In some important manner, libraries are about memory. They provide access to what humans choose to record for future reference in books, magazines, newspapers, video and film, audiotape and digital files, online and so forth. As we enter another year, this month’s article is a personal reflection about remembering the past.
I was traveling from my residence in Colorado in early May last year to visit family and friends in my adopted hometown and former longtime residence of Tulsa, Oklahoma. While there, I spent time nearby at the Steam Park and Grounds on the occasion of the 50th Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Show. It is a picturesque setting on Black Bear Creek organized by the Oklahoma Steam Threshing & Gas Engine Association. The area is situated near the heart of the Pawnee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma with lush forests, rocky bluffs and hilly terrain, and the serene waters of a nearby stream. I find myself on the lookout to catch a glimpse of white-tailed deer or wild turkey driving the winding road to the park. For me it brings back many pleasant memories of youth.
I am not an engine enthusiast to the extent of so many whom I met on that pleasant afternoon in Pawnee. But I am the son of an engine fan. Clayton Walker, my father, lived in Tulsa and the surrounding area nearly all of his life. He died in 1989 after many years as a hobbyist collecting numerous old oil field engines and other antique mechanical equipment of a variety of types and styles. He was a petroleum engineer by profession who always seemed happiest while tinkering with engines and other mechanical devices. My mother—his widow now also long deceased—soon sold or gave to others the engine collection after my dad died. This included parting ways with a small tractor.
My father designed and built the tractor not long before he passed away. It was among his last of many hand-built projects. It was special for him then, and so it is for me now nearly thirty years later.
He wrote an article for The Gas Engine Magazine published in February 1989 (Volume 23, Issue 2) about this “Homemade Mini-Tractor,” as he called it. In the article he describes designing and building the tractor powered by an heirloom single-cylinder Maytag gasoline motor. He constructed it from scratch using the self-described “cut and fit method.” Some parts were custom manufactured such as a brass steering wheel he cast at a local foundry along with some shiny Maytag signs on the hood. Other parts for the tiny tractor he salvaged from a minibike and a couple of junked motorcycles, a washing machine wringer release, an old Dodge van drive shaft, an auto condenser coil, a riding lawn mower differential, and so on. He first publically displayed his completed Maytag tractor at an engine show in Republic, Missouri. But my dad passed away suddenly not long after that exhibition and only two months after his article about the tractor was first published.
I reflected a lot about my father and learned a bit more about him when I recently read what he wrote about his Maytag tractor. His magazine piece was given to me by the current owners of the mini-tractor, Milford and Bonnie Reagle. My acquaintance with this cheery couple began while at the engine show in Pawnee. They are wholehearted antique engine devotees. I will long hold dear their companionship on that comfortable spring day. You can imagine my delight when I first encountered them at the Pawnee exhibition along with that miniature Maytag tractor they showed there. The very same tractor my dad planned and constructed so many years ago.
It was once written that “life can only be understood backwards.” So it is that we hold dear our remembrances of people, events, and things from earlier in our lives. My visit to Pawnee on that recent day in May was like that for me. Just so, as PCCLD moves into this new year, it is important to consider why libraries exist. Substantially, it is to help us remember.
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