'The rich can afford to restore old autos, 'says Robert Dobson, 1225 South Airport, Waterford Township. 'My hobby is restoring old gas engines.'
Dobson, retired three years ago from General Motors, dresses in overalls, a checked shirt, bandana kerchief and straw hat when he shows off his engines.
The particular one he showed us operates a wheat grinder. Most people who have grinders grind corn, says Dobson. But he decided on wheat.
As a member of the Central Michigan Antique Tractor and Engine Club and the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association, Dobson frequently attends their shows. They usually are held in the Midwest, but he has gone as far as Yorkton, Saskatchewan and Sarasota, Fla.
The engine, which took 76 hours of work to restore, came from Morley, a small community near Grand Rapids. Dobson found the engine rusted solid and half buried in mud. The owner of a local antique store told him about it when Dobson inquired--as he usually does--about old engines in the area.
It took three trips to buy and transport the engine which originally had been purchased in 1913 from Sears Roebuck Co. Dobson thinks he got it from the original owner.
The grinder mill came from Indiana. He heard about it while attending a show.. Coupled with the antique engine, it can ground flour or a coarser product which Dobson calls his 'serial.'
Only six of Dobson's 23 gas engines are in working order. These, he takes to shows. He does not take the mill to shows, preferring to spend time seeing the other exhibits and trading parts. Dobson machines all his own parts and exchanges any extras he has.
'If you have two, the second is of no value and we usually make an even exchange unless the part is large.'
'We (the antique gas engine buffs) get along pretty good, but when it comes to trading, we're all old horse traders. You meet wonderful people at shows, but if you're going to trade an engine with them, you'd better watch out!'
Dobson gets mail from all over the country, inquiring about his engines and any parts he might have to trade.
'It's a wonderful hobby,' he says. 'It's always an excuse to go gadding. Whenever you hear about an engine, you gotta go look at it. It might be something you want or need.'
Robert and Mary Dobson are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and practicing Mormons. Following old custom, they store ample supplies of food. But because they go south in the winter, they keep only about 200 pounds of wheat on hand. The average Mormon household stores about 200 pounds per year for each member of the family.
This is an old threshing outfit I restored in 1970-71. It took a lot of work getting it reconditioned, after standing for nearly 35 years. It really ran and worked nice at Witkow's Reunion where I showed it. I had taken several of my grandchildren along. They were in the grain wagon boxes looking at the grain coming out. They came running to me--'Look, Grandpa, your machine threshes the cleanest grain.' They had me go with them to show me. Sure enough I had my old Aultman-Taylor set just right. It was saving the grain and cleaning it real well. The 61 year old machine was living up to its trademark 'The Starving Chicken'-- that Aultman-Taylor had on their machines for many years.
The rig is a 1923 Watelinghers, an ITC 27-44 tractor and a 1910 32 x 52 Aultman Taylor thresher. That's me standing there. Martin Martinson is pitching bundles into the machine.
We asked whether Dobson raises his own wheat because his house is surrounded with vacant land. But he's far too busy with his hobby to grow wheat. He buys it all washed from a family-run mill in Argentine, the Wolcott Argentine Mill Co. Argentine is 'just a wide place in the road' in the Fenton-Durand area.
When stored properly, wheat keeps for years. Dobson ground some that had been stored for 12 years. It's dried and sealed in large tins, each holding about 25 pounds. Several pieces of dry ice (carbon dioxide) are put into a baby food jar with holes punched in the lid.
My 8-16 International Tractor belted to Allis Chalmers Forage Blower.
This is put in with the wheat to keep it free from insects.
Dobson will take his mill and antique engine to the annual Mormon Pioneer bazaar Nov. 5 and 6 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 425 Woodward, Bloomfield Hills.
Two years ago, he ground and sold 500 pounds of wheat; last year, 750 and this year, he hopes to sell half a ton of wheat ground into flour or 'serial.' This wheat has not been stored. Fifty cents will buy three pounds, while a big can goes for $3.
Some of Dobson's wheat probably will be made into bread the women of the church sell at the bazaar. At bazaar time, all churchwomen turn into bread bakers. Last year, a woman drove up the day of the bazaar and opened the trunk of her car. It was completely filled with freshly baked bread.
Men of the church have been making bazaar items too. This is the first year they have joined the women in sponsoring the event. They're contributing things like homemade cider, wooden games and toys and children's furniture.
Bazaar hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.