Antique engine Spring Fling brings preview of 'invasion'

April 26, 2004|by DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, PA. - Scores of Panzers will "invade" St. Thomas in August, but they will be welcomed by members of the Cumberland Valley Antique Engine and Machinery Association.

Unlike the World War II vintage armored vehicles the Germans used to overrun Europe, these Panzers are lawn and garden tractors produced between 1954 and the early 1970s, Ed Helman of Chambersburg said.

Helman and his father, Ronald, also of Chambersburg, own and maintain the antique association's Spring Fling, which was held over the weekend. Some of the Panzers were on display there.


"They thought they wanted a tough name," Helman said.

The tractors were originally manufactured in College Park, Md.

Ronald Helman said his family owns "30-some" Panzers. More will arrive in August when Panzer collectors from across the country converge at the association's 35-acre property off Twin Bridge Road.

Lawn tractors will take a back seat to the featured machines on Aug. 13 to 15, when a sea of green and yellow John Deeres assembles for the summer show.

Since it was formed 22 years ago, the association has amassed a collection of machinery that chronicles the history of the Industrial Age and well into the 20th century.

"There's probably close to 100 pieces of machinery" owned by the association, Ed Helman said.

Association President Mike Gratton of Greencastle, Pa., pointed to a wooden-bladed plow in one of the buildings that may be the oldest piece in the collection.

Farm machinery and steam-driven tractors from local manufacturers such as the Frick Co. and the now-defunct Geiser Co., both of Waynesboro, Pa., are in the collection, along with threshers, silage cutters, hay balers, sawmills, flour mills and stationary engines used to power other belt-driven machines.

In the early 1980s, a group of about three dozen people got together to organize the association. Most already were collectors of vintage machines, said Chambersburg veterinarian Stanley Stratton, the group's treasurer.

"We didn't even know if we'd have enough interest to hold a second meeting," Fred Hammond of Chambersburg said.

The association now has about 250 members, Ed Helman said.

After a few years, the group bought the land and erected buildings to display and refurbish the growing collection, made possible through the sacrifice of thousands of chickens and dozens of hogs. Gratton, an electrician, said about 1,000 chickens were barbecued at last year's spring show and 3,000 more at the summer show.

"That's what's bought us everything we own is the food stand," said Ed Helman, a farmer.

Gratton said 144 owners signed up for the tractor parade Saturday. Some of them entered several pieces of equipment. He expects about 600 tractors in August.

Several machines are works in progress. Hammond, a mechanic by trade, opened up a shed filled with machines in various stages of renovation, from rusted relics such as the steam engines that powered a paper mill to Geiser steam tractors that look little the worse for wear than when they rolled off the assembly line a century ago.

Some machines are owned by the association, others by individuals. Hammond said members come in as a group or as individuals to work on restoration projects.

When parts cannot be found, members make their own, Gratton said.

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