D-16 South Bost Avenue Newton, North Carolina 28658
Most of the adults were still asleep Saturday morning as the three boys quietly made their way out to the banks of the fishing lake. Slowly the sun began to cast long shadows across the lake and the boys seemed to be in a world of their own.
Click, click, pop, click, click, pop the little engine echoed as sleepy-eyed exhibitors crawled from the back of pickup trucks, pup tents and air conditioned campers.
Soon the whole valley was alive as little engine after little engine began to sing its own metallic tune. Smoke filled the air and exhibitors greeted each other with enthusiasm as they began a day that would last late into the night.
Some had come from as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Texas and New York to participate in one of the most unique early farm day celebrations anywhere. Before the day was through, exhibitors and visitors alike would get to see more than 100 years of life on the farm unfold before their eyes.
Those are the sights and sounds Big Edd and Velma Sigmon and their family wait to hear each Father's Day weekend in June when they host Early Farm Days at their Windmill Acres farm in Newton, North Carolina.
Early Farm Days at Windmill Acres is more than a weekend exhibition. It is an easy-paced stroll back through history to a time when work was hard, days were long and homemade inventions helped the lady of the house get through another day. A time when little 'hit and miss' engines pumped water, washed clothes, crushed rock, churned butter and generated electricity. It was also a time when neighbor helped neighbor, families worshiped together, a man's word was his bond and a new birth gave hope for the future.
Visitors walking along the shoreline of the lake could easily understand the fascination more than 400 exhibitors have for the wondrous one-lungers. Ranging in size from ? to 18 HP, the little engines almost became extinct when electricity reached the farms of America in the late 1930's. Through restoration efforts by their owners, however, the little engines have survived and earned a spot in the hearts of young and old alike.
For Dave Burnell of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, the Windmill Acre weekend gave him an opportunity to show off his 1939 gas powered Maytag washer. The two-cycle Maytag was the last of its kind before electricity took over and was used to wash clothes, churn butter, make ice cream and grind sausage. Back then, a complete day's washing for the entire family was done with about 45 gallons of water. When the washing was finished, the sudsy water was used to scrub floors and porches. Some water was normally saved to wash down the outhouse.
A saw display featuring a 1922 Ottawa, a 1923 Witte and a 1925 Hercules, also got a lot of attention from spectators as they cut through a log about 18 inches in diameter. The saws are owned by W. C. Helms and Clayton Ballard of Lincolnton, North Carolina.
Other little engine exhibits getting a lot of attention during the two-day gathering included a 1? HP John Deere owned by Frank Combs of Duncanville, Kentucky; a 2,200 pound 1925 Fairbanks Morse, with original paint, owned by Bobby Harkey of Albemarle, North Carolina; a 1923 Stover owned by Mike Duggins of Kernersville, North Carolina; and a 1912 horse-drawn Galloway owned by Garland Jobe of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Bobby Stewart of Dunn, North Carolina also got special comments for a three engine display which included a rare 1916 Rock Island, a 1 HP IHC International and a 1920 Majestic.
Tom and Whitey Armour of Rock Hill, South Carolina spent a good part of their two days explaining the operation of a 1902 'One Way' foot powered washing machine. They estimated the little washer retailed for about $4.
An assortment of working gasoline and steam engine replicas by Ray Villez of Garden City South, New York; J. T. Hanson of Haines City, Florida; and J. T. Goforth of Statesville, North Carolina drew hundreds to a shed in the main barnyard. Built to scale, the little engines demonstrated the use of gasoline and steam during the industrial revolution in America.
While small engine enthusiasts up by the lake talked about the Waterloo Boy, the Economy, Handy Andy and Bullseye 'hit and miss' engines, hundreds of visitors to Windmill Acres began to discover some of the other fascinating events that take place on this 200 acre spread.
On the hill above the lake a 1936 Frick Eclipse steam engine fired by Greg Deal of Morganton, North Carolina belched black smoke skyward as it struggled to keep the huge saw on the old sawmill from bogging down. Operating the mill were J. C. Green of Boone, North Carolina; James Sigmon of Harrogate, Tennessee; and Paul Mullis of Pumpkin Center, North Carolina. Sawmilling was considered one of the most grueling jobs a man could have around the turn of the century. For many Windmill Acre guests, it was a first time look at a sawmill in action.
Sweat poured from the brow of John Link of Hickory, North Carolina down in one of the lower pastures as he stuffed armful after armful of wood into the boiler of his 1917 Frick steamer. In about 45 minutes the crew of 8 would use 100 pounds of steam to thresh grain. Threshing was a common sight on large and small farms during the early 1900's.
Older visitors grinned in recognition as John Sigmon and his son rumbled by on their 1911 Frick. Tracks deeply imbedded in the soil gave onlookers some idea how difficult it must have been to move the huge machines from farm to farm during harvest time. Many times they broke down bridges and had to be wenched from riverbeds as they made their rounds.
