How the Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association Was Founded*
It all started with a “gas –up” (Rally) that was held at Donald Weisbeck’s home in Alden, NY. A gas-up was a gathering (held at someone’s home) where you would bring your engine to run, your family, and a dish to pass. If you were having a problem with an engine this was the place to bring it and get it fixed. Many of the fellows that attended asked why they couldn’t form an association in the Western New York area.
As a result, Roland Reigle, who was President of the “Pioneer Gas Engine Association” in Fairville, NY, carried the ball and held a meeting at his home in Tonawanda, NY in February, 1967. At that meeting, there was discussion about becoming a Chapter of the “Pioneer Gas Engine Association”.
In May of 1967, Roland Reigle, S. Arthur Roxy from East Aurora, and Wilfred and Duretta Schneider from Darien, held a special meeting with the Alexander Fire Department in Alexander, NY to discuss the use of their fairgrounds for an Annual Rally if they decided to organize one. The fire department agreed that it would be a good thing for the area and gave the group use of their land. Ken Goodman was designated the liaison for the fire department to work with the group.
On June 1, 1967 another meeting was held at the home of Roland Reigle and it was agreed that the group would go ahead and try to form an organization. The first officers were elected at this meeting. They were Wilfred Schneider (Darien, NY) – President; Donald Weisbeck (Alden, NY) – Vice President; Wilbur Peters (Gasport, NY) – 2nd Vice President; S. Arthur Roxy (temporary) – Secretary (until Ruth Lipke from Cheektowaga, NY took over the position); and Lyle Stisser (Barker, NY) – Treasurer. There were over 20 people present at this meeting which included Bob Cramer, Keith Alwart, Dick Peterson, Jean Stisser (Lyle’s wife) and Laura Reigle (Roland’s wife). They collected $43.00 that day to start their treasury.
At the beginning, meetings were held at the homes of the members. They always had a raffle to raise money. The items were donated and you could win an oil can, funnel, penlight, battery, or even tomatoes.
Two weeks later on June 17, 1967 another meeting (gas-up) was scheduled at Wilfred Schneider’s home in Darien, NY. He was one of the founders of the association. There were 37 adults, 10 children, and 27 pieces of equipment at this gas-up and memberships were started with a membership fee of $2.00 per year. Over 20 people joined the organization that night and monthly meetings began. The meetings were held at member’s homes until after the first Rally and then moved to the Alexander Fireman’s Recreation Hall in Alexander, NY on the 3rd week each month.
The First Rally
The plans for the First Rally began with only $400.00 in the treasury. The rally was held September 15, 16, and 17, 1967 at the Alexander Fireman’s Grounds. “The good Lord was on our side and furnished us with three beautiful days for our Rally.” People came to our show, many of which had never known such activities existed. All ages seemed to enjoy looking back into the past and eras gone by. The Rally included 2 cider presses ground 80 bushels of apples into cider that was sold for $.10 a glass, 2 pop-corn machines, 3 drag saws, 1 buzz saw, 38 tractors, 125 gas engines, 5 steam engines, 1 apple peeler, a large display of models, a special craft section of home articles, a souvenir stand, a threshing machine and baler, 2 washing machines, and a few other things. There also was an antique car show one day. 187 people joined the club during the rally and admission to the show was $1.00 for men. That first Rally raised $3177.22, netting a profit of $1176.26 after the expenses of $2000.96 were paid. Not bad for an organization that was less than 3 ½ months old. The Alexander Fireman put on a roast beef dinner on Sunday during the show and they ran out of food an hour after they started serving.
The first Flywheel News was printed for July-August 1967. The September-October issue was mailed out for $.04. Later issues contained letters from different members that told about their experiences at other shows or how they restored a piece of equipment.
Birth of Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association (WNYG&SEA)
By January of 1968, the organization had grown to 408 members. As a result of this growth, the organization decided to go out on their own and start a new, separate association and not remain a chapter of the “Pioneer Gas Engine Association”. The new association would be called the “Western New York Gas and Steam Engine Association (WNYG&SEA).
