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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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?