Exploring the past is most effective with visuals and the LA Vintage Machinery Club has no shortage of interesting things to see.
There is everything on the premises from vintage tractors, handmade machines and stationary engines, to row upon row of various farm machines, accompanied by a small but bursting museum full of farm antiques.
Doug Fawcett is one of two original founding members that are still part of the group. He resides in Lacombe and watches over the Lacombe Agricultural Grounds adjacent to the Club grounds, so a lot of his time is spent on site.
“There are a lot of different aspects to vintage farm machinery – it’s not all just tractors. There are stationary engines, sawmills, threshers and we have some trucks. Some are common, and some are rare. For example, we have a double dump-rake from Winnipeg that was only made for two or three years,” said Fawcett.
“I grew up with all of this stuff – I suppose it’s nostalgic. A lot of this equipment I had for myself and farmed with them growing up.”
An interesting fact about the Club is that it is a registered non-profit organization, to which charitable donations can be made. Membership fees, $20, all go towards preserving goods and maintaining land use. All of the buildings on site were built with money that was donated by the public or put forth by members of the Club.
The mandate of the Club is to find, restore, collect and display vintage farm machinery. The types of machines and devices on site include stump-pullers, cultivators, ploughs, rotavators, grain augers, threshing machines and stationary engines.
In addition to both a massive shed and a field full of machines, there is an extensive collection of antique tools, books and goods that would have been popular on a historic farm. The items are housed in a small museum that Fawcett said is his favourite part of the Club.
Within the museum there are old tools for farming, a vintage fridge with an ice-box, an original immigrant trunk, vintage clothing, assorted and neatly displayed types of grains, vintage bottles and canisters. There are also tools such as axes, wrenches, vintage camera and hundreds of books.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie of the group and the challenge of finding the parts. We have a network of people all the way across from B.C to Saskatchewan so we just put out the word that we need this or we need that and it’s not often we’re stumped,” said Fawcett.
The majority of the machines on site are in working order and are displayed annually in a show and an open house once a year during the Culture & Harvest Festival. The Club also hosts special machine demos and displays during Lacombe Days.
“We have a show every year, and it’s the third weekend in June – always Father’s Day weekend. We had an open house on the 28th of September to go with the Harvest Festival. We had a lot of stuff out on display.”
Fawcett recently helped to restore a 1904 wood-framed, handfed threshing machine. He and several other members of the group took apart the ancient machine, measured, cut and rebuilt from the ground up.
“Sometimes, one person will take on a project and we’ll all end up working on it. We’re sometimes even working on four projects at once. We have a full lineup of tools – we can fix anything. There’s the odd time that we do need a part. Usually though, we can fix things with what we’ve got here.”
None of the members are mechanics, but with the extensive collection of tools in the garage, most jobs aren’t a problem. The vintage machines aren’t just outside of the shop either. For example, an 1870 lathe is still used in the shop to shape metal.
Many of the projects are donated to the Club. A number of the members have either purchased or lent their machines to the Club so that they can be restored, cared for and displayed.
The Club actually started out as a tractor-pulling club. Tractor-pulling is an event where different weight classes of tractors face off in trying to pull a large weight-transfer sled. Now, the old pulling sled built by Fawcett’s cousin still remains on site.
The Club operates with very little funding and so memberships and donations are key to keeping it alive. Members receive a newsletter each month that lets them know the finance situation, if parts are needed, upcoming events and if they are looking for any particular machine.
“Originally, when we started, some of us members put money into the Club to get going. We put all these buildings up ourselves and without any grant money from the government or anything,” explained Fawcett.
“We rely on our income from our show and the lottery funding from the casinos that we work. But those casinos are about 30 months apart, so we have to make the money last.
“We use the casino money mostly for capital projects – this year we put a lean-to on the big shed and made more storage for our tractors.”
The Club is located by the Lacombe Agricultural Grounds, on the corner of 58th St., south and C&E trail. Call ahead to assure someone is there or to arrange a visit.