Fairgoers give antique equipment a whirl at Rural Heritage Fair

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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RIDGEFIELD — The machines on display at the Rural Heritage Fair over the weekend, from hulking old tractors to the simple antique engines that sputtered and puffed while they powered all manner of farm equipment, are the machines that built modern America, organizer Bud Cronin said.

For the fair, The Fort Vancouver Antique Equipment Association, for the 23rd year, filled Alan Schurman’s “Iron Ranch” west of Ridgefield with old drag saws, steam- and gas-powered tractors and many hit-and-miss single-cylinder engines, which might have powered corn grinders, water pumps or generators before electricity was widely available.

Mike Bjur is a member of the association and one of vendors. The show’s a great fit for him, he said. He sells antique mechanic tools, which have a steady market among antique equipment enthusiasts.

“It’s really a family event,” he said. “It’s very often you’ll see three generations come to the Heritage Fair: You’ll see grandpa, mom or dad and then grandkids.”

Kids get a kick out of grinding corn, using an old wringer-type washer to wash clothes or cranking the stump pullers: hand-powered winches where guests could crank away to move a massive log an inch at a time.

Cronin, the Fort Vancouver Antique Equipment Association’s president, said its main goal is to preserve and restore antique farm equipment.

Part of that, club vice president Lester Schurman said, Alan’s nephew, is to preserve how these things worked in context.

“At this point we’re trying to teach everybody about the history of things and pass on how things were done,” he said.

When they can, organizers set up their engines and equipment for actual use, so people can see how they work and how they were used, they said.

“A lot of this equipment that is here has been handed down generation to generation,” Schurman said, but the knowledge of how they work might not have been.

“As much as we can, we try to tell people what this stuff was used for and demonstrate it as best as we can,” Cronin said. “We need a lot more able bodies to keep the club going”

That’s getting harder to do, however, as the number of enthusiasts is shrinking. The equipment association probably had 80 to 100 members 20 years ago, he said, and it’s down to about 20 now.

“We’re always out looking for newer members, younger folks, trying to get the kids involved and see if we can keep the hobby going, because it’s dying out,” he said. “Five, ten years ago, this place would have been packed.”

That’s part of why the group wanted to have simpler machines or other activities for the kids, he said.

They’re also planning on having a large interactive display up at the county fair this year.

Long-term, Cronin said he’d like the association to partner with a school or 4-H program, maybe to work with one of the simple engines he collects or to restore a tractor.

“For me as a kid, growing up with the hobby, it was just a passion, it was the love for old iron and, I was seeing history still alive,” he said.

Andy Matarrese: 360-735-4457; andy.matarrese@columbian.com; twitter.com/andy_matter