The First 25 Years

On April 18, 1988, twenty-seven men and women came together in a small log cabin to listen to Larry Matthew’s dream of beginning an engine show in Walloon Lake. Without much persuasion, everyone in the room was ready to turn one man’s dream into a reality. The excitement generated was monumental. The decision was made to start a club and host an engine show in just 4 months.

The antique engine, tractor and craft show location would be Larry Matthew’s farm on US 131. The recurring show date would be the last full weekend of July. The first show would be held July 29, 30, 31, 1988.

On May 9, 1988, a meeting was held at the Pied Piper of Hamlin Roller Rink. With fifty people present, a Board was elected, a by-laws committee appointed, and membership dues set. Charter membership and Charter Life Membership were offered to anyone paying dues before the close of the first show. There were 25 Charter Life Membership Certificates issued and 27 Charter Memberships. Much consideration was given to a name for the group. Ideas from several people were combined into a name that represented who they would become. The group would be known as the Northern Michigan Antique-Flywheelers Club. The dash reminds us that we are not just old tractors and engines, but everything antique. The Northern Michigan Antique-Flywheelers Club was incorporated June 16, 1988.

The articles of incorporation state that the purpose of the corporation is to promote the interests of forestry, agriculture, horticulture, household arts, mechanical arts and sciences of historical value; to conduct annual public educational exhibitions of historical value; and to promote charitable, educational, and historical purposes.

Much was accomplished in a very short time for the first show. Permits were applied for, exhibitors were invited, opening ceremonies and demonstrations planned, and the show site readied. Work bees were held to turn a farm field into a show site with display areas, a well, unloading area, flagpole, and a parade route. Tents were rented, food vendors obtained, signs painted, and flyers distributed. Members of this fledgling club took a leap of faith, working hundreds of hours, hoping that exhibitors and visitors would attend their first show.

Opening morning Congressman Robert Davis presented the club with a flag that had flown over the capitol in Washington D.C. Fred Gonzer from the Boyne City VFW presented the flag ceremony. Sheila Urman sang the national anthem and Pastor Wilbur Woodhams gave the opening prayer. Opening ceremonies continue to be an important part of every show.

Almost 3,000 visitors enjoyed a Parade of Power, 40 flea marketers, 21 craft demonstrations, 40 farm demonstrations, four food vendors, 40 tractors, gas engines, and two steam engines. Crazy Richard, the juggler, made a surprise appearance and the Harmeling Family Band provided evening music. Everyone celebrated the beginning of a Northern Michigan tradition!

Many very tired club members were delighted to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines” for the first time at a Northern Michigan Antique-Flywheelers Show.

The Melrose Township Fire Department had their rescue unit on the show grounds to provide first aid when required. The dedicated volunteers continue to be a vital asset to the club. In recent years, the department has presented Jaws-of-Life and air bag lift demonstrations during the show and holds a huge sale in the flea market.

In September 1988, the Charlevoix County Road Commission offered the club a #22 Adams Road Patrol Grader. The commission would repair the grader, but the club had to get it off Beaver Island. A donation bucket was passed and the grader came home.

In 1989 the second show was held on the Matthew farm. Electricity was added on the grounds, the pie shack had a canvas-covered frame, a tractor teeter-totter was built, sheep were herded, and the Adams Grader was on display. Bud Sabin donated the two-room house that was remodeled to become the Lil’ White House Museum. The number of exhibitors and demonstrations increased and we welcomed 3,300 through our gate.

The Pie Wagon was a canvas-covered frame in 1989 that sold delicious homemade pies. Many building remodels were done on that shack but in 1993 it still did not have running water. In 2002, the Pie Shack served an expanded menu from a new building. The dedicated crew continues making improvements to better serve their hungry patrons. If you’re hungry for a cinnamon roll or strawberry shortcake, step up to the window!

From the retired pie shack building Boy Scouts made and sold “Flywheels” (aka elephant ears). Today the Gospel Festival Youth Group runs the Flywheel booth.
The need for a club logo was discussed, with members agreeing it needed to include a flywheel, the upper and lower peninsulas, our location and name. A committee was formed to design the logo. On April 17, 1989, the logo design was approved unanimously by the membership. The logo was on the 1989 show plaque and available on t-shirts for the first time at the Melrose Township Park club picnic.

