On Saturday, I got a chance to tool around the Rough and Tumble Thresherman’s Reunion near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As Tim previously reported, this festival was started more than 50 years ago by our great-grandfather, Arthur Young. The highlights are: big machines (tractors and steam engines, notably), great food, crafts and toys, dirt, noise, and smoke. Lots of smoke. At times you couldn’t breathe from all the exhaust, and it’s common knowledge that an hour at Rough and Tumble = black boogers for a day. This may not sound like your thing (several of my friends said “you’re going where?”), but the event has definite charm. Frankly, big machines are cool, and in this age when everything’s going micro and the aim of technology is for computers to become invisible, it’s thrilling to be able to see everything working in immense detail.
One item in particular: we saw a generator that supplied energy to Swarthmore College until the 1930’s, I think. I’m hopelessly inept in machinery terminology — my Dad will roll his eyes when he reads this article because of my lack of detail — but there was a big wheel being turned by an arm attached to a piston. The thing was huge, moving slowly, smoothly, and relentlessly. Even if you weren’t trained to understand these things, you felt that if you stood in the heat and noise and stared long enough, you could figure it out. Would we (non-engineers) be able to say that about the power generators of today? I’m not gainsaying modern innovations, mind you, but feeling smart is always a good thing.
It’s also fascinating to watch the effect of the atmosphere on the people wandering around the grounds. The adults became, to a one, little kids. All the “real” little kids were big-eyed, clutching balloons, and too enthralled to even cover their ears when the engineers blew the whistles. I sympathized. My cousin-friend Jackie and I resolved, before we walked in the gate, that our goal for the day was to act like kids and have fun. And we did. We wandered wherever something attracted us, from horse-powered threshers to kiddie trains to flying machine displays, and from food stand to food stand to food stand. We ate lunch at the Kinzers Fire Company stand (chicken pot pie, my Great-Aunt Millie’s world-famous potato salad, applesauce, corn on the cob, and pepper slaw) and stopped later for ice cream, and again for funnel cakes. The local craft culture is strongly represented, and Jack and I stocked up on crocheted rag rugs, herb bags (made by Sherry Schweiger), cool soap dispensers, cookbooks, and other stuff.
It’s possible that part of my connection to this festival is the family connection; a feeling of privilege (“yeah, this was my Great-Grandpa’s idea”). Pop-Pop and Uncle John told stories about the early days of the festival, when it was held at Great-Grandpa’s property on a sawdust floor. They had to help clean up afterwards, raking through the sawdust for spare change that visitors might have dropped. Story telling is definitely part of the appeal of Rough and Tumble. But there’s more to it than that: simply put, it’s fun. Check it out for yourself next year.
My new favorite drink, instead of Jones Soda Cream Soda (sorry Stiz), is Turkey Hill‘s Blueberry Oolong Tea, which is most easily found in Lancaster, PA, but which you can probably find near you if you look. Ya gotta try it.