pioneer Settlement, then Avon Park, then Waldo and a couple of private shows over the holidays finished out the year. Each time as official exhibitors, Don signed up my family and me as members of these clubs. While renewing his old friendships, we made new ones and brought my family closer together. Even my 16-year-old son finally found something he liked to do besides TV and computer games!
A day doesn't go by that we don't stop in or call on Don. He has become our adopted grandfather, father, uncle, brother, cousin. What familial title can you put on a relationship that means as much to you, or more, as family does? Don is our friend and we love him, and we just wanted to tell him one more way.
This is not the end of my story. 'Cause you see, there is always another engine show to go to, and even though he is 82 years old, we know Don will always be with us.
Walt and Lyda Brown, Tim and Megan Brown
Contact engine enthusiasts Walt and Lyda Brown at: 15322 Hwy 574 East, Dover, FL 33527, or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.