In 1990 the Flywheelers Club sponsored Boy Scout Troop #59 from Walloon Lake. For many years Boy Scouts have assisted with the opening ceremony flag-raising service. The Flywheelers Club now sponsors Boy Scout Troop #53 from Boyne Falls, Cub Scout Troop #53 from Boyne Falls, and the Boyne City Girl Scout Troop # 10539. The Lil’ White House Museum now serves Troop #53 as meeting venue at the show ground. Over the years, many Klondike Derbies, Jamborees and Rallies have been hosted by these scout troops on club grounds.
The club held the first consignment auction in 1990. The auctions were held annually through 1995.

The first tractor pull was held in 1990 at the Emmet County Fair Grounds. In 1992, a clay track was built on the club grounds and pulls were held there. The club kitchen provided a steak or chicken dinner after the pull, followed by country music and dancing. A swap meet was held at the 1996 pull and over 380 spectators attended. After the ’96 heyday, the number of spectators and tractors continued a steady decline. After the 2010 pull it was decided to discontinue the event.

From 1988-1991 the Northern Michigan Antique-Flywheelers show and consignment auction were held on the Matthew Farm. This meant all displays were disassembled and stored until the following year. Members realized it was important to the club’s longevity to invest in property and develop a show ground that could be used for all club functions.

The current show ground property on US 131 became available to the club when Ben and Helen Bochniak offered to sell 102 acres at a price the club could not refuse. The land purchase was approved by an almost unanimous vote at the September 7, 1991 general meeting.

Members saved food slips from grocery store rebate programs and the $6,134.00 collected was applied toward the property mortgage.

In 1991 a sunken ship’s steam boiler was purchased and conspicuously placed on the new show grounds announcing the Flywheelers new home. The club applied for non-profit status in October 1991.

It was suggested members save pennies over the winter to put in a sawdust pile for kids and a tradition was born. The loot in the sawdust pile has progressed to include Mardi Gras coins and beads, ice cream tokens, and huge teddy bears. Adults sometime have to be reminded the sawdust pennies are for younger kids’.

In April 1991 the board issued non-interest-bearing notes to members to fund the purchase of a Sinker-Davis Sawmill Model #53. Work bees were held to disassemble the mill and haul it to Crandell’s shop where it was cleaned and painted. The mill was made portable to assemble at the 1991 show. A site was prepared and permanent installation of the mill was done for the 1992 show. In 1993, members cut logs from the Williams farm, sawed the boards and built the trusses for a sawmill building. The building was complete and the sawmill in full operation the same year. The mill and its dedicated sawyers have sawed the boards used in all Flywheeler building projects on the show ground.

May 1992 – The poles were ready to set for the 60’ x 111’ pavilion but cement was needed. A hat was passed and members donated enough to purchase the cement. Non-interest- bearing vouchers were sold to members to pay for the steel and roofing materials. A kitchen annex added to the pavilion was completed in 1995. The kitchen serves three meals a day during the show. An All-You-Can-Eat breakfast buffet was added in 2009 and is served from a bright shiny red manure spreader. In 2000 the building was named the “Larry D. Matthew Pavilion” in recognition of the club founder. During the Parade of Power a plaque was presented to Larry and is exhibited in the pavilion.

In June 1992 the club’s first cookbook made its debut at the tractor pull, and sold out at the July show.

In September the Charlevoix County Road Transportation Authority donated a three-cylinder diesel 1926 Kahlenberg Engine that originally ran the Ironton Ferry. (The engine has enough miles on it to have spanned the globe twice.) The engine was displayed on a trailer in the 1993 Parade of Power and a dedication ceremony was held with the county commissioners present. An addition was built on the north side of the sawmill building to house the engine. The Kahlenberg ran the sawmill in 1993 for the first time.

At the1992 Christmas Party, Santa told the Club he had secured 56 tons of free cement if the guys could figure out how to store it, haul it home, and where to use it. By 2012, it’s all been used!

In July 1993 Northwestern Bank donated an office trailer to the club. The building is used for board meetings and a first aid station during club events. It is located along the west edge of the pine grove.

At the 1993 show the first Tractor Safari to White Mountain Lookout was held. Capable tractors haul a trailer loaded with people along a narrow one-way trail up a steep, sandy hill to experience a breathtaking view of Lake Charlevoix. People line up an hour before departure to guarantee a seat for the 1.5-hour adventure. Once the wagons came under attack by a bunch of renegade Cowboys and Indians.

