A Disneyland of Old-Time Engines
It all started, his wife says, when Ken Eder bought a tractor. Life has never been the same for either of them.
It is, without a doubt, the most amazing event in Moore County that you may never have heard about. The event is called “100-Plus Years of Progress,” and it offers an annual walk through the history of mechanical invention in the last century.
Every year, Ken and Patti Eder open the doors to the complex of barns and buildings on the Niagara-Carthage Road, just south of Carthage, and welcome about 10,000 people to what they jokingly call “Ederville.” Visitors have a chance to view more than 1,000 machines, each built with some kind of engine. The collection is the most complete of its kind in the world.
In fact, according to Patti, there are a number of old steam-operated engines that can be seen only in Carthage and nowhere else in the world. In one building alone are 42 wondrous tractors, the pioneers of large-scale farming. Most were made in the Midwest and reflect the style and level of design of their day. Most have little artistic flourishes to make them stand apart.
“You can’t go anywhere in the world and see some of these machines,” Patti says.
An Age of Wonders
The earliest engines in the display were designed for specific jobs, like a corn sheller or a wheat thresher, and hauled about by horses and mules. Soon enough, men figured out how to put wheels on the engine, and the tractor and its many cousins were born.
These machines enabled the beginning of large-scale farming. As tractors were put to use, farm productivity soared, lowering costs. It also filled in for a loss of available labor, as farm families across the land gave up the uncertainty of making a living from the land and moved to the cities in droves.
There was no room for creature comforts on these ancients. No air-conditioning, no power steering, no smooth-running engines. The men who ran them were part railroad engineer and part mechanic, just to keep the old steamers working. Steel seats, steel steering wheels, steel wheels and mechanical gearing — running them had to be bone-tiring work. Modern ideas of safety had not yet crossed into consciousness.
But there is beauty in the explosion of design creativity and technology advances through the years. Even to the untrained eye, the progress is obvious as one generation established new heights and the next generation built on them.
Some of the names on the big old machines are still familiar: Case, John Deere, International Harvester, Ford, General Electric, McCormick Deering, Caterpillar. Others you’d have to look up to learn anything about them —names like Rumley Co., maker of the “Do All” and “Oil Pull” tractor lines, and the Geiser Mfg. Co.’s “Peerless” machines, designed by F.F. Landis and built in a large plant employing 800 men in Waynesboro, Pa.
In 1903, Geiser shipped more than 1,500 rail cars worth of equipment all over the world, and recorded more than $1 million in sales that year. Other manufacturers, like the LaCrosse Tractor Co. of Wisconsin, maker of the “Happy Farmer” line, and Nichols-Shepard Co, which made the “Red River Line,” have been more or less forgotten.
But they, like their friends from Hercules Gas Engine Co., Huber, Heider and Frick companies, and Waterloo Tractors of Waterloo, Iowa, all contributed something to the revolution in equipment. These priceless relics are now housed in 15 large buildings, waiting for the chance to show their power again.
‘Welcome to Ederville’
The Eders’ annual event started five years ago with an invitation to 500 friends to come for a barbecue. The invitation made it to the Internet, and 1,500 people showed up. Attendance has doubled every year and is big enough that a sign now hangs out on Niagara-Carthage Road that says, “Welcome to Ederville.”
It’s a joke, of course, but this year nearly 10,000 visitors came from 37 states and a handful of countries from five continents, and watched slack-jawed at the mechanical marvels during the three-day event held Nov. 5-7. They also enjoyed the music, food, and tractor demonstrations that come with it.
“We’d like to see it continue to grow,” Patti says. “We’re at a tipping point where it needs to get bigger or get smaller. We’re trying to keep this family-friendly, down to earth and noncommercial, and I think we’re doing that pretty well. But someday, we’d like it to make a little money, too!”
As part of growing Ederville, Patti Eder says they try to add something every year, especially for the kids. This year it was a general store, which joined a replica log cabin, a saloon, doctor’s office and a number of other exhibits. There is a small steam train called “Smokey Pokey” that takes passengers around the grounds.
The Eders welcome groups and tour buses during the year, but they aren’t inclined to open up the place for one or two drop-bys. It just takes too much time to open it up for viewing. There is a visitor center where they can be reached, though, and a website, www.edervillenc.com, to e-mail or get phone numbers.
Put it on your calendars for next year. It’s big fun. It’s the first weekend in November. And to think, it all started only 7 ½ years ago, when Ken Eder bought his first tractor.
Pat Taylor is advertising director for The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com.
More like this story