The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2006

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Pageant of Steam Preserves Rural Past


Richard Palmer

Memories of days long past are rekindled annually during the second week of August at the "Pageant of Steam" near Canandaigua along Routes 5 and 20 which has been held annually for the past 45 years. The four-day event draws thousands of people, and this year was no exception in spite of the high price of gasoline. This is one of the top summer events in the Finger Lakes region.

In the old days horses were used to power a sweep system that in turn operated a baler.
Threshing the old fashioned way was a big crowd-pleaser at the Pageant of Steam.
It's not every day you can see a steam tractor pulling a plow.

Its main purpose is to keep the memories alive of the way "things once were" down on the farm when the major work was done by steam traction engines supplemented by horses. For old timers, the event was a time to reminisce and enjoy a glimpse of a completely different way of rural life.

Clouds of coal smoke and the shrill of steam whistles filled the air during the three-day event. There was no "tired iron" as the steam tractors, some of which are nearing their century mark, came alive once more, chugging and spewing steam as they drove massive belts attached to an equally old array of farm machinery from our grandparents' time. There were also several stationery steam engines operating during the event.

"It was hard work," one aged man told his grandson, "but they were the good old days when we all worked together to get the crops in. Everybody pitched in. Not like it is now with one man running a machine that does the work of 20."

The event, as always, is a crowd-pleaser. It was perfect weather. It isn't always that way. Sometimes it rains and turns the exhibition grounds into a sea of mud. The weather cooperated this year.

There was also a vast array of vintage gasoline engines and tractors on display, of all makes, models and colors—some dating back more than 80 years. Another big feature of the show is a giant flea market, which in itself covers several acres. It's a place one could find just about any part needed to restore a vintage steam or gas engine, or the proper tools to repair them. The event was also well attended by area Mennonite families—who perhaps more than anyone else, appreciate the old way of doing things because they still practice it. In fact, in some cases, they could identify problems with the old machinery and correct them when even the owners were baffled by it. It's been a long time since there's been an operating manual available for a steam traction engine.

The N. Y. S. E. A. was formed in Canandaigua in 1960 to promote and encourage interest in the operation, ownership, and preservation of antique vehicles powered by steam or otherwise. The first 11 years of the show were held at different locations, one of which was at Roseland Park. In 1971, 28 acres were purchased on Gehan Road. Today, after many years and much effort by officers and members, the show now covers 100 acres.

Captions and Photos by Dick Palmer
© 2006, Richard Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer


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