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All Machines American Made to Whir at CAMA’s Fall Festival

Mon September 13, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


A New Holland rock crusher being demonstrated at a Fall Festival.
A New Holland rock crusher being demonstrated at a Fall Festival.
A New Holland rock crusher being demonstrated at a Fall Festival. Two horizontal boiler steam engines in CAMA’s construction equipment collection. A Bay City gasoline powered cable shovel being demonstrated at a past Fall Festival.

The cigarette industry made a fortune out of a cool figure named Joe Camel. In a town ironically named after another catchy cigarette jingle (Kent), Connecticut and the rest of New England are getting to know “Joe CAMA.”

“’Joe CAMA’ is usually male, but not exclusively, and has mechanical interests. Skills of the typical member vary all over the board, but the one aspect in common is an interest in learning about the history of machinery as it applies to American industry, agriculture, construction, mining and railroad,” said Jim Anderson, webmaster and spokesman of CAMA – Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, a one-of-a-Connecticut-kind of group that is fascinated by all things mechanical, American-made.

CAMA was founded in 1984 by a group of 22 members. Now in its 26th year it is unaffiliated with any other group of its kind. Oh, there are the New England Rockbusters and the Little Rhody Antique Farming Show, but those are different Joes.

600 Strong, 4,000 Drawn

Now 600 Connecticut members strong, CAMA may draw as many as 4,000 curious people, potential members and visitors to one of its annual shows, “if the weather is good,” according to CAMA’s current President Jon Pawloski.

CAMA’s next show will be held over the weekend of Sept. 24-26.

Little known outside of local circles, Anderson said that CAMA receives weekly applications for new membership by responding to a membership section on its Web site. There also is a museum where many of the vintage machines are housed for viewing.

“Many casual visitors to the museum join CAMA on the spot,” said Anderson. “The most common comment that we get is, ’We didn’t know that you existed.’ Once new visitors see what we have, they are nearly always surprised and appreciative.

“CAMA has no paid staff and consists entirely of volunteers. When someone comes to CAMA for the first time, we try to give them personal tours and try also to cater to their specific interests,” added Anderson.

Women and Children First

Many women and children are members, because, as Anderson said, “the membership unit is the family. When one joins, all members of one’s immediate family automatically become members. CAMA has a number of women involved to varying extents. Some join for the benefit of their children. CAMA’s exhibits appeal especially to young boys, but there is a growing number of young girls that are equally excited about what CAMA has to offer,” said Anderson.

The range of the kinds of antique equipment on display at the Annual Fall Festival is as varied as the kinds of engines that exist.

“It’s safe to say that all manner of machinery shows up at our Festival. Everything from internal combustion engines [large and small], tractors and farm-related equipment demonstrations, steam engines from scale models up to large trailer-borne industrial engines, hot-air engines, dozers, shovels, graders, steamrollers, military equipment, compressors [all antique], to antique cars, motorcycles and trucks,” said Anderson, before drawing a deep breath. “The content varies from year to year, but variety is key. Many exhibitors demonstrate their equipment during the weekend.

“What I think people love the most is that, during our show, hardly anything is static. Exhibitors, and members alike, love to run things and demonstrate their equipment,” added Anderson.

There is, of course, a healthy exchange of tips, tools and ideas shared between member-volunteers, exhibitors and the general public.

“If you don’t learn something new at a CAMA festival, then you spent the entire weekend in a Porta-Potty,” laughed Anderson.

Engines Back to 1820

The most unusual piece of equipment on display varies from year to year, officials said.

“One year, someone exhibited and operated an aircraft radial engine. Last year, an exhibitor brought an antique war-era, carbon-arc spotlight. This gathered a large crowd when it was lit after dark,” said Anderson.

“Unusual is in the eye of the beholder. Something quite mundane to one person is the most exciting and unique experience to someone else. Our multi-discipline format ensures that everyone will see something they’ve never seen before,” he added.

As for most vintage machinery, Anderson said that some of the exhibits in the museum’s permanent collection go back to the century when engines themselves were invented.

“We have a number of 1800s–era engines, both steam and internal combustion. Exhibitors have brought some very early hot-air engines of the early Ericsson design. These are very unusual given that hot air engine design goes back to the 1820s,” said Anderson.

Like most mechanics, Anderson derives no greater thrill than taking something that had died and bringing it back to life. It is his version of CPR revival of “motor” reflexes.

“To me, there is great satisfaction in taking a rusty, frozen engine and freeing it up after many years of disuse. It’s like an EMT breathing new life into a lifeless body,” he said. “In the case of antique machinery, there is the likelihood that you won’t need some special tool to fix something. Usually an old machine can be taken completely apart with common mechanics tools, and you won’t need a ’metric pneumatic cross action split ring compressing release tool [with USB interconnection],’ to complete the disassembly.”

Heavy Iron Also

Heavy iron enthusiasts, lovers of the backhoe or other earth-moving machines, are seldom disappointed.

“CAMA has four road rollers in its collection. We have one vertical boiler steamroller, two horizontal boiler steamrollers and a gasoline-powered Buffalo Springfield roller,” said Anderson. “The three steamrollers need work before they will run again, but the gas Buffalo Springfield roller is still used to roll our dirt roads prior to shows. CAMA also has an early 1900s Adams Leaning Wheel grader, which is a tow-behind with a rather unique design for leveling the blade.”

Whirring to Life in Fall

Most of the year, the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association grounds remain relatively quiet. Members sit and ponder the impact and importance of historic machinery on our everyday lives. However, late in September, the group is transformed into a noisy, bustling cacophony of engines and saws and all things mechanical. CAMA comes to life.

In CAMA’s Industrial Hall, the stationary steam engines hiss. In the five-bay shed and oilfield power buildings, a one-lunger, “hit and miss” engine and an impressive Wolverine Diesel literally explode into action. In Diebold Hall, museum- and member-owned tractors are spit shined for viewing.

On narrow gauge railroad tracks, an old Hawaii number five lurches into motion. The standby Plymouth Diesel waits to take children for rides.

Outside, exhibitors from all over New England and the Northeast converge on eight acres of grounds with their own tools, gas engines, steam engines, tractors and machines of every ilk. Guests wonder what this year’s surprise will be.

“The history of machinery and industry in the U.S. is being lost,” said Anderson. “Fewer and fewer people have even an inkling of America’s rich industrial past. Virtually nothing in our collection comes from Asia and only a few items come from Western Europe.

“The majority of our collected items were built here in the good old US of A,” he added. “Built in a time when America was at the pinnacle of the heavy machinery world. CAMA does not want the public to forget the greatness that was Industrial America.

“It’s not that we don’t have a few jewels of heavy industry still left in our crown, but our crown used to be entirely made in America,” said Anderson. “If we can’t be proud about what’s made in America today, at least we can be proud of what made America great.”

For specific information for either exhibitors or spectators at CAMA’s Annual Fall Festival, call CAMA at 860/927-0050, Show Chairman Jim Daily at 860/354-1859 or President John Pawloski at 860/354-0296, or visit FallFestivalinfo@ctamachinery.com. CEG