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Steam propels this craft show

September 26, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - It weighs nearly 10 tons and its wheels stand taller than she does, but Kelly Frantz maneuvers the smoke-belching behemoth like it was a toy tractor.

Frantz, 21, of Marion, Pa., said she is the only woman she knows who drives a vehicle like the 1916 Frick Eclipse steam-powered tractors she was lumbering around on in a Smithsburg field Saturday afternoon during the 30th annual Smithsburg Steam Engine & Craft Show.

The Eclipse is owned by the Grease Steam and Rust Association of McConnellsburg, Pa., Frantz said. It was in deplorable condition when the members bought it in 1991 at a farm estate in Harrisville, Pa., said Kelly's father, David Frantz.

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"Not many girls drive these things," Frantz said. "I've been working on them and driving them for eight years."

She knew how the thing worked and what made it work, describing in detail how the coal-fired furnace heats the water into the steam that pushes the huge single piston back and forth.

Frantz said it's her job to dismantle and clean the boiler every year so it can pass the required annual state inspection.

"She had to learn how to take it apart to learn how it works before she could drive it," her father said.

The big steam tractors can be dangerous. Last year, two people were killed on one in Ohio when the boiler blew up, she said. The operator was at fault, she said.

Tractors such as the one Kelly Frantz drives were important to the agriculture and construction industry around the turn of the 20th century.

David Frantz said they were used to power threshing machines, sawmills, "anything that required belt power," he said. "They were also used in road construction."

Few remain today. Those that run cost from $10,000 to $20,000 each, depending on their condition.

"A lot were dismantled for scrap iron for (World War II)," David Frantz said.

Kelly Frantz said the tractor burns about a half ton of coal for every eight hours of use. She had to constantly shovel more coal in Saturday. It uses about 1,000 gallons of water per day.

She said driving the giant hunk of iron gives her a feeling of power.

"It's a unique hobby," she said. "Not everyone's doing it. I've always been a daddy's girl and this is what Daddy does."

She said she and her father go to about five shows a year in the big rig.

The festival is sponsored by the Athletic Boosters Club of Smithsburg High School. Over the three decades it has been held, it has raised more than $430,000 for the school's athletic department.

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