Old-time farm equipment sturdy but less efficient

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Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 3:28 am

MORRISONVILLE — Champlain Valley Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Association Inc.'s 24th-annual exhibition offered attendees a look into the rich and sometimes rusty past of farming in the North Country.

"People around here are forgetting Clinton County’s agricultural history," said Sam Sorrell of Morrisonville, the association's president. 

"It seems to be big businesses. Small farms aren’t there anymore."



The association hosted the exhibition at the Clinton County Fairgrounds in Morrisonville this past weekend. 

The event featured several tractor pulls, an antiques auction and an antique tractor parade, along with many displays and demonstrations.

Sorrell estimated that around 150 people participated in the event and that more than 100 people went through the gate each day. 

"Yesterday, just short of 50 people were in the garden tractor pull," he said Sunday.

Sorrell said donations from the proceeds of the event go to a food shelf in Mooers as well as Morrisonville Fire Department and Morrisonville EMS.

Additionally, attendees had the option to bring nonperishable food items in exchange for a reduced admission price.



Francis Geppner of Schuyler Falls has participated in the exhibition for about 20 years. 

He brought along his 1938 Fairbanks Morse gas engine "to show younger generations how they used to cut wood."

Geppner purchased the 6-horsepower engine, which runs at 700 rpm, 10 years ago from Henry Washburn, a collector in Wilmington.

Geppner said he enjoys "visiting with other older people" and demonstrating to younger generations "how things were done years ago."



Peru resident David Babbie, the association's vice president and president of the Babbie Rural & Farm Learning Museum, started showing his machines in the exhibition about 14 years ago.

His collection of gas engines and tractors, which he shares with his father, Leeward Babbie, numbers around 200. 

The two began restoring and buying old tractors in 2000, shortly after they both left the farming business.

One machine Babbie had on display was a 1917 United gas engine, the oldest piece of equipment present at the exhibition.

Babbie used to participate in the pulling competitions but quit eight or nine years ago since he favored the display portion of the event more.

“It’s always a good time to get to talk to people,” he said.



Sorrell was born and raised on a dairy farm between Schuyler Falls and Morrisonville.

He said that, between the antique machines and the more modern ones, the main differences are comfort and efficiency.

“These, you had to have five hands,” he said, motioning to an older tractor. 

Drivers of the older tractors had to pay attention to the wheel, shifter, clutch throttle and hand brakes.

New tractors, Sorrell said, have foot brakes, and some have computers and GPS.

“Today’s machines are bigger, more comfortable,” Babbie said.

“They’ve got air-conditioned cabs (now) — most tractors didn’t have cabs.”

As a result of increased comfort, farmers can work longer without being as worn out, unlike with the older tractors, where "you were ready for the day to end," Sorrell said.

While an antique machine would take a full day to plow an acre, those made around the 1960s did the same amount of work in three or four hours, he added.

"They got more efficient," Sorrell said. "Now, one acre takes 20 minutes."



But Sorrell believes the older machines stand the test of time.

“This (an antique tractor) in 60 years will probably still be here, but a newer tractor probably won’t,” he said.

“The technology was simple back then. Anybody who could turn a wrench could fix it.”

Sorrell works on cars for a living and finds it fun to fix up simpler machines.

“If it don’t run, it’s one of a couple of things," he said. "A new car, if it don’t run, it's got whatever the dealer says is wrong with it.

“The quality was really good. People could only afford to buy one.”

Sorrell added that the exhibition is a family affair. When his grandfather, Leo, was alive, Sorrell said four generations of his family attended the event including his father, Robert, and son, Zach.

“There’s a lot of family here. It’s passed down; people enjoy it.”