by Connie Oswald Stofko
There was a time when some farmers had their own forge where they could make their own tools or even make spare parts to repair their tractors. That’s why blacksmithing demonstrations are included at the annual rally of the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association, which features vintage farm equipment powered by steam and gas.
The rally will be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 10 through 13 at property the association owns at 10294 Gillate Rd., Alexander, near Darien Lake.
Admission is a donation of $7 for adults and free for children 12 and under.
The event will include tractor pulls, demonstrations of saw milling, parades, a flea market, a consignment auction, activities for children, and on Sunday, a display of antique cars.
Skills that were once part of everyday life for farmers are now unusual to see. Now blacksmithing is more of a hobby, said Dave Mischler, past president and member of the board of directors of the steam association.
“Most of the guys who ply this craft nowadays make ornamental items or tools,” said Mischler, who has a two-prong meat fork made by hand by a blacksmith.
While farmers once were accustomed to repairing their own equipment, it’s not as easy to do nowadays.
Mischler is semi-retired and now works as office manager for Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses in Williamsville. He’s familiar with the heavy equipment that the company uses in their growing operation, such as the Bobcat skid steer that is used to move soil around the greenhouse or to plow snow in winter. He’s been warned that some techniques can’t be used on the modern equipment.
“You can’t weld on it or it will screw up the electronics,” he said.
In addition, some modern farmers are frustrated because they’re not allowed to get into the computer software on their tractors. If the software needs repair, the farmer has to drive the tractor to an authorized dealer or wait for a repair person to come to the farm, according to the All Tech Considered radio program. To do a DIY repair job on the software, the farmer would have to break the digital lock on the software, which is illegal. The farmer could get five years in prison and/or a half a million dollars in fines, though the show hadn’t heard of that happening to any farmer.
Members of the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association still do things themselves when they can. They themselves constructed the new building that will house the blacksmithing demonstrations this year. The building replaces tents used in previous years, making it more comfortable for visitors to watch the demonstrations.
The association received a donation of 16-foot railroad ties (longer than ordinary railroad ties) and used those for the uprights.
“We scrounge stuff,” Mischler said, “and when something is given to us, we figure out what to do with it.”
The 50th annual rally will be held next year, and to prepare, the organizers are looking for photos of the group’s previous rallies. If you have any photos, you can take them to this year’s rally, where they can be scanned.