SAEGERTOWN — Herb Jankovich enjoys quite the view, perched atop the wooden, fort-like tower that serves as the announcers’ booth at the Pioneer Steam & Gas Engine Society show grounds.
Yet it’s not the view that gets Jankovich excited.
“When they pull by here, what a sound!” said Jankovich.
The Franklin resident, along with his partner, John Turner of Titusville, do the announcing for the tractor pulls at the society’s annual antique tractor show — the 43rd edition continues today and Sunday.
“Some of them sound so good,” he said. “There are certain tractors, and we say, ‘Folks, this is a symphony playing here.’ You hear a 6-cylinder Buda engine pulling hard, boy do they sing. And them big Olivers, they’re marvelous.”
You run into a lot of people like Jankovich at the Pioneer show — guys that just love these machines.
“The one that’s really a harsh sound, but it is dynamite, is an Oliver with a Jimmy two-stroke diesel engine in it,” he said. “Boy, when they get on the pipe on one of those things, it really sets your hair on end.”
It’s not just tractors. This weekend’s Pioneer show also features steam engines, gas engines, classic cars and trucks. If it’s old, heavy and makes a lot of noise; there are people here that are passionate about it.
“I’m interested in the old stuff,” said Wilbert Green of Jamestown. “I came to my first show in ’67 and I’ve been going to them ever since.”
Green used to own tractors, but his farming days are over. Now you can find him puttering around the show grounds on his Case 155 lawnmower, circa 1960. He’s removed the mowing deck, of course.
“That’s all I use it for, transportation,” he said. “I ride around looking at stuff.”
Harold Seber’s interests are more stationary. The Cambridge Springs native works in the early 20th century-era tool shop on the grounds. It includes a handful of belt-driven tooling machines, each powered by a single 15-horsepower gas engine located in an adjacent room.
“There’s lots of iron on that engine, and it’s pretty slow RPMs,” he said. “It’s actually more than we need for this shop. But it was easy to start, it was quiet, and it had a governor.”
There are milling machines, planers, drills, lathes. And they’re running near constantly. What are they working on?
“They’re just making chips” to no real end, he said, referring to the aluminum shavings made by the machines. “People like to see chips,” he said.
Some of the machines are more than 100 years old. But they’re still on the job, even if it’s just for display.
One question, though — why?
“Well, it’s just a hobby,” said Bill Drohn of Erie. “And being self-employed, you’re also looking down the road at retirement. When you’re in the garage business, there is no retirement, per se. You’ve got to have something put away.”
If that’s the case, Drohn’s made himself quite a nest egg over the years.
“I’ve got 17 or 18 (tractors),” he said, “mostly John Deere. And I have one Oliver.”
Drohn admits, although somewhat grudgingly, that these things are, in a sense, just big, brightly-colored toys.
But it also goes deeper than that. Jankovich explains: “There’s a certain amount of trying to preserve the memory of how agriculture was, and how it improved over the years.
“I’m a pilot also, a retired pilot. And when I was a kid the thing I wanted most was a Piper Cub. ... I used to build models and models and models of them. And my biggest fear was when I grew up there wouldn’t be any left. And now, you can’t touch a good restored Cub for less than $35,000. And they only cost $1,995 new.
“The same thing hit me about these tractors. I used to think, the last John Deere ‘A’ is going to end up in a scrap heap.
“Man,” he concludes, sweeping his arm across the show grounds, across row after row of decades-old tractors resting in the July sun, “we didn’t need to worry.”
Pete Chiodo can be reached at 724-6370 ext. 275 or by e-mail at email@example.com.