ROCKY MOUNT — Accountants, doctors and engineers put aside the tools of their trades on Friday in favor of antique farm equipment.
The group that puts on Franklin County’s annual Southwest Virginia Antique Farm Days has members from all different professions and backgrounds, said Bob Camicia, the organization’s publicity chairman and a member of the county’s board of supervisors.
The common denominator is most of them grew up in a rural area. As a result, he said, they have a familiarity with and appreciation for the farm equipment that built such places.
It’s something they hope to pass on to the next generation, a stated goal of the event, which features demonstrations of sawmilling, shingle milling, threshing, baling and rock crushing, among other things.
“All of them worked in Franklin County at some point in time,” Camicia said.
There are stories associated with much of the equipment, like the 1923 Fairbanks-Morse engine used to power Exchange Milling Co. in Rocky Mount from about World War II to the late 1950s, Camicia said. Flour and corn meal were ground there, along with much of the grain farmers used.
Camicia said it was covered with several decades’ worth of cobwebs and dust when the Antique Farm Days group discovered it in Exchange Milling’s basement.
Removing it was no small task — the engine weighs 13,000 pounds. It was removed in 2005, set up in 2006 and fired up again in 2007, said William Rutrough, a member of Anitque Farm Days.
The shed also houses a 1923 McCormick-Deering tractor and two steam engines, all donated by the Ira Cooper family.
Steam engines could be used to power anything, Camicia said, from a sawmill to “mama’s laundry.”
Old technology melds with new at the rock crusher, where onlookers snap photos of the noisy device with their smartphones.
Back in the day, Camicia said, farmers pulled rocks from their fields and piled them up along the road. Highway crews picked up the rocks, ran them through the crusher and used the resulting gravel to build roads.
At a sawmilling demonstration, a massive log is shaved like a carrot. Once each side is completed, the result is a smooth, uniform piece of lumber.
The machinery, which dates back to 1924, is powered by a tractor with a belt. Cline Brubaker, chairman of the board of supervisors and a longtime dairy farmer, said sawmills like this one were still in use when he was young.
“Of course, he’s pretty old,” Camicia joked.
It’s amazing to see how farm equipment has evolved, Brubaker said. Tasks that once required many men to work long hours now take little time, or are even automated.
“We don’t realize how much history is just accumulation of knowledge,” Brubaker said.
One of the oldest pieces of equipment on display is a 1915 Peerless steam engine. Dillon Clements, a farmer, said it belonged to his great-grandfather.
Clements described the steam engine as a mobile power unit.
“Back in the day it replaced a horse, plowing and hauling carts,” he said.
The machinery was retired from its days in the field long ago. But the steam engine is still operational, so for at least a few days each year, it runs again in Franklin County.