Antique Machinery Showcase keeps history puttering along

HARRINGTON — The Antique Machinery Showcase, now in its fifth year at the Delaware State Fair, brought out all sorts of hit-and-miss engines, old tools and equipment, Model T and Model A Fords, tractors and even antique washing machines for display.

The state fair’s assistant general manager, Danny Aguilar, said several antique machinery formats have sprung up and fizzled out at the fair over the years, but the current format has staying power and is important to the fair’s “mission.”

“It’s in our mission statement that we pay close attention to agricultural history and education,” he said. “It’s important, especially with younger generations and millennials to just keep reinforcing and talking about our collective history — whether it’s basket weaving, hit-and-miss engines or any type of antique equipment used in the past. We really want to carry on the history of this machinery that’s been such a big part of agriculture, and day-to-day life, here in Delaware.”

About 40 exhibitors participated in the showcase, Mr. Aguilar noted. Ray Thompson and his wife, Sis, of Clayton, with their trailer full of miniature belt drive hit-and-miss engines, were among them. They’ve been exhibitors at all five showcases.

“I’ve been collecting these types of engines for about 40 years,” said Mr. Thompson, 79. “We come from a farm family and I remember seeing a lot of these pieces of equipment in action when I was a kid. For some reason, I’ve always just liked these old engines. Taking them apart, restoring them, cleaning them up — I love it.”

Ray Thompson of Thompson’s Gas Engines shows off his display of diecast tractors during the Antique Farm Exhibit in the Quillen Center at the Delaware State Fair on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Thompsons said although their collection also includes several large hit-and-miss engines and nine restored old tractors, hauling all that around can get tiresome.

“It’s difficult to drag all that around as you get older,” he said “We go to a lot of shows, we just got back from the Tuckahoe Steam and Gas show and in a few weeks we’re going to the Wheat Threshing Steam and Gas Engine Show in Federalsburg. It’s just easier to travel with the smaller engines.”

Size is deceptive though, because the smaller scale models can sometimes carry big price tags.

“The small ones are actually more expensive than the larger ones,” said Mr. Thompson. “These small ones will run around $2,500 to $3,500 each where a lot of the bigger ones run around $1,000 to $1,500. Some of the small New Holland engines, if they are original, can run all the way up to $15,000 because not many of them were made — they’re scarce.”

A particularly lively demonstration was ongoing at the booth being run by Tim Matlack of Felton. Mr. Matlack was showing off his collection of antique laundry machines to bemused passersby. The 1927 Maytag model he had front and center was a kick-started gas-powered washer with a clothes press and optional attachments that made it into a combination meat grinder and butter churn.

Spectators look at antique farm trucks during the Antique Farm Equipment Exhibit in the Quillen Center at the Delaware State Fair on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“A lot of people don’t realize that back in 1927 only towns had electric,” said Mr. Matlack. “A lot of the rural areas didn’t get electricity until the mid-30s and 50s. So a gas powered washing machine actually made their lives much easier. Of course, when electricity was widely available, Maytag came out with an electric motor you could swap in to the machine with just four bolts.”

The unit likely cost around $40 in its day, but Mr. Matlack noted that that was still a few months wages back then.

His favorite part of coming to machinery shows is watching families react to the antiquated equipment.

“People can relate to these things, especially as a family,” he said. “Some people will walk up and say, ‘Wow, my grandmother used to have one of those,’ or ‘I got my hand caught in there as a kid.’ It’s fun to hear the stories and also just show kids how it was done back in the old days.”

James Cane, 11, of Cheswold, couldn’t believe that families relied on such a “loud” and “smoky” machine to do such a mundane task as laundry.

“My mom does laundry all the time and it’s so quite I can’t even tell when it’s running,” he said. “This thing is crazy! It’s rattling all over the place.”

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