by Connie Oswald Stofko
For centuries, the only power that was used on farms for plowing, threshing and every other chore was provided by people or by horses.
That changed with the introduction of steam power in the 1800s. Later, gasoline engines were used in all sorts of ways, including providing power to washing machines in rural areas that hadn’t yet gotten electricity.
You can see fascinating vintage farm equipment during the 47th annual rally of the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association to be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 5-8. There will also be demonstrations of steam power being used to plow fields, thresh grain and saw logs into lumber.
“This is a family activity about how farming used to be done in our grandparents’ time,” said Dave Mischler, president of the WNY Gas and Steam Engine Association. The group aims to preserve and display old farming equipment and to educate the public.
There will be rows and rows of tractors on display, and you’ll see them grouped by color. John Deere tractors were green; Allis-Chalmers, orange; International Harvester, red, and Ford, gray. In addition to exhibits of equipment, the event will include demonstrations as well as tractor pulls and other pulls.
The event will be held at the 200-acre property owned by the association at 10294 Gillate Rd., Alexander, which is near Darien Lake.
The donation to enter is $6 for adults and free for children 12 and under. There were more than 10,000 paid admissions last year.
The original steam engines for farm use had a tractor seat on the front, but required a team of horses to steer them. Mischler said there were two reasons for this. First, it allowed people to steer the way they were used to steering. Farmers didn’t know how to drive machinery yet, but they were certainly adept at steering horses.
Second, steam engines were noisy and spewed smoke. A horse that came across a steam engine would be frightened. But if the horse came across a steam engine being steered by other horses, it would be far less likely to be spooked.
Steamers stopped being made in the 1920s, and some of the equipment at the rally is close to 100 years old, he said.
Some of the equipment that will be on display ran on kerosene. While kerosene is now even more expensive than gasoline, at one time it was a cheaper fuel, Mischler explained.
The smallest engines on display will be gasoline-powered Maytag washing machines. Many rural areas didn’t have electricity until the 1940s, Mischler said.
“They did a lot of work (getting electricity to rural areas) during the Depression, but it wasn’t finished until after World War II,” he said.
Instead, many farmers had a gasoline-powered wringer washer out on the porch. An electric-powered washer had empty space at the bottom, and that’s where the gasoline engine was placed. The engine had a kick start, like a motorcycle, to make it easier for women to start, he said.
“There were thousands and thousands of these washers built, so many people start their collections with that,” Mischler said.
People used small engines to replace physical labor on butter churns, small grain mills and anything that was operated by turning a crank.
The rural areas of the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania also had oil fields, and you can see a demonstration of that equipment during the rally.
“It was big and heavily built,” Mischler said. “It had to be reliable. It ran 24/7 with no one around. Somebody might come and check on it once a week.”
The equipment had a clever design. The gas that evaporates from the oil wells was captured and used to power the equipment that pumped the oil.
In addition to the exhibits and demonstrations, the rally will include a consignment auction at 1 p.m. Thursday; music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and an antique car display on Sunday. Refreshments and dinners will be sold each day.
Pulls will be held each day:
• 5 p.m. Thursday: Horse Pullers Assoc. Inc.
• 7 p.m. Friday: Pro-Farm 4WD Diesel Trucks & Light Limited Superstocks, Steamer Pulls, Exhibition Team Pulls, Superstock Modified & Superfarm
• 11 a.m. Saturday: Semi Antique—1959 & older, Garden Tractors & Team Pulls
• Noon Sunday: Farm Stock & Team Pulls
For more details, see the rally flier.