A simple engine has a very valuable use for transportation in the island nation of Taiwan.
The engine powers a type of farm cart that is called the 'iron ox', and iron oxen are plentiful in rural areas and in the cities which serve as business centers for farming country.
We saw the iron oxen on a trip a few months ago, when my wife Margaret and I flew out to Taiwan. Our son Michael and his wife, Judy showed us around and acted as our interpreters. He is studying for an advanced graduate degree.
None of the iron oxen showed up in the heavy motorized traffic of Taipei, the bustling capitol of this amazing nation. It was only after we traveled away from Taipei that we saw these admirable vehicles.
The iron ox comes in many varieties. Some iron oxen look very homemade; others are more professional.
You steer the iron ox through handlebars and a single front wheel, which is usually rubber-tired. The driver sits mounted in front of the gas engine. The carrying space is behind him, a cart on two wheels.
The body is surrounded by a framework about a foot high, usually thin metal or wire mesh.
How much can an iron ox haul? Well, cartons can be piled high and tied in place, possibly as high as five feet. As for weight, the iron ox may be able to carry almost as much as a half-ton truck.
It appears very useful for local haulage on farms, or between farms and cities, or within urban areas. Its drivers do not hesitate to plunge into the most crowded streets and roads, whereas everyone is scrambling for a way to his destination.
Michael, who interviewed people in their native tongue, notes that mechanization came far later to traditional China than to the West. Men and draft animals performed the heavy work well into the 20th Century. The water buffalo is still visible in many fields of Taiwan, where no machines have yet been introduced.
The iron ox, he finds, was brought to Taiwan by the Japenese, who occupied it when it was known as Formosa. A similar vehicle is used in Korea, but usually with a covered cab to protect the driver from the rigors of winter weather.
In Chinese, the term for iron ox is 't'ieh niu'. It is used not only for hauling grain, fertilizer or produce, but in February, when the Chinese lunar New Year occurs, whole families may be seen riding in the iron oxen to a market town for the festivities.
We saw iron oxen in motion or parked on streets in cities such as Lukang, Tainan, Taichung, and even on the tiny off-shore island of Lan Yu or Orchid Island. Some might have been over half a century old.
Maintenance is relatively easy, since the number of parts that can develop trouble is rather small. Some iron oxen look as though they were held together with string and baling wire.
The iron ox could well be an answer in the United States and other countries beset by the rising cost of fuel. In Taiwan, gasoline was $2.50 a gallon when we were there. There were lines at the few service stations we saw. The iron ox looks unbeatable for short hauls and light loads.
The people of Taiwan love motorcycles and motor scooters, and keep little red taxicabs very busy. They lack the tools and sophisticated equipment of our repair shops, but they are ingenious mechanics. No one offered us a ride on an iron ox, but everywhere we found the people warmly hospitable.
One of the co-chairmen of the Festival, in order to get some activity, asked me to get some old engines. When I moved here in December 1974,1 had a 1926 Witte2 HP. I found a belt and had it hooked to a steam engine governor to have some action. Little by little other people became interested. The engine show is just a part of the Watermelon Festival weekend. Last year's show was very successful with close to 90 engines at the fairgrounds. As far as I can determine, it was the largest engine show ever held in Arkansas. Sizes of engines ranged from Maytag to 37% HP Fairbanks Morse. One trailer of engines came from Tennessee, some 450 miles. There were engine people here from Ft. Worth, Texas and Mississippi to see what the set-up was. They had seen the ad in the GEM, because of the picture you had in the July and August issues 1978.
A gentleman from Texarkana, Texas, 30 miles from Hope came to see me. He was interested in old engines but didn't know about any other engine buff. October 7, 1979, he invited all the engine people from Hope to a chicken barbeque at his home. Some 30 people including children and wives had a very nice outing. An introduction brought about because of the GEM.
Incidentally, a 200-lb. watermelon was grown last year. A world record! Hope, Arkansas: 'Home of the World's Largest Watermelon.' Previous record of 195 lbs. was grown in 1935.
This year we hope to have a bigger show and become more independent of the Watermelon Festival Commission, but associated with the Festival.
In September we have a Fair parade. Three years ago we had a 2-trailer tandem float which won first place. Two years ago we had grown and we had 3 trailers hooked together. Last year we had 4 trailers hooked together pulled by a F-12 Farmall tractor. We won first place again.
On March 16, 1980, we organized an Old Engine Club to be called 'Rusty Wheels Old Engine Club of Arkansas.' In October 1979 we went to Heber Springs, Arkansas, to be a part of the Folk Festival. That was the last show around here and will be the sixth showing for Arkansas. We have been invited to show our engines at different centennial celebrations as towns hear about us. We were at the Jonquil Festival in Washington, Arkansas, this March.
This is my hobby and a way to unwind. I was raised on a small farm in Westfield, Pennsylvania (about 25 miles from Wellsboro). I even got my dad interested! He has attended several shows in Pennsylvania and New York and has several engines.
The town of Hope, Arkansas, holds a Watermelon Festival every year, and engines are a big part of it. We asked Dr. J. E. 'Scotty' Little, who takes a major role, to tell our readers about it. Following is his story.
The Watermelon Festival, held in August, was started again three years ago, after many years of inactivity.