By Staff
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A collection of engines owned by James T. Caplinger of Bruceton, Tennessee.
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Engines shown at the Jonquil Festival.
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Gerry Lestz with an up-to-date 'iron ox' in Taiwan.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Engines & Watermelons

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.

Gerry Lestz

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines