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Antiques at Field Days stir memories, new enthusiasts

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Posted on August 12, 2010 |
By George Altshuler



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ALAN CLARK OF Bristol mans the controls of a vintage drag saw during an antique farm equipment demonstration at Addison County Fair and Field Days Tuesday. Looking on in the background is Chris Hogan, who has watched the antique demos since he was a young boy. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

NEW HAVEN — When Chris Hogan was a young boy, he showed animals in various 4-H competitions at the Addison County Fair and Field Days. Hogan, now 18, enjoyed the competitions, but they weren’t the real reason he was excited for Field Days every year.

During his downtime between 4-H competitions, the Leicester boy would hurry across the fairgrounds to the antique equipment area to watch as volunteers repaired old machines and conducted demonstrations.

The volunteers quickly took a liking to the boy, who would stand wide-eyed for what seemed like hours in front of 80-year-old engines.

Once Hogan became too old for the 4-H competitions, he got permission from his mother, Deborah Hogan, to volunteer in the antique tent. Alan Clark, a long-time volunteer, remembers that Hogan quickly showed that he is a hard worker and a bright kid.

So about a year ago, after Hogan hit his growth spurt (he’s now about six feet tall), Clark gave him a broken down 1917 Fairbanks Morse engine that hadn’t been used in more than 50 years. Hogan fixed it up over the winter.

“I said you put this thing together and make her run. Clean her up and make her pretty,” Clark recalled during a break from antique machinery demonstrations at the New Haven fairgrounds on Tuesday. “And he did, he did a nice job.”

This year, Hogan helped out with the wide-range of restored equipment on display in the antique area at Field Days, including an 1876 shingle mill and a 19th-century drag saw, which is powered by a draft horse that walks in a circle, connected to a sweep (working sweeps are really hard to find these days).

Among the other items on display at the antique area are carriages on loan from the Sheldon Museum, goat and dog treadmills for powering various machines and Hogan’s very own 1917 engine.

Since fixing up the engine, he has worked on engines from more recent decades, including the current decade. This spring, Hogan, who is homeschooled but took courses at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, won a $6,000 scholarship to study diesel mechanics at the University of Northwestern Ohio.

To win the competition, Hogan fixed up a diesel tractor with about 10 problems in under two hours.

But even though he plans on making a career working on the larger and more complicated agricultural machines of today, Hogan says he still learns from the antiques.

“Those engines are so simple that they really help you understand just how an engine works,” he said.

Despite the engines’ simplicity, Roger Layn, 90, who has lived in Bristol all of his life and volunteers in the antique area at Field Days, remembers how frustrating it was to work the old machines back in the day.

“They were state of the art in those days. But they were temperamental, all of them. And that sure hasn’t changed,” he said with a chuckle.

Nevertheless, Layn appreciated how important the machines were, especially before the early 1940s, when power lines where not ubiquitous throughout the county.

“The engines were used as a means of power before we had electricity,” he said.

ADDISON COUNTY HISTORY

Clark, who is also a Bristol resident, told the story of how his uncle got power in 1947, a few years later than most farms in Addison County because he lived on the end of a dirt road.

Power lines went up throughout the county over about a 10-year period, according to Clark, but the transition from horsepower to tractors was more gradual.

“That was kind of a slow transition because grandpa doesn’t like the new tractor that makes all the noise. It really is pretty much the same today, you know, the older generation needs to let go and the younger generation wants to fly,” he said.

“There were horses still being used in Addison County up into the ’50s. But also tractors were being used in Addison County back in the late ’20s, so there was a long period of transition.”

Before power lines became common, most farms had 32-volt generators that powered a few machines like milking pumps and radios.

Clark restored a 32-volt 1922 Delco generator for the antique area a few years ago, but he couldn’t find anything to power in this, the age of 120-volt power.

“I needed something to show people that this thing was generating electricity and could actually do something, and I found a 32-volt electric motor on eBay in California. Cost me more to get it shipped here than it did to buy the motor,” he said, laughing.

Clark then built a small wooden Ferris wheel and connected it to the motor. He charged up the motor with the 1922 generator via some old car batteries, and watched the Ferris wheel spin.

The generator was running well at this week’s Field Days, perhaps even a little better than the machines Layn remembers from his youth. The only thing Clark had to adapt for was present-day gasoline.

“We had to mess with the gas a little,” he said, chuckling. “These gas engines were sure not designed to run on lead-free gas with ethanol in it!”

Reporter George Altshuler is at georgea@addisonindependent.com.

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