Wives’ Part in A Man’s Hobby

By Staff
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William Rogers' Taylor Vacuum engine, 1928 type C, #15091 bought in 1983.

6637 Pendleton Avenue NW Roanoke, Virginia 24019

I have been a dedicated fan of GEM from the very first
time it was introduced to me over twenty years ago. When the new
monthly copy arrives everything goes on hold until I have read it
from beginning to end. The stories, the ads, the classifieds, I
devour the whole bit.

Over the years, I have discovered the stories and articles month
by month primarily fall into about four or five categories: The
prize find and getting it home; the step by step restorations; the
participation in shows; and the technical and historic articles.
All are quite interesting and enjoyable. The technical information,
from time to time, is very helpful in many restoration projects and
most appreciated in the special problems one encounters every now
and then.

Only on very rare occasions do I ever hear about the wives.
Where are they when all of this collecting and restoration is going
on? Occasionally a story will include the wife, but generally the
wives are given little mention or credit. Where are the stories and
articles by women collectors? I believe they are about as scarce as
the proverbial ‘hen’s teeth.’

I know in the early manufacturing days of the engines and
tractors being collected and restored today, the women of that time
were supposed to cook, keep house, quilt in the winter time, and
raise a garden and prepare the family’s winter food supply in
the summer. In the fall, they made a kettle of apple butter, filled
a ten-gallon stone jar with cabbage for sauerkraut and another with
pickled beans. However now we are generations down the road. Women
nowadays climb utility poles and fight in our wars. They work in
the factories and help build our tractors and engines for our
automobiles. Come on! There surely have to be some wives out there
with their own collections and restoration stories.

Two separate occasions in recent months prompted me to write
this article. Both involved women. The basics are factual; however,
facts sometimes are a bit more interesting if a little fiction is
injected here and there.

The parts women have played in the few stories and articles I
have been obliged to observe have fallen into three or four
distinct categories: enthusiastic, tolerant, cooperative, and
hostile, as demonstrated in the rest of this article. Some wives
went on the ‘witch hunts,’ with their husbands who had
gotten a whiff of an old engine somewhere in the boondocks, usually
miles away and in the mid of winter. Rain, snow, or sub-zero
weather only made the hunt more interesting. Often the engine was
located in a creek bed partly covered with sand and water or in an
old shed half-rotted down, way out in the ‘back forty,’ or
sometimes in a patch of brush and briers, lying on its side with a
six-inch sapling growing through the flywheel spokes. In looking
the rusty hunk over, a few mental notes were made of a part or two
missing. The carb or the mag or maybe both are gone-probably been
robbed by someone long before this visitor came along. There was a
great feeling of exuberance over the ‘find,’ along with a
feeling of satisfaction when they returned to where the old pickup
was parked. Start her up. Turn the heater on for the cab to warm
up, while the wife took off her mittens, blew on her hands a few
puffs and poured two cups of coffee from the Thermos. As the heater
warmed the cab, a cheese and bologna sandwich, dampened with sips
of the hot coffee, had never before tasted so good. With lunch
finished, and the conversation centering on the ‘find,’ the
three-hour return home was over before they hardly realized just
how long they had been traveling. On the way home, they had the
return trip to retrieve the ‘prize’ all planned. They would
make the return next week on his day off from the shop. She would
take a vacation day from the store. Through a few phone calls that
night, additional help was rounded up sufficient to make loading of
the engine a relatively simple chore.

When the engine was finally home, both husband and wife hurried
through supper. Giving instructions to the kids to clean up the
table and do the dishes before beginning their homework, they both
were off to the shop to work on the new ‘find.’ Grease,
dirt, and grime, along with a skinned knuckle once in a while, was
nothing new to this wife. Even though she washed, cleaned and
polished the best she could, her nails never looked too good when
there was an engine rebuilding going on, and especially when trying
to hurry up for completion before time for a local show coming

With the ’99 show season quickly coming to an end, I
hadn’t been able to attend a single show. I don’t tolerate
the heat too well anymore, and it had been in the high 90’s
most of the summer here in Roanoke. We did, however, decide to
attend the Boone, North Carolina, show. The temperature in Boone is
usually ten degrees cooler than here in Roanoke, as Boone is in the
foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Over the years we have
attended the Boone show several times. It’s not a large show,
but due to its location, both close to the Smokies and to the town
of Boone, makes it a nice and enjoyable show to visit.

When I say ‘we,’ I usually mean my wife and I. This
time, though, our youngest daughter, Kay Meredith, who lives in
Midlothian, Virginia, and teaches high school English at Powhattan,
Virginia, went along and furnished the transportation in her new
Jeep wagon. My wife, bless her heart, has tolerated me for over 60
years, along with my many wild ideas. And now the last few years
with my ‘engine bug,’ she continues to tolerate me but
perhaps with lots less enthusiasm than some wives. I know it had to
be ‘boring,’ as the kids would say, sitting in a vehicle,
often in the hot sun, trying to pass the time, while I am out there
visiting, watching the engines run, and thoroughly enjoying myself.
We have attended lots of shows cruising several states while I was
searching for ‘My Little Engine’ (see story in August 1998
GEM). I am still getting mail referring to that story. In
fact, I received a letter just recently inquiring if I had found
the fodder cutter yet. The writer also enclosed a picture of his
pride and joy. The answer to the fodder cutter question is both
‘yes’ and ‘no.’

