Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
Engines popped and tractors chugged as rump-sprung Spark Plugs wrestled heavy fly-wheels and leaned on cranks to make 'em go.
It was the fourth annual Tri-State Antique Engine and Tractor Show, the largest throughout the midwest, drawing collectors, exhibitors and sight-seers all the way from Arizona to New York State.
'It's a much larger show than we had expected,' confided the Paul and Dorothy Smiths who'd come from 'way down east,' the Empire State, to attend.
Never before had the Jay County fairgrounds reverberated to such a din of internal-combustion contraptions all grinding, chuffing and banging sufficient to rattle the panels, upset the scales of Justice and ruffle the skirts of the solemn courthouse judiciary in Portland, Indiana, across the way.
And if that wasn't enough to wake up the entire Portlandite populace, then the daily parade of the steam calliope, headed by the powerful 'Joe Dear,' wending its ominous way through the main thoroughfares and environs of ye olde county seat would surely rouse the rest.
They arrived by car, on horseback or hoof, some hobbled on canes or crutches while the more affluent came by plane, but everyone got there by the hundreds, then the thousands to witness the pagaentry of Early Americana -- one of the largest congregations of Spark Plugs and their old-time gas engines and antique tractors ever assembled.
'We advertised two-hundred gas engines but there must be over two-hundred and fifty here,' said Tri-State President, Woody Turner as he surveyed the gamut. 'And we have more than the forty advertised tractors in action.'
And yet, more and more gas engines, tractors, models both large and small, including old-time automobilia as well as flea marketeers by the truckload and just plain onlookers kept right on coming through the gates to register -- almost to the point of overheating the typewriter of Tri-State secretary, Morris Titus.
The first day, August 22nd., was of course the time for setting things up -- filling gas tanks, oiling bearings, adjusting carburetors and spark-plug gaps, and yanking on heavy fly-wheels and rusty old cranks with sufficient brawn and rump-action to get the things going.
Saturday the crowds thickened and the action swelled till, come Sunday, the fairgrounds bubbled over into a melee of sawmilling, grain threshing, and other old-time American homespun such as spinning thread, making apple butter by steam engine, grinding flour by gasoline engine and/or just doing as everyone pleased.
Throughout the day there was the usual general shop talk among the engine men -- extolling the virtues of such famous nomenclatures as Witte, International and Waterloo Boy 'one-lungers' as against John Deeres, Uniteds, Cushmans or what have you with plenty of behind-the scenes swapping of both engines and parts. All this while the womenfolk congregated around the numerous flea markets or sauntered indoors to look at the various displays such as Woody Turner's antique cherry-seeders and apple-peelers, the old-time radios a-squawking, or watch the lovely lady spinning thread on her early American spinning wheel.
One of the 'darlings' exhibited at Tri-State Gas & Tractor Reunion was this half-size model of a 1911 Mogul Tractor, made by Milton Deets of Dayton, Ohio. It's slow, hit and miss firing brought back many memories to old-timers. Milton is the fellow with the engineer's oil can. The 'real engineer' is in the cab of the tractor.
One of the outstanding yearly attractions at Tri-State is the huge exhibit of over five hundred fine American and Swiss watches brought each year by O.H. (Doc.) Schwanderman of over Fort Recovery-way. To listen to 'Doc' Schwanderman explain the history of fine watch-making is indeed a rare education in the science of horology and the evolution of time keeping throughout the years.
At another booth was a very rare collection of old-time shoes and boots -- what every well-appointed gentleman and lady of the times wore in footwear, from high-button tops and tooth-pick toes to the common clod-hoppers of yesteryear.
Came eventide, the menfolk and the womenfolk congregated in the bleachers to listen to the country fiddling, with some of the Spark Pluggers pinch-hitting on banjos and mandolins to lend background, while other non-playing Spark Pluggers basked nostalgically in the old-time tunes. One never fully fathoms the talents of ye Spark Plugs till he hears such as Wayne Whitenack and Tommy Lewis strumming the banjo-mandolin rythm accompaniment to an Arkansas fiddler playing 'Comin' Through the Rye.'
One of the darlings of the '69 Tri-State show was the half-size model of a 1911 Mogul Tractor, made by Spark Plug Milton Deets of Dayton, Ohio, and driven over the grounds by son, Doug, Both its fidelity of appearance and the sound of its hit-and-miss one-lung engine fetched memories galore to many an old-timer who remembered the real thing.
Flea marketeer, Kenneth Neal of Jacksonburg, Ohio, had brought along another of Tri-State's rare gems -- a genuine 1912 A. 0. Smith 'Flyer' -the first sports car made for kids in America. Powered by a three horsepower A. 0. Smith engine, the jaunty little racer was capable of reaching thirty miles an hour -- which was 'really going' on America's early dirt turnpikes.
'This was the first such sport car that teenagers could really 'peel rubber',' explained Neal. 'This was accomplished by revving the motor, then by lowering the drive wheel onto the road, the slick rubber tire would screech. To stop the car, you flip this little lever which actuates another wood lever with a piece of leather on it against the two un powered rear wheels, much like a wagon. But you'd better have your center drive wheel raised off the ground or you won't stop.'
One of the outstanding yearly exhibits at Tri-State is huge collection of some 500 fine American and Swiss watches, explained by owner, O. H. 'Doc' Schwander-man. It's an education in the science of horology and timekeeping. This is one example of showing that the reunions are not just engines and nothing else. They try to appeal to all walks of life.
