The little engine that could

By Aaron Wiens

“Puff, puff, puff,” beats the engine. A tiny one-and-a-half horsepower engine churns out a non-stop supply of energy to perform any number of tasks for the farmer during the last century.

Impossible became possible when the “Jack of all Trades” became the little engine that did. The first models cost about a penny an hour to run and improved the lives of countless citizens.

Demonstrations of many different types of antique engines and machines took place at the Jonamac Orchard, 19412 Shabbona Road in Malta, on a fall weekend perfect for picking pumpkins or getting lost in a corn maze in the likeness of Johnny Appleseed.

Bails of hay, corn grinding, running water, almost every task could be performed with the aid of an engine. An early advertisement for them described no less than 14 different uses.

The engines also produce something that was not advertised – “Stack music.”

Each puff or whoosh, chug or hiss is a note in a song that does more than just keep time.

“It lulls you to sleep,” said Ken Slade, a local antique engine collector.

Slade watched his engines run a corn sheller and grinder the way some farmers still do.

“The engines were ideally suited for the Midwestern farmer because of their portability,” he said. “In some parts of the country they still use these engines because they do not break down but if they do, you can fix them yourself.”

One of the more popular demonstrations belonged to Chris Markley, of Lanark, and his old-fashioned apple-cider maker.

The process is relatively simple: chop the apples, mash the chopped apples with a hand driven press and collect the juice. The apple chopping was done by machine which speeds up the cider making.

After collecting 12 gallons of cider, Markley needed more apples. It’s a good thing he was at an apple orchard.

“They let me pick the ones off the ground,” he said. “I do not mind it so much because I wash them and check to make sure they are not spoiled and they still make really great cider.”

The antique tractor show was another excuse for people to visit a growing agri-business.

“If we were just an apple orchard, it would be boring,” said Kevin McArtor, the orchard owner.

Developing new ways for people to have fun while picking is a major priority for McArtor.

“We just built our first apple launcher,” he said.

The launcher is a pair of giant sling shots people can shoot apples from for $1.