Old Ways Live On In Modern Times
- A Visit to the White River Valley Antique Association’s 16th Annual Antique Show
by Carolyn Rahe

A panoramic view from the Antique Tractor Show

Since I started writing for SouthernIN.com a year ago, I’ve been to more festivals than I had in my whole life before then. One thing I’ve noticed about Southern Indiana festivals is they often include antique tractors and machinery. Pioneer villages with old-fashioned grist mills, spinning wheels, and threshing machines seem to become more and more popular as our modern society advances at an incomprehensible pace.

Thousands of modern people like myself seem drawn to watching and learning simple skills like weaving, wood carving or sorghum making. Perhaps it is because we can see the simple processes that make things work - how water flowing downhill over a wooden wheel causes it to turn, which creates enough power to turn a large stone which can be used to grind wheat. Or how a horse’s strength can be harnessed to squeeze the juice out of stalks of sorghum, which can be cooked down into a sweet syrup.

The Water-Powered Grist Mill

Sixteen years ago a small group of folks from Daviess County who wanted to preserve these traditions got together. Between them they had several pieces of antique farm machinery and tools, and they decided to put together an antique show. The group called themselves the White River Valley Antique Association. It was a very small show that first year, but the group has steadily grown and accumulated an impressive collection of antiques. Today their Antique Show is the second largest in Indiana.

We visited the 16th Annual Show this year, held on September 8th through 10th, and as we pulled into the Daviess County Fairgrounds we were astounded by the crowd that had turned out on a rainy Saturday. Despite the weather, over 8,000 people visited on Saturday, and around 15,000 over the whole weekend. The entire fairgrounds area bustled with demonstrations, antique tractors, gas and steam engines, horse-powered machinery, and old-fashioned foods. The Antique Show at Elnora isn’t just an antique show - it’s fun!

With the chugging sounds of steam engines and the smell of apple butter cooking in a kettle over an open fire in the air, we spent the day watching and learning of simpler times. I was most impressed with the grist mill that the association members built at the fairgrounds three years ago. For the last two years it has been a working grist mill. Photographs were displayed which showed the whole building process. Club members laid the stone supports that hold the water trough, and constructed everything from the wooden wheel to the building itself.

Milling cedar shingles

A machine shop was also built by the club members. This was fascinating to watch as several work stations were all interconnected, and powered by a Fairbanks-Morse hit & miss gas engine. Different pieces of equipment were put in motion by large belts - at one station the belt drove a saw arm up and down to cut wood, at another a belt turned a lathe. In another demonstration, cedar shingles were milled from logs before our eyes. Two tractors powered the belt, which ran the saws.

Making a table leg on a lathe in the machine shop

Besides machinery, other demonstrations were held throughout the fairgrounds. Over 90 gallons of apple butter were made, and ham and beans were cooked in a kettle over a fire and served up to hungry visitors. We also enjoyed fresh cider, homemade ice cream and homemade root beer.

An Old Homestead area featured quilting, spinning wool, a working rug loom, a General Store, and a One Room Schoolhouse that actually offered visitors a sample lesson. The one room school was once an Elnora church, and was purchased by the association and moved to the fairgrounds.

Most of the equipment at the show is either owned by the White River Valley Antique Association or on loan from area residents. The Association has purchased some of the main items such as a a horse-powered treadmill which operates a threshing machine and some of the larger engines. They have two fund raisers a year - the Antique Show held each September, and a swap meet held each June. Dates for the 2001 Swap Meet will be the 1st through 3rd.

Besides these demonstrations, there were also large flea market areas that offered a huge variety of antiques, from household items to tractor parts.

The White River Valley Antique Association’s Annual Antique Show is not only a great learning experience, but a great place to enjoy good homemade food and even good live music and entertainment. You may not come away wishing you'd lived in this bygone era, but you will certainly appreciate those who keep the treasures of the past alive for us to experience.

For information on the White River Valley Antique Association call Melvin Paulus at 812- 636-4587, Lloyd Parsons at 812-636-44756 or Daviess County Chamber of Commerce at 800-449-5262.

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