Like many of you, I hear concerns about the lack of young people in the hobby and at the shows. You wonder, "Where are all the kids?" and "What will the future hold for the hobby?" I ask myself the same questions from time to time.
The Smith family of Alleman, Iowa, however, helped set my mind at ease while at the 2005 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
It all started when a man stopped by our booth with three young boys and made small talk with some of my co-workers. The man and boys were on their way back to their spot on the show grounds when I just happened to stop by our booth. Very enthusiastically, my co-workers pointed and said, "Hey Jason, you'd better go catch that guy - his sons have 25 engines!" I replied, "They have 25 engines, or their dad has 25 engines?" "No, they're theirs, and they were over here talking about magnetos and flywheels and I don't know what else, but they knew what they were talking about!" Needless to say, I caught up to them with a quickness.
When I caught up to them, the father introduced himself as Perry Smith, and introduced the boys as his sons, Chandler, 11, and Austin, 9, and a friend of theirs, Tyler Clemens, 11. While I was interviewing Perry, all three boys were busy oiling things, gassing up the engines, shelling corn, even starting their little Maytags. It was refreshing to see these boys crawling all over the engines with such enthusiasm - and getting their hands dirty in the process.
For this year's show, the Smiths brought a 1-1/2 HP Galloway, 2 HP ARCO/Economy (see Hercules En-gine News, ), 3 HP Galloway, 6 HP Economy, 7 HP Galloway, 2 HP air-cooled Associated and a pair of 1-1/2 HP John Deeres.
Perry confirmed that the engines - all 25 of them - do in fact belong to the kids, and range from 1-1/2 to 7 HP. The Smiths also own seven tractors, 12 Maytags and a lot of other miscellaneous farm equipment, some of which was at the show in the form of a pump jack, corn sheller, bone grinder, hack saw, David Bradley and no. 5 Stover feed grinders, and more.
"I'm guessing you've been into this for a while and that's how the boys got into it?" I asked. "Actually," he said, "I've only been into this for five years now." "WHAT?!," I thought. "At the state fair back in 1999," he continued, "we met a guy by the name of Mike Clemens (Tyler's dad). He was (and still is) into gas engines and invited us go with him and his family to the 2000 Old Threshers Reunion, and that's how we got started. I dived in head first and bought two engines at that show, not knowing a thing about them: A 1-1/2 HP Economy and a 1-1/2 HP Hercules. But Mike's taught me a lot about them and we're really good friends now, and so are our kids."
When Dad goes out to the garage to tinker on the engines, it's a sure bet the boys are nipping at his heels to get out there with him. Perry says, "These engines all belong to the kids, I just maintain 'em. I bought Chandler and Austin a couple of Maytags so they would have something they could start themselves. If they can do just a little more every once in awhile - making small gains - it will keep them interested, and that's what we want."
Perry claims his neighbors all think he's nuts because he's out running his engines all the time, especially on Christmas and New Year's, as well as all the kids' birthdays and other special occasions. "The boys just love it," he said, "they're always looking for some reason to run the engines."
The division of engines between the boys uses a simple yet effective method: All the red ones belong to Chandler and all the green ones belong to Austin. Apparently, when their teachers have assignments with no names, they always know if they belong to one of the Smith boys because they usually have gas engines or tractors drawn all over them!
Perry couldn't say enough nice things about the hobby and all the people at Mt. Pleasant. "They really make you feel at home here, and they do so much for us," he said, "which makes me want to do more for them."
Perry told me about his wife, Bridget, and their two daughters, Haley, 12, and Natalie, 5, who were volunteering at the 1800s Log Village, performing a rope-making demonstration. Perry and the boys also volunteer at the Village, usually relieving the girls of their duties for a while in the afternoons. "We all get dressed up in our 1800s outfits and go down to the Village to show people how it was done in those days. The whole family gets into it and we all have a great time at the show every year," says Perry. Although the girls are more interested in participating in the Log Village activities, Haley has her own 1-1/2 HP Fuller & Johnson and Natalie has a 1-1/2 HP John Deere.
The Smith family shows that there are still families out there willing to let their children get a little grubby solely for the sake of having fun - as a family, no less. In fact, Perry had this to say about it: "This is just one story - there's a lot of good people doing a lot of good things out here at the show. If it weren't for all the people that helped out before us, we wouldn't have a show at all."
The Smiths know it's the little things that make life great, and they're teaching their children it's not all about PlayStations and television. But as Perry said, this is just one story. There are many other families out there doing the same things - you just have to look for them.
Be sure to look for the Smith family at next year's Old Threshers Reunion!