Building Interest in the Gas Engine Hobby

By Staff

Of all the shows I wish I’d attended in 2017, the Northwest Michigan Engine & Threshers Club 50th Annual Buckley Old Engine Show at the club’s grounds outside Buckley, Michigan, sticks out. Not to take anything away from the hundreds of incredible shows held across the country, but if you didn’t go to the Buckley show – and I didn’t – you missed one of the more historic occasions in our little corner of the world: the first turning of the club’s 1907 double-acting, twin-tandem Snow engine.

And yes, I said “turning,” as the engine wasn’t actually run, but turned over on compressed air. That fact hardly detracts from the herculean task completed by the club’s volunteer members, namely the disassembly, transportation and reassembly of a mammoth 225-ton, 150,000-cubic-inch engine. Rated at 1,100 hp, it develops 58,500 ft/lbs of torque at its rated speed of 90rpm. It took 230 yards of concrete, 10 tons of rebar and 44 2-1/2-inch anchor bolts to make a pad for the engine. 

This was an amazing undertaking, one only possible through the coordinated efforts of a large, active organization like the Northwest Michigan Engine & Threshers Club. A growing and dynamic club, it not only continues to hold the attention of its members (more than 550 families) but perhaps more importantly continues to grab the attention of people outside the hobby, drawing them in with an ever-changing and growing show ground (over 200 acres) and constantly expanding exhibits that allow the visitor to really immerse himself or herself in the past. For those of us already in the hobby, when you tell us a club has added a Snow engine, well, you’re singing to the choir, and we’re in before you finish. But it’s harder trying to draw in a new audience, one that most likely has little if any connection to the machinery we care so passionately about. 

Not every club can do what the Buckley folks have done, of course. It takes a combination of luck, skill and opportunity in equal measure to find the resources to realize a dream as large as rescuing the Snow engine. And I’m not ignoring the ample success stories in the old iron community, where we’re astoundingly lucky to have literally dozens and dozens of clubs that have been around a half century and more, many of them continuing to grow. A quick look at the 2017 Farm Collector Show Directory shows an incredible 110 annual events 40 years old or older. The National Threshers Assn. holds the honor of the oldest, hosting its 73rd (!) annual event in 2017.

I mention all of this for the simple reason that while we often despair at what we see as a decline in interest in our shows, I don’t think we need to call the funeral home just yet. Certainly, member retention, much less growth, is a very real issue for many clubs. But the simple truth seems to be that when we engage fully in our hobby, other people naturally follow us. If we can maintain that dynamic, the old iron community has many, many decades of growth and celebration ahead.

Richard Backus

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