Monday, September 1, 2008

Somerset Steam Engines

We hadn’t been to something completely new to us in a while, so after reading the big write-up in the Weekender in the Free Lance-Star, we decided to check out the Somerset Steam and Gas Engine Association’s Pasture Party yesterday. Somerset is a bit south of Montpelier, which is a bit south of Orange, making it just under an hour’s drive in the country for us.

I really didn’t know much about steam engines before we went, but now I have a pretty good idea of how they work. They had their heyday during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, and were used for many industrial and agricultural purposes well into the 1900’s. We saw dozens of steam engines on display, chugging around, powering equipment, and performing farm chores. The thresher-baler was the most fascinating to me: loads of wheat are loaded into the thresher, which separates the grain from the stalks. The grain is collected in bags, and then the leftover straw is fed through a baler, which compacts it into the bales, which are then hand-wrapped with wire. I know, I know, this is basic stuff for anyone who grew up anywhere near a farm, but I’m not one of them. So the steam thresher was an amazing labor-saving advancement in the world of farming, but man, that’s still a lot of work. In fact, that was my basic impression of the work of the steam engine: labor saving compared to what went before, but still dirty, sweaty, dangerous and exhausting work for the men running the machinery.

And here’s a confession: In a post about the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair, I said I wasn’t interested in tractor pulls. Actually, at that point, I had never seen a tractor pull, and didn’t even know what they were all about. So yesterday I saw my first tractor pull, with antique gas tractors (I had no idea what I was even watching for the first 10 minutes until a spectator clued me in). For anyone besides me who doesn’t know what a tractor pull is, the tractors have to pull increasingly heavy loads, and the tractor that carries the most weight the farthest is the winner. Between tractors, there’s a sort of dirt zamboni tractor that flattens the track. The “sport” started among farmers who would have contests to see whose horses could pull the most, and when horses were replaced by motorized equipment, the tractor pull was born. I have to say, there is a whole world of diversions popular in rural areas that I know absolutely nothing about, and entire subcultures of people participating in them. Next thing you know, I’ll be going to a Nascar event.

We finished the day visiting the vendors (tools, hats, blankets with dogs and flags on them), sharing a milkshake made by the ever-popular (well, to us anyway) Orange County 4-H Dairy Clubbers, and listening to a little music. I highly recommend the whole event for anyone interested in mechanical things.

Steam power involves a lot of big wheels:

Got to keep that big wheel oiled:

The thresher end of the thresher-baler:

The baler end:

The steam powered sawmill demonstration:

The antique tractor pull:

Plowing the field and kicking up some serious air pollution. Not exactly a green machine.

I got excited when I saw the sign for tractor jewelry. What a disappointment to discover that it was just regular jewelry at the tractor show, not actually tractor jewelry.


Anonymous said...

I have seen oxen pull at a state fair and that is fun to watch. I have been to a Nascar race and that is fun to watch also. Very loud. I knew someone from Queens NY that thought it was like watching traffic. Watching a Nascar race can be arranged. In Two weeks The Vasrity Soccer teams will be parking cars at the Nascar race as a fund raiser. When they are done they get to watch for a little while.

Merry N said...

My interest in Nascar is less than zero. I think I'd probably get more enjoyment out of watching soccer players direct parking lot traffic.