People will Talk: Dave Mischler
It’s almost time for the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association’s 45th annual rally and show, a four-day extravaganza most akin to an old-fashioned country fair, wherein farmers, retired farmers, collectors, and the curious of all ages come to see, share, and show old farm machinery.
Last year, over 11,000 people attended.
The event takes place September 8-11 in Alexander, NY. I spoke with Dave Mischler, who, along with his wife, Nancy, is an active member of the Association. We talked about barking tractors, the importance of a good work ethic, and the attraction of large pieces of farm equipment.
Jana Eisenberg: What is the appeal here?
Dave Mischler: I appreciate the variety of the old stuff. Now we’ve got [only] three automakers; a century ago, hundreds of people were building and manufacturing engines and steam tractors and stuff.
I also appreciate the work ethic of the farmers who used these machines, as well as that of the collectors who restore them, and the people who volunteer to run clubs like this.
JE: Would someone who has never been to the show enjoy themselves?
DM: Yes, there are always first-timers. Some city and suburban people gain an appreciation of how their grandparents earned their living. In the 19th century, 70% of Americans were farmers, today it’s only 3%. It’s eye-opening to see how different life is today.
We do wheat-threshing demonstrations. The machine takes 10 people to run. Nowadays, using a huge combine, it’s one person sitting in an air-conditioned cab. Some people have no idea what they are looking at; once, I heard someone say, “What’s wheat used for?”
JE: What’s so interesting about the machines?
DM: The differences between the types of power. Unless they’re chewing through logs, when they bark a little, steam engines are very quiet. The owners are encouraged to drive them around the grounds—it’s very, very different experience to see one of these tractors sneak up on you. You hear the steel wheels crunch on gravel, but you won’t hear the engine—in contrast with the antique tractors: they’re banging and barking.
JE: In addition to the threshing demo, there are “unscheduled demonstrations of log sawing, baling, plowing, and anything else [that] makes dust, dirt, and noise with old iron.” You also have scheduled tractor pulls. This is “the entertainment.” Why?
DM: That’s just the way we are.
Part of it is the old-timers, they’re reliving the old days; they’ll push dirt around with obsolete bulldozers, which used to be state-of-the-art equipment.
And, for someone who’s never seen a steam engine pull eight or 10 plows from stand-still to full torque, it’s amazing.
Also, we run the sawmill all day, every day, cutting up a truckload of cedar logs. We use the lumber that we cut, and it puts on a show for the public.
JE: What else goes on aside from the machinery and demonstrations?
DM: There is a pasta dinner on Thursday, fish fry Friday, chicken barbecue on Saturday and roast beef on Sunday.
Alexander Steam Show
Donations at the gate: $6 for adults, children 12 and under free
Hours: 9 am to 9 pm