The Boyne Falls School class of ’96 served breakfast from a food service trailer from 1993-1995. The club bought the booth in 1996 and transformed it into the Big Wheel Pig and Beef. Members cooked and served BBQ dinners from 1997-2000. The Gospel Music Festival was recruited to manage the Big Wheel in 2001 and continues to operate the booth, serving a variety of deep-fried foods.

In 1993 during the Saturday evening entertainment, a member set up a popcorn machine in the corner of the pavilion. His kids and their friends sold popcorn to the visitors enjoying the music. The very popular “Kids Korner” was born. In 1995, the Kids Korner menu was expanded and everything sells for $1.00. They learn to make change, proper food handling, and have a blast!

Ben Bochniak presented his offer to sell the club an additional 10 acres with the farmhouse and water well. On November 8, 1993 the offer was presented to the membership for a vote and was agreed to almost unanimously.

In 1994 the relic remains of a red international tractor were hoisted atop a 15-foot post as a club landmark. The tractor complete with driver (Andy Jarema) and decorative lights made quite a story for the local newspaper.

A crew of Flywheelers drove to Ohio with a borrowed flatbed semi to recover a 1928 12-ton Buckeye Trench Digger and bring it home. The trencher was left in the field when its work was done. This trencher was specially designed with power steering and brakes on the tracks. The machine was used to dig drainage ditches in crop fields. It originally sold for $3,750.00. After many hours of intense labor, the machine was in running condition. In 1998, the Buckeye Trencher was driven in the Parade of Power for the first time.

A Perkins and Company Horizontal Shingle Mill, patented in 1877, was bought and restored to make cedar shingles as a show demonstration. The shingles are branded with a different club icon each year and are available as show keepsakes. For several years, Laser Cutting Company in Harrison Township has donated the time and materials to fabricate the brand.

1994 – The petting zoo and farm barn were established and became a beehive of activity. The farm committee brings in wonderful animals for the kids to learn about. Over the years, the animals have included llamas, ostriches, a baby buffalo, pack goats, baby chicks hatching, sheep herding, and a donkey. The donkey brayed several times during the night and added a few “Amen’s” during Sunday Church Service with the Jordan Valley Gospel Quartet. Annabelle, the milking cow needed milking twice a day which started a friendly milking competition between club members. The farm area has expanded to include a Farm Museum with indoor and outdoor displays, the Flywheelers Lathe and Wood Shop, the Old Ladies Shoe, a giant’s rocking chair and Al’s rope machine.

The Barnard Grange erected a portable building and sold hand-dipped ice cream from 1995-1998. The club purchased the booth in 1999. Over 240 gallons of ice cream sell each year during the four-day show. The building received a facelift in 2010 and was named “Sparky’s Ice Cream Parlor.”

1997 – Volume 1 Issue 1 of the The Flywheeler Momentum was printed. John Shawl was the editor. In 2005, Pauline Crandell became editor.

The Flywheelers held a dedication service for the Fairbanks-Morse Scale in July ’97. The scale was patented in 1831 by Thaddeus Fairbanks and can weigh anything from 1 pound up to 20 tons. It was donated by the East Jordan Cooperative and had been in operation for over 40 years. A crane was used to lift the scale from its foundation. After many hours of repair, a new steel grate was needed to fit over the weighing mechanism. The Charlevoix Bridge was being overhauled at the time so a club member asked the Michigan Department of Transportation if they would donate the bridge grate for the weigh scale. They were happy to have the grate hauled away and the club was happy to oblige. A building was constructed over the scale. The blacksmiths demonstrate in the north side of the building.

Working blacksmiths have been involved with the Flywheelers Club since its inception. Blacksmith Steve Anderson reported that in 2002 there were seven blacksmiths at the show, giving the Flywheelers Club more professional blacksmiths working during our event than at any other show in Michigan. Some smithies travel from as far away as Midland to demonstrate their talents. More recently, the blacksmiths have added basket making, period jewelry and wood-fired pottery demonstrations to their area.

A booth was set up in flea market space A-1 to sell club memorabilia. In 2008, the space was named the “Club Booth” and is still the place to get your club t-shirt.

On September 30, 1997 the Sheridan Elementary School Flywheeler Field Trip was held, with 255 students, parents, and teachers. The classrooms rotated with a Flywheeler Guide through twelve demonstration stations related to life on a farm. At each station, volunteers presented a history lesson on their specific demonstration. Hog kettle popcorn, sheep herding, threshing, and a tractor pull were part of the experience. The day was so well received that it has become an annual event, known as Student Harvest Days. It was decided to invite fourth grade classes from different schools all over Northern Michigan to complement their study of Michigan history. It has become a four-day event, with over 3,000 students attending. Because of its success, other organizations have started similar programs in their area.