The mailing address for the new association was c/o Wilfred Schneider, 1821 Sharrick Road, Darien, NY 14040 and the monthly meetings continued to be held at the Alexander Fireman’s Recreation Hall with a dish to pass meal after every meeting and a raffle to raise money. Duretta Schneider was the first editor of the “Flywheel News” and with the help of other members, every member got a copy of the bi-monthly News which included notices about events. In October of 1967, a committee was formed to draw up a constitution to organize and incorporate the association. Every member also got a copy of the Association’s constitution. Meetings began as they do today at 2:00 pm on the 3rd Sunday of the month.
At the October 15, 1967 meeting, a poll was taken by Don Weisbeck. The poll indicated that 10% of the members never lived on a farm, 20% of them were active farmers, and 70% were born on farms or lived on farms most of their lives. The first Christmas Party was held December 10, 1967 at the Alexander Fire Hall. The dinner was served at 4:00 pm at a cost of $2.00 person and there was an orchestra for dancing after dinner. 61 people attended the party. The membership in December 1967 had grown to 407, of which 25 were women.
The club held its first auction on May 19, 1968 at the Alexander Fireman’s Park. The second rally had 50 pieces of rolling equipment, 5 steam rigs, gas and oil tractors, and 219 small and large engines. The Club ran the sawmill donated by George Knab at the rally. This rally was covered by WBEN radio by Al Fox all day Saturday and Sunday live from the grounds. Freddie Herman’s Western Radio Show was also broadcast live from the rally on WBTA-Batavia. Two Buffalo Boy Scout Troops (Troop 189 and Troop 19) handled parking cars for the rally.
October 1970 the first discussion of buying our own land started. The club decided to sell 100 life memberships to pay for it and to add various number of years of membership at different prices.
In the January-February, 1975 Flywheel News the members were made aware of the motions to purchase the current Association property on Gillate Road, to include 101 acres with a barn and milk house (built in 1924 by Mr. & Mrs. Howard Geer) and a newly attached shed. The Board of Directors were calling for a vote of the membership on March 16, 1975 to buy the property. With 72 members present the Association voted to purchase the land and around August 1, 1975 Vince and Ruth Kirsch sold the property to the Association.
In September 1976, the Association hosted its first Rally on the new grounds and celebrated their 10th Anniversary. By October of 1976 a 20’ x 40’ building was constructed as the Club House and the first meeting was held in the new Clubhouse in July of 1977. In 1996 the growing Association built a 20’ x 20’ addition on the Clubhouse making it 20’ x 60’.
Gradually over the years many new buildings have been added to the grounds. In 1981 the Thresherman’s food stand was added, in 1989 the Push and Pull food stand was built near the track, in 1990 a 24’ x 64’ Power building was added to provide electrical power from 2 diesel generators, in 1995 a stage was built for use during the show and dedicated in honor of Vince and Ruth Kirch, in 1997 the headquarters building and tower were dedicated in honor of Dick and Irene Spink, in 1998 the Association purchased (at auction) the dairy farm next door and now owns 241 acres. The large dairy barn is currently used for storage.
Before the Rally in 1999, the snow damaged model building was replaced with a 37’ x60’ building, which doubled for a model display area. The Thresherman’s was doubled in size and an adjacent covered barbecue area was built. Over 1500 man hours of Club Member labor was donated to complete these projects. Before the 2000 Rally we added refrigeration to the Push and Pull, moved the stage building back to increase the width of the track to accommodation the National Tractor Pulling Standards for safety, David Johnson purchased a used railroad box car and set up a permanent display, complete with railroad ties and rails.
The grounds today also house a working saw mill, grandstands on both sides of the track, a Jr. Flywheeler Building, an Ice Cream Stand, a display for the Canadiana engine, a First Aid building, the Thresherman and the Push n Pull Food Stands, the Snack Shack, the Maple Producers Building, Security Building, Blacksmith Shop, SawBuck’s Café, Club Store and Bath House. Over the last 50 years the club has grown to over 1500 members and many man hours are donated every year to maintain and improve the grounds and the Rally.
*(as recorded by the secretary and in the Flywheel News from January-February 1968, January-February 1975, March-April 1975,July-August 1977, January-February 1991, March-April 2001, )