Forty-nine years ago when I was 12 years old, my dad and I and our next door neighbor Lorin Kail ventured over to the Tuscarawas County fairgrounds in Dover for an event which was taking place for the first time.
It showcased old steam engines -- stationary and traction -- plus classic gas-powered tractors. In 1964, the Dover Steam Show -- as it has come to be known -- got its start thanks to the Tuscarawas Valley Pioneer Power Association.
On the weekend of Aug. 16-18, the show marked its 50th anniversary. After a several-year hiatus of not attending, I've been there for the last seven years. At age 61 -- almost -- I enjoy it just as much as I did when it was launched.
This year, I went down Interstate 77 with my Woods in Aurora friend Dick Scroggs, who like me grew up around farming and enjoys the oldtime machines at the show. The two of us, plus his wife Lois, had gone twice previously.
The TVPPA was founded in 1963 with its purpose being "to further the public's interest and appreciation of the power of the past that made our future bright." Its slogan is "Preserving the Past, Educating the Future."
That first show took place Aug. 8-9, 1964, with 10 steam traction engines and about the same number of tractors participating. In 1966, the show expanded to three days, which it has been ever since. Participation has skyrocketed.
The 48 charter members of the group are nearly all gone, but a member named Shorty Miller has attended all 50 shows and charter member Verl Baker also is still living, according to the TVPPA's website.
Section II of the group's bylaws has not changed. It states: "Our purpose shall be the preservation and perpetuation of antique power equipment and furthering the public appreciation of antique Americana."
Despite some trying times over the last half-century -- including economic downturns -- the organization has persevered and the show has managed to survive.
JOHN DEERES FEATURED
Each year, a different brand of classic tractor is featured, and this year it was John Deere. The show also featured that brand about four or five years ago. Some of the other brands featured in recent years have been Massey Harris, Huber, Minneapolis Moline, International Harvester (Farmall) and Allis Chalmers.
Close to 100 John Deeres -- from the 1930s to 1970s -- were displayed this year, as the featured tractor area was a sea of green.
John Deere is the only original agricultural implement manufacturer still operating under its founder's name. Deere, a blacksmith who lived from 1804-86, started the firm in 1837 after inventing a self-scouring plow, which became immensely popular.
In 1848, Deere moved his company from Grand Detour, Ill. to Moline, Ill., where it is headquartered to this day. By 1850, the firm was producing 1,600 plows a year, plus other agricultural tools. Today, John Deere has one of the nation's most recognizable marketing slogans: "Nothing runs like a Deere."
John Deere tractors didn't come on the scene until 1918, when the company acquired the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co., the first firm to make and sell gasoline-powered tractors. The deal was worth $2.2 million.
Under John Deere's management, the Waterloo Boy tractor continued to be produced until 1923, when JD introduced its first Model D. Other classic John Deere models are the A (its most popular), B, G and H. As a youth, Scroggs' dad had a Model H on his farm near Lisbon.
John Deere's classic tractors, which have always been painted green, featured a two-cylinder engine, which produce a recognizable chugging sound and are sometimes referred to as "Poppin' Johnnies" or "Johnny Poppers."
Country singer Joe Diffie focused on the color of John Deeres in his 1993 hit song "John Deere Green." Two verses go:
"One July in the midnight hour
He climbed up on the water tower
Stood on the rail and painted a 10-foot heart
In John Deere green
"On a hot summer night
He wrote Billy Bob loves Charlene
In letters 3-foot high
And the whole town said that he should have used red, but it looked good to Charlene
In John Deere green."
More recently, country singer Jason Aldean, although not naming the brand, came out with a song obviously referring to John Deeres called "Big Green Tractor."
Johnny Welling, a farmer outside of my native New Philadelphia whom I worked with as a youth, has a collection of at least a half-dozen classic John Deeres, the oldest going back to the 1930s. Although he usually brings some of them to the Dover Steam Show, I didn't see any of them this year.
My childhood friend, Randy Gibbs, has brought his restored 1938 Allis Chalmers WF tractor to the show the last two years. And then there's Dover resident Gerald Lynch's beautifully restored 1952 red belly Ford 8N.
OLD-TIME STEAM ENGINES
The Dover show continues to attract a dozen or more steam traction engines each year despite the fact that it's not easy hauling those multi-ton beasts around. This year there were 10. It also draws dozens of stationary engines, both big and small.
Although steam can be volatile, the show is one of the safest around, with no major incidents over the years. Readers might remember when a steam traction engine exploded at the Medina County Fair in 2001, killing five people.
Case, A.D. Baker and Russell are the most popular traction engines which come to the show. Case probably was the most popular of all the engines made in the late 1800s-early 1900s. The firm was founded by Jerome Increase Case.
Russells were made in Massillon, and the company once was the city's largest employer. Seven brothers were involved in the business during its existence. I've gone by a part of the old plant many times when driving through town.
The firm also made threshing machines, stationary steam engines and later gas tractors. It was founded in 1842 and ceased operations in 1927.
About 1,800 Baker traction engines were made in Swanton, south of Toledo, and about 200 survive today. There were five at this year's Dover show.
A.D. Baker also invented the Baker Fan, a device used to measure an engine's power. A long belt wrapped around the engine's flywheel is attached to the fan, and its wind resistance determines the maximum horsepower delivered.
Many times during the steam show, engines are hooked to the fans. Black smoke rises over the grounds and the tractors chug loudly as the engines labor to turn the fans.
Steam traction engines were developed in the 1850s and lasted into the early 1920s, when gas tractors replaced them. They were used to plow the sod, pull heavy loads and power threshing machines and other equipment.
At the Dover show, engines are often hooked up to threshers, a straw bailer, shingle mill, sawmill with a 5-foot diameter blade and cornmeal grinder to demonstrate how farm work was done 100 years or more ago.
One of the neatest things at the show occurs at noon each day, when all the steam whistles on the traction and stationary engines are sounded for a solid minute or two.
WHAT ELSE AT THE SHOW?
Visitors to the show have plenty of opportunities to walk around and talk to owners of the engines and tractors on display. Not only are there farm tractors, but a good collection of garden tractors as well, and some years there is a combine or two. A beautiful red International stake bed truck from the 1940s was there this year.
The show also features classic tractor pulls, traction engine games, a kiddie tractor pull and a parade of vehicles. During the latter, dozens of engines and tractors roll along in front of the grandstand, as the PA announcer gives bits of information about them.
In recent years, a group of "tractor square dancers" performed during the show, but they were not there this year. The Mount Vernon, Ohio, area group brought four John Deere and four Farmall tractors, and drove them through many square dance moves in front of the grandstand. It was quite a sight!
Several vendors are located under the grandstand. Among my favorites are those which sell toy tractors and farm equipment. I've purchased a Case steam traction engine and a Farmall M tractor, which I've never taken out of their boxes! The Case cost 50 bucks.
There are several other booths set up on the fairgrounds, selling all kinds of new and used merchandise -- from ballcaps to hand tools. I bought a John Deere ballcap three or four years ago. This year, a vendor sold handmade wooden construction equipment, which was very cool.
And, of course, there are refreshments galore. My favorite food stand -- Gasser Concessions from Smithville -- sells old-fashioned handmade ice cream. And, of course, there is the Tuscarawas County Cattle Association's sandwich stand.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189