Our son lives in Detroit, Michigan, and he found a cutter there,
as a result of the story. It operates on the same principle as the
one that burned in the barn fire. The cutter knives, however, on
the one he found are attached to a circular drum approximately
eight inches in diameter. Yes, I have it. On the other hand, the
one that burned had a flywheel with knives attached to the wheel
exactly in the same fashion as an ensilage cutter. No, I
haven’t found one yet like the one that burned. And, although
time is getting shorter every day, as I am in my eighty-fifth year,
I haven’t given up in finding my cutter ‘prize.’

The letter I received was from Mr. William Rogers from
Hannacroix, New York, and in fact, the letter and picture which he
sent, and a sign that I read while attending the Boone show, is
primarily what prompted this story. In his letter, Mr. Rogers tells
me about enjoying ‘My Little Engine’ story, and goes on to
say, ‘I’m lucky to have an old engine, too, that is special
to me. I enclose a picture of it. It’s a Taylor Vacuum 2 HP hit
and miss. I keep it in the house, as at the present time I cannot
physically handle it. I get a great deal of pleasure just having it
near so I can see it.’ He did not tell me, however, of his
disability or why the engine is so special to him. From the
picture, you can see that it is a beauty.

As I said, my wife tolerates my engine hobby, but an engine in
the house?! I’m not quite sure what it would take for her to go
that far. Mr. Rogers’ wife must be a saint! I am also a
horologist and I collect, as well as repair, clocks. My wife is
much more tolerant of the clock collecting than of the engines. We
have at least one clock in every room of our house and as many as
twenty in some rooms. I had over sixty at last count. As I say, she
is tolerant to a point. When I am about to leave for an auction
where there is a clock or two listed, she will often remind me
that, ‘We don’t need any more clocks.’ All I have to do
though is ask her when she plans to run her first ad in competition
with the Piece Goods Shop at the Mall. That nearly always works,
because she has practically every drawer in the house stuffed with
piece goods and also some on shelves. She even has some print feed
sacks that we used to get chicken and dairy feed in before we left
the farm in West Virginia and moved to Roanoke, over forty years
ago. One day, as a matter of curiosity, I decided to count the
spools of thread she has. I found, in addition to lots of black and
white, all the colors of the rainbow, along with many in between. I
got confused and stopped counting at ninety some spools. She is an
excellent seamstress and quilts beautifully, so I don’t mind
her collecting sewing materials as long as she continues to alter a
pair of britches for me now and then.

Then there is the wife who has supper in the oven on that cold
snowy Saturday night when her husband and his uncle return from a
long engine hunt that had begun that morning with a four
o’clock breakfast of hot biscuits, fried apples, and hash
browns. Then while the men were eating she packed a lunch with a
Thermos full of hot coffee. All the while, remember that this is
Saturday when she could be sleeping in a little late with the kids
which she normally did on weekends when there was no school. Well
after dark, the men return and the wife listens intently to the
discussion of the exciting happenings of the day, while they eat
the supper she had prepared. When they had finished eating, before
she cleaned the supper dishes, she put on her wraps and went to the
shop with the men and held the light while her husband backed the
truck up to the door to unload the ‘prize.’ The last thing
she remembered as she dozed off, ‘Do they have that special
engine paint at the new store?’ ‘Yes, honey, it’s on
your work bench in the shop just inside the door.’ Now
that’s what I would call a cooperative wife!

Back to the sign which I mentioned seeing at the Boone show. As
we all know, at a show one wanders around from one exhibit to
another, making conversations, visiting, and getting information,
as well as passing on some information now and then. As I walked up
to this particular trio of engines, I noticed that two were running
while one sat over to itself quite obviously in need of a great
deal of TLC. Two lawn chairs close by. One chair was occupied by a
man dressed in bib overalls, while the other seat was empty. A
large cooler separated the two chairs, and a sign displayed next to
the running engines read: ‘My wife told if I ever came home
again dragging an old rusty engine, she was going to leave. My, how
I’m gonna miss that woman!’ Teasingly, and to make
conversation, pointing to the empty chair I said, ‘Looks like
she has already gone.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘she left
this morning all hostile when the man dropped that one off,’
motioning to the dead engine there in the grass. ‘She just
dragged the cooler there off the truck, along with my tool box and
the gas can, climbed in the cab and took off. I think I know where
she went, though. She did the same thing once before. That time she
went to her sister’s up in Pennsylvania. I’d almost bet a
silver dollar there’s where she’s headed for again. When
she left the other time, she was gone for over a year. I finally
called her by phone and told her that she could come home now if
she wanted to because I didn’t have a rusty engine on the place
any more. I kinda’ neglected to tell her that I had two more
engines, which I had restored and painted since she left. They all
shine like new! Not a flake of rust to be found! She didn’t
believe me and told me so, but said she would come home and see.
When she arrived home, before she set foot in the house she went
straight to the shop. She opened the door, took one glance around,
slammed it shut, and lit into me something terrible. ‘Hold
on,’ I said, ‘there is not a single rusty engine in
there.’ She had to admit that I hadn’t storied to her at
all. I had told her that there wasn’t a rusty engine on the
place. She agreed and finally settled down and promised to stay.
That’s been four or five years ago now. I had never bought
another engine since then. Everything had been going along fine. We
have been attending shows and having lots of fun. I’ll admit,
though, I haven’t bought any engines until yesterday. But when
I saw that terrific bargain, I just couldn’t pass it up. I
don’t know what I’m going to do though, this time, to get
her home. I don’t want to give up the engine, and I can’t
use the no rust story again. Do you have any suggestions?’

Actually, I couldn’t come up with a thing that I thought
would help the poor man. Is there anyone out there who can lend a
hand ?

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