Things have come a long way since the early days of farming in America, when machines operated using power sources such as steam and horses.
But while modern-day farm implements reflect most aspects of the same technological advances that have affected all corners of a mechanized society, a few examples can still be found of equipment used before things like computer-guided combines with climate-controlled cabins were commonplace.
One group of people makes a particular point of keeping alive the ironclad gear from long ago and preventing it from becoming nothing but a memory: members of the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association (EDGE and TA). Branch 28 of the national organization is based in Cabool, and goes by the name Ozarks Older Iron Club (OOIC).
Each year, the club hosts a pair of shows at its 38-acre grounds in southwest Texas County, and its 100 or so members share their gear and knowledge with all kinds of patrons, including reminiscing older folks, information-hungry younger folks, and wide-eyed kids who might otherwise only see such sights in photos on the pages of a book.
Club members come from several surrounding counties, and machines on display range from rarely seen hand tools to gigantic steam engines.
When the club staged its annual spring show last Friday and Saturday, one of the most prominent items was a 1915 Harrison Machine Works steam engine tractor, owned by John Simpson of West Plains. The mammoth machine (made in Belleville, Ill.) has 75-inch diameter wheels and weighs 20,375 pounds when empty. Harrison made only 839 of them between 1839 and 1934, and only 25 are known to still exist – only about half of which still run.
Simpson’s is one of the few in running order. A “for sale” sign hung from it at the show, and potential buyers could make it theirs for $25,000.
The big old machine is part of a sizeable collection of vintage equipment that Simpson has amassed. He said he loves the stuff, but that caring for his collection can be like a “full time job.”
“It’s not always easy and can really take a lot of work,” Simpson said. “But all the club members enjoy doing this and we think it’s well worth it.”
Of course, antique tractors are popular among club members and club shows feature numerous decades-old units bearing every imaginable brand name, like Allis-Chalmers, Farmall, Oliver, and John Deere.
But OOIC shows also feature unusual contraptions that the average person would never normally witness. Among the fully operational items demonstrated last weekend were a 100-plus-years-old Kingsland and Douglas tractor-powered portable saw mill (operated by Alan Walthuis of Cabool), a 1900 Universal model 869M rock crusher that was once used by chain gang labor working on roads in Labett, Kan., a tractor-powered 1940s era stationary hay baler, and a 1930s era one-horse baler.
Club member and Tyrone resident Don Rutherford had his team of huge Belgian mares at the event. As well as wowing onlookers with their immense bulk, Annie and Ruby participated by pulling a four-seat wagon and operating the horse-powered baler, among other things.
Rutherford, who honed his knowledge of driving teams while living in Kansas, has been together with the big Belgians for several years now, and has hopes of eventually offering wagon driving lessons.
Weighing 1900-pounds and standing 18-hands high at her withers, Annie can easily put away a gallon of grain or an entire square bale of hay at one feeding. Not being much smaller, Ruby can hold her own at the grain bucket, too.
“They can really put it away when they want to,” Rutherford said.
Draft horses like Annie and Ruby represent the semi-trucks of the 1800s, and were integral in Missouri’s early days by performing tasks like transporting big loads of supplies to and from town or plowing rocky fields for planting.
Rutherford said a common interest in old-time machinery and lifestyles creates a special camaraderie among OOIC members.
“We all enjoy doing this,” he said, “and everyone gets along really well.”
Formed in 1957, the EDGA and TA has more than 220 branches in 36 states (including 10 in Missouri) and each year stages a national show and six regional shows. For more information, including branch locations, show locations and dates, and other association matters, log onto http://edgeta.com/.
With roots dating back to 1988, the Ozarks Older Iron Club meets at the club grounds on Cannaday Street in Cabool at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. For more information, log onto www.ozarksolderironclub.org.