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Old Iron Goes to the Fair

October 14, 2004

Fall in the Lakes Region means brilliant colored foliage and the harvest of our gardens and orchards. For the thousands who attend one of the many harvest fairs each year it is a chance to see prize fruits and vegetables that their neighbors have raised, as well as pampered livestock, handcrafts, and homemade pies. But for Ted Greene and Tim Mayberry of Sebago it is a chance to show off some of the old tractors and antique engines that they collect, their "old iron".

Each year Ted and Tim work at the Fryeburg Fair Farm Museum and demonstrate antique engines and old farm machinery for fair-goers. These antique farm implements include shingle mills, wood splitters, bolt cutters, planers and corn grinders, and all have been lovingly restored to working condition. The fair even has an antique machine that makes ice cream for fair goers. These machines are mostly belt-driven by old slow-speed gas engines just as they used to be when they were in active use on the farms in the area.

Ted Greene shows off his 1920's
vintage antique shingle mill.

I spoke with Ted at his Mc's Corner farm as he was loading old implements and engines on trailers to take to the fair. "I first went to the fair when I was about 6 years old, and have been going every year since," Ted said. I started showing cattle and sheep there when I was about thirteen, and about twenty years ago I began demonstrating how to make maple syrup. It wasn't long afterwards that I started bringing up some of my old engines as part of the Farm Museum."

He is now a member of the museum staff and looks forward to telling on-lookers about the history of these old engines and farm machines, what they were used for, and where they came from. "We also learn a lot from the crowd as well," he said. "Folks will have information about an implement that their father or grandfather used to own and use around their family farm, and it helps fill in information about the "old iron" we have here at the fair or that is back home in our collection."

Ted showed me an old shingle mill from the early 1920's that he takes to the fair each year. The mill turns blocks of wood into shingles, thin boards for apple boxes, or other wooden containers used around the farm. Although the company that made the mill is long out of business, through contacts from the fair Ted met a gentleman who has the manufacturing records of the company and information on where the mills were made.

"And what exactly is 'old iron'?" I asked. He showed me a sign hanging in his shop Greene's Maple Farm - old iron and maple syrup. "Old iron is any piece of equipment that was used on the farm, from old tractors to one-lunger engines, and all the gears and parts that go on them," he said. "I collect them from all over New England, at farm auctions, from people who have had them stored in their barns for years, or anywhere that I hear about." He showed me some of his collection of small and large pieces of "old iron", all in various stages of restoration. Ted also has an extensive library of old sales catalogs, equipment manuals, and books with parts lists and descriptions of the "old iron" he has collected.

Ted Greene and his 1911 6hp engine,
all ready to be shown at the Fryeburg Fair

"I thought I was going to get in trouble over this engine," Ted said, showing me a large six horsepower International Harvester engine from 1911 that is fair-bound this year. "I bought it in Vermont this May from a farmer who had been storing it in his barn since his father bought it many years ago. I loaded it on my trailer and was coming home when my wife wanted to stop for a minute at a shop in Woodstock. When Loretta and I came out of the shop the local policeman was standing behind my rig and looking at the engine. I thought that he was concerned about me taking up two parking spaces, but I had plugged both meters and told him so."

"No, its not your parking," the policeman said. "Did you know that you have stolen property here?"

Ted continued, "It turned out that the brother of the guy I bought the engine from felt it belonged to him and not his brother, and that he didn't want to sell it. The two brothers got together and worked out their differences right there on Main Street. I explained to them that the engine was going to be displayed for people to see at the fair, and convinced them of the value to let me do that. They agreed, everything worked out OK, and I'll be showing this engine at the fair this year." Ted said. "That is just part of the adventure of tracking down "old iron", along with the joy of rebuilding and restoring the pieces to working condition."

Tim Mayberry and his 1926 John
Deere "D" tractor

Tim Mayberry has been demonstrating his "old iron" at the fair for seven or eight years, and this year is bringing two engines and an old 1926 John Deere "D" farm tractor. "See the solid flywheel on this old tractor," he showed me. "There are probably only 10 or 12 of these still around of the 2,000 that were originally manufactured - that is what makes this tractor unique."

Tim belongs to the Maine Antique Power Association , an organization dedicated to preserving all kinds of "old iron" and demonstrating them at shows all over New England. There are other similar organizations around the country and a loose network of collectors and fans who buy, sell and swap pieces and parts, and machinists that can custom build a missing governor gear or valve sleeve. Tim has a complete machine shop under his barn where he repairs his own farm equipment and restores old engines. In his collection he has a belt-driven double wood splitter, several old tractors and gasoline engines with huge iron flywheels.

Between Ted, Tim, and Dan Moore (a collector from Vermont who has helped out at the fair for about four years) they had eight working antique tractors and a dozen or more old engines, plus a number of old farm implements on display at the fair this year. Keeping with the custom of sharing our farm history, they usually have one implement or engine running at all times. It is something to hear one of these old engines running, with its slow regular chugging and firing of the single cylinder, and it is a chance to glimpse what life on a Maine farm was like in the past.

Last updated November 5, 2004

Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree

This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on October 14, 2004 under the title "'Old Iron' collectors offer glimpse of past farm life", Copyright © 2004, Portland Press Herald, used here by permission