One of the most interesting steam engines on display was Big Edd and Velma's 4-wheel drive Lansing Double Traction steam engine. The one-of-a-kind tractor was patented on March 12, 1884 at Lansing Iron Works in Lansing, Michigan. Big Edd's other steam tractor, 'Kitten', was patented August 20, 1888 at Ferdinand Machine Works in Ferdinand, Indiana.
Out behind one of four large storage sheds, the frayed belts on the old rock crusher showed years of wear as volunteers fed large stones into a hopper. The little hit and miss engine popped and cracked, but continued to turn large stones into little rocks. The crunching and squeaking caused many of the spectators to grimace as they looked on.
Meanwhile, about 50 yards away, a group of spectators watched curiously as Eddie Sigmon made wooden shingles using a WK-40 McCormick as a power source. Some stared disbelievingly as the little shingle mill turned out shingle after shingle in a smooth, orderly fashion.
Early in the day youngsters had discovered newly appointed railroad engineer John Sigmon and his little narrow-gauged railroad. Located down near the creek, the little gasoline engine hauled load after load of youngsters out through the field and over the trestle. Adding to their railroad experience was a railroad station with displays of old railroad signal lanterns, models and communication equipment.
Daily performances by Sigmon's Belgians in a 6-team hitch was one of the highlights of the two-day affair. Winners of hundreds of honors in regional and national competitions, the Belgians showed the crowd why they are one of the teams to beat wherever they go.
The primary source of power on big and small farms during the 1800's and early 1900's, the huge draft horses demonstrated their flexibility by ferrying passengers from one point to another on the massive farm and participating in a hay baling exhibition. Sigmon Belgians stand about 18 hands high and weigh more than 2,000 pounds.
Trained and handled by Kim Sigmon and Tony Castagnasso, the mammoth horses are housed in a modern 23 stall barn where visitors can walk through and get a close-up look. Some people just wanted to walk down the long passageway between the stalls and rub the big horses, while others marveled at the painstaking care taken by Kim and Tony in preparing the horses for a show. Still others spent a great deal of time admiring a collection of two-wheel carts, sleighs, carriages and show wagons up at the main entrance to the barn.
For kids who were intimidated by the size of the Belgians, Big Edd and Velma have a small barn called 'Animal Wonderland' where youngsters could pet a miniature horse named Jingles, a goat named Wizard, or rabbits, cats, dogs and other small farm animals. There are also four beautiful peacocks that strut for the children at times.
One of the most popular stops for the older generation each year is Velma's Country Store. A Double Cola sign hangs over the door and an old well windlass hangs on an exterior wall under a connecting shed. The old hay rake under the shed reflects years of wear and a large granite block of stone serves as a step up to the weathered porch. A 1930's gas pump is at the right.
There is almost a hushed reverence as visitors slowly make their way through the door of the dimly lighted building. On the left is an old cash register surrounded by various sundries and other small household items. A large storage bin at the right is filled with all types of hand tools, and black skillets of all shapes and sizes are mounted along the wall. A cracker barrel with checkerboard is in the center of the room and a unique bottle collection is at the left. A 'modern' foot powered washing machine sits in front of the counter and beckons someone to take it home.
As the sun began setting at the end of the first day, many of the visitors were content just to walk around the main barnyard and examine hundreds of hand tools, plows, corn grinders, scythes and other early farm life items while they waited for the 6:00 p.m. barbeque to get underway.
With their tummies packed full of pit cooked barbeque beef, cole slaw, baked beans and hush puppies, many of the exhibitors and guests sat back for an evening of country music and dancing. A local band, Southern Breeze, provided the music for the event that lasted beyond the midnight hour.
Following Sunday morning church services, members of the local Jaycees, who co-sponsor the event, opened the gates and hundreds poured into the lush, green pastures for another day of activities.
An auction, a hand tool recognition contest, a celebrity dunkin' booth, another sparkling performance by Sigmon's Belgians and a leisurely walk through an old farm house full of restored treasures highlighted the second day of fun.
By mid-afternoon some of the exhibitors with long distances to travel began making their way up the winding drive to the main entrance of the beautiful farm. Others lingered longer, somehow hoping the week end would continue.
For Big Edd, Velma and the Sigmon family Sunday afternoon was a time to relax and enjoy the fellowship of friends and guests. With most of the hard work required for an event of this magnitude behind them, Sigmon family members laughed and joked as they said their goodbyes. Watching the family, it wasn't hard to understand why they hold Early Farm Days at Windmill Acres each year. Somehow they knew each of us who was there had come away with a better understanding of life on a farm and the people who live there. They had opened up their home and their hearts. What more could you ask?