One could only gather the immensity of the Tri-State programming by sauntering from one end of the grounds to the other during the height of the Sunday afternoon activities. But with-so many things transpiring at once, it was difficult to concentrate on but one exhibit at a time. Merely making one's dubious way through the crowds was a task in itself, let alone attempting to observe the diversity of hundreds of operations all transpiring simultaneously. Better to keep one eye on the passing exhibits and the other focussed - warily on whatever might chance to be lumbering through the crowds, be it a heavy Rumely Oil Pull, an antique Heider or Avery, or just possibly one of the steam traction engines that happened to get in through the gates. For caution is the word at Tri-State, lest one single accident spoil the entire show.
Noteworthy among some of the Spark Plug higher echelon, observing the crowds from atop their creeping, primordial giants were such as Harold Fleisch of West Alexandria on his ancient Avery Tractor, Joe King on his newly-made half-size Rumely Oil-Pull model, and Jack Maple driving a full-size Rumely -- all doing their parts at keeping the big show going. Many of the men, like
Maple, who helped the night before at peeling the 'Schnitzes' with the womenfolk in preparation for cooking the apple butter next day by steam engine, were only too glad when the 'kitchen chores' were over so they could once again wrap their knurled knuckles 'round the steering wheel of a tractor.
Educational as well as nostalgic and entertaining, the Tri-State agenda included such operations as the making of shingles by Jack and Elmer Egbert of Botkins, Ohio, along with the usual daily scheduling of threshing, sawmilling and working horsepower on the Baker Fan.
'Aren't you afarid you're going to burn up that engine?', yelled one bystander to Joe King whose Rumely model, powered by a 6 horsepower United Engine, was chugging for dear life on the big fan, just like the prototypes.
'Just let 'er burn up,' snapped King over the Rumely-type exhaust. 'If it can't take this, I want to know it now.'
Climaxing the Sunday's program was the big parade. With so many vehicles being entered, making it too large an operation under the fairground trees, a plea was made for use of the official race track.
'The fairboard has granted, for the first time, that we can parade in front of the race track grandstand,' said a jubi-land Woody Turner, Tri-State president.
Prior to the parade, a comical skit transpired rather unscheduled before the grandstand viewers. Marion and Hazel Ertel, of former Spark Plug fame, apparently drove rather innocently onto the race track in an old car. They were promptly 'orderedto move' by announcer, Don Brewer -- to make way for the big parade. Refusing to do so, two Rumely Oil-Pull giants, manned by Luther Breymier and Ralph Horstman, lumbered up into position, were promptly chained to opposite ends of said car, and immediately proceeded in a grandstand play of having a tug of war at the old car's expense.
As Ralph Horstman's Rumely pulled the overturned car off the raceway, the big Sunday parade proceeded to get into motion. Headed by the 'mighty' Joe Dear Delco-powered tractor pulling John
First 'Rubber Peeler' for hot-rodders of yesteryear - An original 1912 Flyer, made by A. O. Smith Co., shown at '69 Tri-State by Kenneth Neal of Jacksonburg, Ohio. Powered by a 3 horsepower A. O. Smith engine geared to a center driving wheel which is raised and lowered. To make tires squeal, driver got engine revved up then lowered drive tire onto road. Brake lever manipulates wood rod with friction leather onto two rear tires, like a wagon brake.
The 'mighty' Joe Dear, Delco-powered tractor (made by me) accidentally headed the big two-hour Tri-State parade of Antique Gas Engines and Tractors at Jay County, Indiana raceway. My 'honorary' position at head of parade was stolen -- so I could get a photo of the start. Even then I couldn't take my own picture, but had to dismount to get a shot of the others. John Burocher of Richmond, Indiana is standing by his trailer display of Delco light plants and gas engines, awaiting my return so the big parade can get rolling. Note the John Burocher trailer, hitched to the Joe Dear, had four light bulbs which furnished some Delco illumination to Tri-State grounds. You can't see the end of this parade. Many more tractors and trailers are waiting to come through those gates back there.
Burocher's trailer of Delco light plants and antique engines, the long parade had to wait for me to disembark long enough to swing my press camera into action to get an 'official portrait.'
For two hours the big parade lumbered past the crowded grandstand, giving camera-snappers and onlookers a panor-man of the evolution of early American internal combustion power, the like of which powered the nation's agriculture lollowing the era of steam.
It was the finest, most diversified antique engine and tractor show that many had ever seen. As Spark Pluggers, weary and tired, began packing their rigs to return home, many a hand-shake and compliment was transacted at the success of Tri-State in only the four years of its existence.
To you Spark I'luggers of Tri-State, one and all, we extend our gratefulness at such tireless efforts in preserving what is great and dear of our American past.
'It was a great success,' sighed President Woody Turner, tired but happy as he sipped a cup of black coffee neath a spreading chestnut tree -- 'I think I've earned the right to sit down for a spell.' And he did.
'I already see things we must do for next year's show,' said Woody, weary but visionary.
Plenty of brawn and the proper amount of 'rump action' before you get a big engine like this one started. Ray Jones Jr. of North Salem, Indiana displays the necessary coordination of arm muscle and rear-bolt action to get his 15 Hp. Field Engine firing. Man at left seems to think the chaw of tobacco in his cheek also helped.
Roy with his two engines, a 3 hp. Fairbanks Morse and a 3? hp. Hercules. Both have been fully restored and painted original color and mounted on trucks.