Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Association still powering forward after 40 years
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
EASTON, Md. — After nearly 40 years, the Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Association has grown leaps and bounds — both in membership and at its grounds along Route 50.
But the work continues as the group tries to reach a wider audience with its agricultural history.
The all volunteer organization has about 250 active members that help maintain the 61-acre grounds, its many buildings and collections of antique agricultural equipment all with the goal of educating people and youth of “what used to be here,” according to Pat Harvey, a longtime volunteer whose father was a founding member in 1973.
“There’s a lot of people that have moved into this area that have no idea,” she said while checking on exhibits in the association’s Rural Life Museum.
The association hosts several events throughout the year to spread its mission and raise money to keep the operation going. It holds its annual Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Show every July, demonstrating equipment and displaying just about everything used on a farm from before 1950, several truck and tractor pulls throughout the year and rent the grounds for groups to hold special events.
The main events throughout the year bring thousands of people to the grounds but Harvey said there are a lot of people they are missing who are missing out.
“There’s a whole lot of people that drive by here and say, ‘Oh, tractors, that’s not me,’” she said. “It’s a matter of getting people to come out and see us.”
Harvey said the association has been working to expand its school tour program and would also like to make videos of some of the collections to still reach schools on tighter field trip budgets and create a larger online presence.
Though the association has a long and successful history, Harvey said they face the same struggles as other volunteer organizations in balancing what they want to do with what they realistically can do as everyone has many other commitments. Collecting the story behind an antique that comes into the association’s collection is something that often falls through the cracks.
“We need to do more of recording histories and writing things down,” Harvey said. “The people who bring things in here know about it but if they’re gone we could lose the story of it.”
The most recent major project on the grounds, apart from replacing a pavilion last year, is the Tuckahoe Machine Shop Museum which opened in 2008. In 2000, a handful of association volunteers and members from the Chesapeake Area Metalworking Society began restoring machine tools that had been collected over the decades. What tools that were on display were in a corner of the rural life museum and it was expanding fast, said volunteer Dave Welser, who is also co-chaiman of the annual Steam and Gas show, held this year July 5-8.
“They figured in self defense they better build us a building and this is the result,” he said standing in the 4,000 square foot machine shop loaded with presses, milling machines and lathes among others driven by an overhead lineshaft. We’re still growing and it’s hard to stop growing.”
Many of the tools came out of other shops and factories on Delmarva or the surrounding area, like the Holland Tack factory in Baltimore. Walking throughout shop, Harvey notes the design of many of the tools as compared to their modern counterparts.
“There’s so much more grace in the machines that used to be built than what is now,” she said. “The machine itself is a piece of art just in the way it was built.”
“By the 1880s and 1890s that had all become too expensive to do,” Welser added.
Volunteer often use the tools to make or repair parts for other equipment on the grounds, Harvey said, which adds necessity to it as an attraction.
“There’s not too many places you can go out and buy parts for your steam engines,” she said.