Like Panning for Gold

By Staff
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There were five restored kids pedal tractors, painted John Deere green.
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P.O. Box 15368 Pensacola, Florida 32514

I’m not really a fixer-uppersome folks like to get every nut
and bolt right and paint ’em up. I don’t restore them. I
just take an old one, gunk it down, clean it up and get it
running.’ So says Clinton Edwards, this year’s president of
the Dixieland Old Engine and Agriculture Club, of himself.

Jim Townsend, a Cantonment, Florida, John Deere restorer, had
interested me in restoring old tractors. Even though I have read
GEM for two years, this was my first show and I was excited to
finally get a chance to talk to people about old engines. I was
interested in how the old engines worked and in the people who
restored old engines.

Approaching The Dixieland Old Engine Show parking area slowly, I
saw a line of tractors to my left, and a tent with lots of folks,
which I guessed was the food area. Straight ahead toward a cluster
of pecan trees, I heard a faint ‘chick a chick,’ and could
see other people gathered. I walked in that direction and began to
see a collection of display tables, trailers, and free standing
equipment roughly arrayed in a semicircle under the trees.

Drawing closer, the pitch of the old engine sound changed, from
the faraway ‘chick a chick’ to a deeper ‘chuck . . .
chuck.’

I stopped to look at a large old green Fairbanks Morse engine
which was driving a belt to an antique corn shucking machine. The
old engine ‘chucked’ and a little smoke poofed upward. The
big flywheel spun quickly, then seemed to slow down until I thought
it would quit. Another ‘chuck’ and the flywheel sped up
again. This was the old ‘hit & miss’ engine I had heard
about. The owner dropped a corn cob in the shucking machine hopper.
The kernels were stripped off the cob and moved down a shaking
screen to fall into an old woven oak basket. The cleaned cob shot
out over the basket and fell to the ground. I stood transfixed.
This old stuff worked! There were pistons, rods, cylinders, valves,
crankshafts and flywheels, but configured much different from
modern engines and machinery. You could actually see the piston
thrusting in and out of the cylinder; the open connecting rod
attached to the open crankshaft which ran to large and colorful
flywheels on each side of the engine. Because of a lower RPM, oil
reservoirs sitting atop the crankshaft journals provided ample
lubrication to the rod and crank.

I knew I should ask a lot of questions but I couldn’t. I was
just the new guy, poking around, who didn’t know enough to ask
any questions.

Looking closer, trying to figure out how it worked, I could see
the intricate mechanism which alternately lifted, on some unseen
signal from a governor somewhere as the engine slowed, allowing a
valve to close and the engine to fire. ‘Chuck,’ and a puff
of smoke, as the engine speeded up once more; part of the mechanism
opened the valve and a bar fell down to lock the valve open, the
engine kind of free wheeled and the flywheels spun until they
slowed enough for the governor to close the valve and start another
cycle of ‘hit or miss.’

Further around the circle of displayed engines there was a
beautiful maroon 1905 Olds 12 HP engine which looked better than
when it came from the factory. The original tool box was still with
the engine. The flywheels were nearly a yard across and it must
have weighed more than 3,000 pounds. I later learned that Norvin
Bauer, spending lots of money and time restoring that engine, was
dissatisfied with the first paint job, and had scraped all the
paint off and begun again. The results were spectacular it
didn’t look like a work engine anymore.

Nearby, a blue 1918 Alamo 12 HP was driving a water pump. It
weighed 3,180 pounds, and the piston was 7 inches in diameter,
according to an attached sign. This engine had been restored, but
you could see the rough surface beneath the paint from years of
rusting. The water bucket had been rigged so the pump could pump
water continuously without running over the bucket or water supply
running out.

Most of these restoration projects had been ‘discovered’
in fields, woods or old barns where they were deserted whenever
they stopped running or as newer engines and machinery displaced
them. Some of the smaller restored engines were Maytag washer
engines several Maytag Twins made between 1937-1952, and even an
older single cylinder (1911-1923). I was amazed they were
manufactured over such a long time span.

Several owners were observed cranking over balky engines pulling
the flywheels through, often stopping because of the intense
noonday heat, perspiration dripping from their noses and chin.

There were tables of old wrenches, a rusted saw rig, and rusted
engine parts for sale or trade.

Near the road, the line of tractors included restored Massey
Harris, Farm all, John Deere, Oliver and an old 1930 Oliver Hart
Parr. There were few tractors and no spectators the primary
interest being back at the antique engine display area.

Norvin Bauer’s shed, situated between the row of tractors
and the exhibit area, was wall to wall with old farm equipment,
engines, tools, pictures, signs and assorted odds-n-ends. Doris
Bauer, Norvin’s wife, said Norvin still wants to buy
everything. He is planning a museum to help preserve the past.

The fish fry and food tent was doing a brisk business, and
clusters of folks were gathered around, each deep in
conversation.

Bobby McGowan from Brookhaven, Mississippi, told me there were
folks from Gautier, Pascagoula, Columbia, and Hattiesburg,
Mississippi; Dothan, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida.

Later, Doris Bauer told me some of the farthest traveling
exhibitors were Frankie Hill, Southpond, Florida; Homer Farrell,
Columbus, Mississippi; Bill Currie, Enterprise, Alabama; and Jim
Gramlich, Cantonment, Florida.

As I walked through the display area, it dawned on me that this
gathering was very much like a large family reunion. Ladies were
visiting about homemaking and the engine restoration hobby. The men
were discussing their engines and restoration efforts with obvious
satisfaction. They were delighted with questions and the
opportunity to expound on their efforts, trading recommendations
for the solution of sticky problems or the obscure location for
needed parts or engines. There really were not many who were just
visitors or spectators. These folks enjoyed camping, meeting
together and helping preserve a portion of history.

‘They greet new arrivals, wondering what old fence or pile
had turned up an old engine,’ Clinton Edwards added, when I
mentioned the primary interest of members seemed to be visiting
with one another and talking about their experiences or solutions
to problems.

Clinton thought I should look up Raymond Taylor, who lives in
Pensacola. He told me that Raymond made a lot of models and engines
out of stuff one out of an old discarded air compressor. Said he
knew how to make any-thing run.

Most of the exhibitors knew each other. Later when we looked at
pictures from the engine show, not only did Raymond Taylor
recognize the engines, he knew all about the owners.

‘Our main show is the first week in April at Laurel
[Mississippi] Fairgrounds. We’ve had people from as far away as
New York. The fall show moves around to pockets of 8-10 members.
Norvin Bauer invited us to his place; we liked it so much we came
back for the fall show again this year,’ said Clinton, who has
been a member of the Dixieland Old Engine Club for eight years. The
club, which was formed in Biloxi about 10 years ago, now has 87
members from Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and
Arkansas.

‘How many engines do you have?’ I asked, finally
loosening my tongue.

‘Don’t rightly know right now. Had 52 at one time, but
sold off the large ones. Probably 25 to 30 now,’ responded
Clinton.

Although it was my first show and I couldn’t bring myself to
ask many questions, I came away with new friends and a newfound
interest. Clinton Edwards’ words ‘Finding them in the rough
is like panning for gold. I really enjoy rescuing one that has been
lying there asleep for 40 years, then getting it coughing and
sputtering, and bringing it back to life’ has left me checking
GEM for the next show.

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