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That Old Guy That Shows No More

| July/August 1996

  • Dale And Faulconer
    Dale (left) practices some 'homespun philosophy' on 'Red' Faulconer (right) of Orange, Virginia, at the 1983 Madison County Gas Engine Show.
  • Dale
    Dale looks over the WICO E-K on this old cement mixer found out in the weeds behind the barn. 'The fun is finding them and fixing them up!' Dale would say.

  • Dale And Faulconer
  • Dale

2843 Mistwood Forest Drive, Chester, Virginia 23831-7041

Today's America has somehow forgotten the heroes of the industrial revolution that mechanized the farmlands and small town industries that helped make what we take for granted today. Over the past few years, I have taken notice that fewer and fewer of the 'old guys' are showing up at the gas and steam engine shows. You know what I mean, those 'old guys' who always drew a crowd of modern day collectors as they told the stories of technological or agricultural days gone by. Those stories added flavor to the hobby and brought some life to the cold iron that was on display. Nothing beat a real life experience of what equipment used to do and what part it played in mechanizing America's heartland. Stories not only included what the machine did, but also their primitive ways and idiosyncrasies, as well as tidbits about the people who operated them. These story tellers realized the value of their experiences and the need to pass them on. For most, it was not the work of ego but the work of true love for the accomplishments of the American farmers and their part in making it happen.

It all started for me in 1983. A local community college professor, Jim Latta, introduced me to a 'unique guy' by the name of Dale Zickefoose. I met up with Jim one night at Dale's house in the prestigious west end of Richmond, Virginia. After walking in the front door of this well appointed house, I thought I had made a wasted trip to visit a trinket collector or something of the like. After we chatted for a while, I guess Dale felt comfortable enough with me to carry us to the basement. (Editor's note: 'Carry' in this case is a Southern expression meaning 'to take.') It didn't take long to tell that this uptown house had a down home cellar. The basement was packed with every imaginable mechanical device made during the early days of American farming. Each piece had its own story. The dead air in the basement sprung to life as the line shafts hanging from the ceiling shook the entire house. That night, we fired up for the first time Dale's recently restored Ellis gas engine. This engine was featured on the back cover of the Gas Engine Magazine January 1986 issue. After leaving Dale's that night, I knew I was hooked for life.

After several months of visits with Dale, he saw fit to take me to 'the chicken house.' I didn't understand the value of a chicken house other than it may be full of chickens. Boy, was I wrong. Overwhelmed by the splendor of his collection, under one roof, I witnessed the operation of 26 different types of gas engines and an array of horsepower configurations. Uniquely, each engine was accompanied with a piece of farm equipment to be run by it. Dale maintained that you could not adequately demonstrate an engine without properly operating a piece of equipment with it. 'It is the only way to show how it was used on the farm,' Dale replied. As O. Winston Link worked to capture by photograph the late days of steam locomotives, Dale Zickefoose spent the last thirty years of his life rescuing 'old iron' from farm dumps, barnyards, and corn cribs. Although Dale's mission did not capture the end of an era like the steam locomotive, Dale did capture and pass on the real life mechanical experiences of most Americans who grew up on the farm, regardless of size or type.

Dale attested that his displays should show the full scope of farm use. A corn sheller could not be demonstrated without a fodder chopper and hammer mill operation. His Westinghouse 32 volt D.C. generator belted to a 1909 Middleditch could not be demonstrated unless it was accompanied by his 32 volt fan, butter churn, lamp, and blower. To witness a Zickefoose demonstration was to witness a snapshot of full view from start to finish.

Dale was born into a family of eight on June 18, 1912, in Crawfordville, Iowa, and his stories told over the years summed up the life of a poor Iowa farmer to a pretty well off oil pipeline quality manager. It wasn't until Dale's death on April 10, 1994, that I reflected and realized the true value of Dale's life and all of the others like him who lived through and contributed to the hard times and efforts as America's heart land metamorphosed to what it is today. A few months ago, my friend Larry Jones of the Smithsonian Institution and I got together and swapped stories about Dale's life and experiences. Larry had known Dale for about 10 years before I entered the scene, and has probably forgotten more stories than I have ever heard. We decided to get together some of Dale's old stories on paper to 'pass on'; to share in an unwritten history of days gone by; to remind you of someone you know or who has passed (passed away or died); or to make you wonder what happened to that old guy who doesn't show any more.


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