Power museum is a fairgrounds treasure

Photo by Michael Cummo

With the noise and glitter of the carnival, the color and chaos of the Hall, exciting competitions, demos, delectable food and upbeat music, Fairgoers may not realize there is a fascinating feature at the far end of the grounds.

Occupying half of the second animal barn, the Martha’s Vineyard Antique Power Museum is packed with rarely seen engines, tools, vehicles, and equipment that give a glimpse into an earlier and different way of life.

Here visitors can dip into history, see a vintage steam or gasoline engine at work, and learn little-known lore about power and agriculture.

“We’ll have the engines running during the Fair,” promises George Hartman of West Tisbury, who oversees the collection along with other antique engine enthusiasts.

The museum evolved from the Annual Martha’s Vineyard Antique Power Show, begun here more than 25 years ago by the late Bill Honey, Tom Thomas, Mr. Hartman, and others. At first a weekend event, it is now held during the Saturday Living Local Festival in early fall. The organizers had long wished for permanent quarters to store and display the vintage machines. With the raising of a second animal barn in 2008, the Agricultural Society made the space available.

The museum was officially established here about four years ago. It is opened to the public only twice a year, at the Fair and the Living Local Festival. Serious antique engine buffs may visit by appointment.

A dedicated engine enthusiast since receiving his first miniature steam engine when he was a young boy, Mr. Hartman keeps a careful eye on the collection year-round. Mr. Thomas is on hand for special events as is often Phil St. Jean, a Rhode Island engine specialist.

Mr. Hartman proudly pointed out features of the collection, arranged neatly in the dim wooden barn with high windows.

Mr. Honey’s presence is still strong, thanks to a display of several of his small and medium-sized engines. Mr. Hartman even salvaged Mr. Honey’s crane, still used here for hoisting heavy engines.

Mr. Hartman contributed a steam engine that he sometimes demonstrates, to the delight of onlookers. His intriguing collection of miniature airplane and boat engines fills a small glass display case.

Dale McClure has three tractors on display. Spanning the years, they show how the machines developed over time. Two early automobiles, one from the 1890s and another from the early 1900s, illustrate the shift from steam to gasoline in those early days of horseless transportation.

Well-used old farm tools, most from Island farms, hang on the walls — scythes, ice tongs, saws, oxen yokes. There is forge complete with tools that Mr. Hartman hopes an Island blacksmith will one day demonstrate.  A dilapidated horse treadmill was once used to power a saw rig.

And who knew that sewing machines and washers were once powered by gasoline, and that a clothes iron might be heated by building a charcoal fire inside? There’s a drill press, children’s mechanical toys from the United States and abroad, and a corner filled by works in progress that keep Mr. Hartman happily tinkering.

Follow the whirring, clanking, purring, and sputtering, along with the tantalizing aromas of oil and gasoline, to discover these and many other fascinating contraptions. The museum is open throughout the Fair.

For more information, call George Hartman, 508-693-6039, or find Martha’s Vineyard Antique Power Museum on Facebook.