Antique machinery draws enthusiasts to Skowhegan

Posted June 14, 2009, at 8:35 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — John Beyer of Fredericton, New Brunswick, hooked his fingers through the straps of his denim overalls and carefully assessed a row of antique engines.

“This is the power that used to be,” he said.

Beyer was one of the exhibitors and hobbyists at the 36th annual Antique Power Show, which took place Saturday at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Dozens of enthusiasts came from all over New England and Canada to show off their “old iron” machines, look for parts and pieces, and talk about restoration and history.

These engines — some run on gas, others on kerosene — ran milking machines, threshers, balers, conveyer belts and even Grandma’s washing machine.

“Before 1945, the farmers on the end of the dirt roads had no electricity,” John Robbins of Bailey Island said. “These engines pumped the water, ran corn grinders, hay balers, tractors and sawed wood. They ran everything.”

Robbins said collecting and working on the antique engines is addictive. He has 35.

“When I had six, my wife asked me what could be better than six. I told her, ‘Having 12,’” he joked.

The Maine Antique Power Association has 350 members and a permanent museum on the fairgrounds. The area Saturday was filled with the sounds of motors coughing and puffing. Signs warned, “Look, listen and smell, but don’t touch.”

There were antique chain saws, outboard motors, pumps, snowmobiles, lawn and farm tractors. There was a 1926 Model T Ford snowmobile, with tracks over the four rear tires and skis in the front.

“Our mission is to find, restore and preserve antique engines,” said Joe Kelley, president of the association. “It is a great hobby. It gives you such sweet satisfaction to bring one of these things back to life.”

Kelley said some enthusiasts like the historical significance of the engines, while others like the actual restoration.

“The heyday for these engines was between World War I and World War II,” he said. “After that, engines with double flywheels disappeared. They became smaller, faster.”

Some of the engines might appear to be just rusty bits of iron, Beyer said, but they are rare and valuable.

Pointing to a small antique engine about the size of a kitchen sink, Beyer said, “You could sell that for scrap and get about $12. Or you could restore it and get $700.”

For more information, go to www.oldengine.org/members/mapa.

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