by Connie Oswald Stofko
Steam engines may be a relic of a bygone era, but they were powerful. That’s the lesson that kids can learn when dozens of them team up against a steam-powered tractor in a sneaker pull, one of the attractions held every year at the rally of the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association.
The association aims to preserve and display vintage farming equipment and to educate the public.
The rally will be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 4 through 7 at property the association owns at 10294 Gillate Rd., Alexander, near Darien Lake.
You can see steam-powered machines in action sawing wood, plowing and threshing, and there will be parades of the machines, pulls, displays, a flea market and auction. See details here.
Admission is a donation of $6 for adults and free for children 12 and under.
The event has plenty for children, including an improved play area.
“It’s a place where kids can be kids and the adults can sit for a while,” said Dave Mischler, president of the WNY Gas and Steam Engine Association, who spent a lot of time working on the play area.
The play area stays true to the theme of the event. A cut-away boiler shows how a boiler works.
In a large sand box, kids can dig and play. Mischler, former president of Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, noted that the red, white and blue climbing tunnel had been the smoke stack from Mischler’s coal boiler. That boiler went out of service in 1962.
A gallery of pulleys has six different pulley arrangements. Kids can yank on the ropes to feel which pulleys make it easiest to lift heavy objects and to learn about mechanical advantage.
Some of the steam engines at the rally are about 100 years old, Mischler said. Steamers stopped being made in the 1920s, but some of these machines were used right up until World War II. A few are still used in tobacco growing areas of the south, he added, though around here they are collectors’ items.
Steam power was replaced by kerosene- or gasoline-powered machines. Since some farms didn’t have electricity until after World War II, churns and even wringer washers were powered by small gasoline engines. See our article from last year for more photos.
What really makes this event special is that the steam engines are still operational so you can see them in action.
“It’s something you can’t really see anywhere else,” Mischler said.