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Rockbusters Hold Biggest Show Yet

Thu October 07, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

They really don’t make ’em like they used to. Where else could you see an 82-year-old move the earth for hours on end for three back-breaking days and not run out of gas?

This deserved national recognition. Oh, wait, it got it. The octogenarian in question was a 1928 Wilford Model B shovel owned by Ted Valpey III of Holliston, Mass., who brought his prized heavy iron beast to be the featured vehicle at the 25th Annual Historical Construction Equipment Association’s (HCEA) National Convention and Exhibition.

The international event — hosted by the Northeast Rockbusters Regional Chapter — entertained thousands Sept. 10 to 12 at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Richmond, R.I.

It was a tremendous weekend for action verbs — digging, dozing, grading, loading, shoveling, hauling, pulling and scraping.

Entire hills were excavated. Boulders were split. Antique tractors, run by antique men, showed young whippersnappers how things used to be done.

“It’s basically a Fordson Tractor with a Ford motor. Wilford stands for William Ford, Henry Ford’s son,” said Sam Siochio, president of the Northeast Rockbusters for the last three years. “Behind it is a Euclid twin engine bulldozer. I love the old equipment and I really enjoy the people involved with it.”

Siochio said the Northeast Chapter was the largest of the nation’s 17 HCEA chapters, with just fewer than 500 members.

He Digs Digging

One of those members is the colorful Mike Trotto, 75, of Shrewsbury, Mass., whose Worcester Sand & Gravel Company will celebrate its 100th year in 2011.

Trotto stood near the 1928 Wilford with admiration, reminiscing about the equipment he used to run.

“I have a 1952 10B Bucyrus Shovel Erie I have been running since I was a kid,” said Trotto. “It feels great (to run). I feel like a kid again. It feels, when I’m running it, like I’ve accomplished something.”

“Anybody can run the modern iron, he added. “But it takes talent to run the cable machine,” said Trotto, who did so for the crowd. “I didn’t find any buried treasure,” he laughed. “No gold, no minerals. I might have found some water today (if they let me keep digging). That’s an important mineral today, but they wouldn’t let me dig for water,” he winked.

Filled the Lot

An impressive 232 working and restored antique vehicles and pieces of farming equipment, trucks and heavy iron earthmovers were on display.

The 1928 Wilford shovel, the featured earth mover of the show, worked along with three other beauties from Valpey’s collection: his1930 United grader, his 1940 Allis Chalmers dozer and his 1942 Buffalo Springfield roller.

Other highlights of the exhibit were: a 1934 Cletrac 20, a 1945 Sterling tractor 144 HC and a 1938 Martin rocking 5th wheel trailer brought by Ted Valpey Jr. of Dover, N.H.

Lars Ohman of Sabattus, Maine, brought a 1937 Cat 22 Crawler, while Landis Zimmeran of Ephrata, Pa., showed off a 1930 Cletrac 30B. Dick Hallberg of Bridgewater, N.H. offered his 1929 Coleman dump truck and his 1927 2T track machine.

By the Thousands

And how many people came over the three days? “All of them,” laughed Marilyn Smith, one of the volunteer organizers who runs her own giant truck show in New Hampshire every August. “The parking lot was full on Saturday by 9 a.m. You can tell how busy it was by the lines at the toilets!”

The crowd was estimated to exceed 5,000 on Saturday alone, according to show director Dave Burnham. “All of the compliments have been very positive,” said Burnham. “This was the biggest show ever for the Rockbusters. Our largest sponsored event.”

They came from all over — the six New England states, of course, New York, Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic and far beyond.

“We had people here from Nebraska, Canada, England and Switzerland,” added Siochio, the proud local president. “In good economic times, we draw them from every state, but with a bad economy, they don’t travel so much.

“Fortunately, we have a lot of members who own a lot of antique trucks in this area and we have a lot of interest locally,” he added.

That much was clear if you listen to Charles Capone, whose job it was to help usher them in and out for three days at the Fairgrounds. “Saturday was crazy. There was a steady stream,” said Capone. “And the people came back for more the next day, the second day. I’d say ninety percent who said they would come back, did.

“Most people today don’t understand how America was built,” added Capone. “The farming industry was the backbone of construction,” he said. “All of this machinery was derived from farming. The work of America, all of it, derived from the building of highways after World War II. That’s how my family increased after the War. They struggled before World War II. It was all because of these machines and the Interstates being built under Eisenhower and Interstate Commerce of America.”

He pointed to a fellow greeter handing out programs, Dawn Babcock. The Rockbusters Club is generational. “Her Dad was a longtime member in this organization,” said Capone. “He got sick and passed away. She is continuing his membership and doing his work at the gate.”

National President on Hand

An impressed and impressive spectator was Larry Kotkowksi, the national president of HCEA’s headquarters in Bowling Green, Ohio.

“This is my first time in Rhode Island and I love it,” said Kotkowski. “I run into good people wherever I go. Course, I look in the right places. These guys really outdid themselves.”

The national president has been to virtually all of the annual exhibitions in many states. He was raised in the sand and gravel business.

“I loved machines as a kid. It started with farming,” he said. “But my favorite thing is people. I’ve told the guys for a long time, ’If you take the people out of here and leave the iron, you wouldn’t want to be here.’ The equipment brings us together, making lifetime friendships.”

“I remember driving an old truck to another show and the coupler on the steering wheel went out,” he continued. “I got off to a late start and said, ’Hmmm.’ Then I remembered that a fellow HCEA member lived in that town. I drove to his house and got everything done. That’s the kind of friendships I mean.”

Quite a Club

The HCEA was founded in 1986. It has more than 4,300 members in more than 25 countries in the world. Besides producing the annual convention, it maintains a website for public information and interaction and an on-line store offering many unusual items for sale from the construction industry.

Its museum archives contain records from more than 2,800 manufacturers of equipment, attachments and components, and 800 other companies, organizations and individuals, dating from the 1880s to the present.

The HCEA operates the 7,000-sq.ft. National Construction Equipment Museum with an adjoining 5,000-sq.-ft. restoration facility on 39 acres of land in Ohio.

The museum currently owns 74 pieces of construction equipment. Of these, 32 are displayed indoors and 20 have been restored to original physical appearance and operating condition. The restoration is done by a group of volunteers who have devoted thousand of hours of their time to the work.

One of the popular items on display during the annual event in Rhode Island was a 1956 Lima power shovel in the open field. It was purchased new by Clyde B. Gray and delivered by rail to Colebrook, N.H.

The beauty was then transferred to Gray’s son, who now owns it. It is housed at the HCEA Museum in Bowling Green, Ohio.

“It’s going home to Ohio,” one member said. “Just as it should be. But right after we have enjoyed it.”

For more information about the Historical Construction Equipment Association, call 419-352-5616 or email: [email protected]. For information on the Northeast Rockbusters Chapter, go to CEG

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