In April 1998, two members with a borrowed semi-truck headed to Indiana to pick up a 1910 veneer mill and all the machinery that was purchased at an Albany New York Basket Factory auction. After much restoration, the 1910 Veneer Lathe and the quart berry box equipment was in working condition. In 1999, the 1929 Basket Machine was in operation making half-bushel baskets and the Veneer Mill building was built to house the very popular display. For 2000, a 1910 Clipper that cut strips for different baskets was restored. In 2004, a peck basket machine was located and brought home to begin restoration. In Spring 2002, a double building expansion was built to house additional machinery and demonstrations at the Basket Shop and Veneer Mill. The Basket Shop now puts a handle on the peck and half-bushel baskets and some veneer strips are dyed to make the baskets very colorful.

By 1999 the Chapel in the Pines was nestled beneath the pines, ready for its first church service. The timber was logged in Hawks, and the wide pine ceiling boards cut by Joe Haske in the 1960s. His son, Al, saved the boards for a special purpose. Pews from a church in Metz were cut in half to fit inside. The pulpit, steeple, and window cross were custom-designed for the chapel, along with two beautiful stained-glass windows. The chapel dedication service was held in 2000.

The first Museum Committee’s Turn of the Century Fashion Show was held in 1999. It is a real crowd pleaser and has been held several times, always with a different theme. Thanks to years of quilt ticket sales, fundraising, donations, and grants, construction on the museum building was started following the July show. The museum committee held an open house and dedication on June 3, 2000. The museum continues to receive wonderful donations and is growing out of the current building. The men’s display has been moved to the Farm Museum near the Flywheel Woodshop. The committee is looking forward to an expansion soon.

In 2000 a shelter was built to house the Vizina band saw demonstration. The building is being remodeled and will house a stone bur mill and the machinery to prepare corn and other grains for grinding. Future plans include restoring the mill to its original configuration, driven by an overhead line shaft.

In 2001 a mortgage-burning ceremony for the 102 acres purchased in 1991 was held during the Membership Appreciation Day Picnic. The 20-year mortgage was paid off within 11 years.

Music plays an important role in Flywheelers activities whether it is on a stage or wrapped around a campfire. There is always a place for a musician to sit down and play a song or sing a tune. The pavilion main stage, the gazebo and a new band shelter north of the pines offer the visitor a variety of music. The evening’s main stage programs include top entertainers from northern Michigan plus square and line dancing. Over 100 musicians keep all three sound stages alive with music the entire four days!

In July 2003, a Kid’s Pedal Pull for ages 1to10 was held for the first time. The kids pedal a pint-size tractor as fast as they can down the track, hoping for a Full Pull. Each puller receives a special Full Pull ribbon. It is so popular with the kids, it is held every day during show.

A gazebo was donated and perched on a shady knoll to use as a rest stop and music venue.

In 2004 a location for the arts and crafts building was chosen and construction started. The sawmill crew worked overtime to get lumber ready, saving the club thousands of dollars. A company was hired to install the side poles and roofing. Club members completed the building and had it ready for exhibitors in July. Permanent doors were installed in ’06 and electricity is now available for exhibitors. Several craft cabins have been built and are nestled through the pines where exhibitors display and sell their crafts. The craft area fills up fast with demonstrations that have included spinning, weaving, caning chairs, broom making, rug hooking, dying wool, making bobbin lace, knitting, jewelry making, painting, carving, soap making, and more.

The first Garden Tractor Safari geared toward 8 to 16-year-olds was a huge success and takes place every year. The drivers are awarded a ribbon for participating. Since 2004 it has been a fun addition to the show for ‘kids’ from 8 to 80!

In 2005 major landscaping began on club property. Hundreds of hours were logged on several bulldozers moving a mountain in order to build a parking area. The new south visitor parking and entrance to the grounds improved the walking traffic pattern through the exhibits and demonstrations. During the excavation two additional camping terraces were added providing a wonderful view of the sunrise.

In 2006 the Big Rock Plant – Consumers Power Company in Charlevoix donated the personnel access door from the Nuclear Plant Dome to the Flywheelers Club. For many years no decision was made how to respectfully display this important part of Northern Michigan history. During the 2012 Show, the door will make its debut.

In 2008, 13 club members participated in the first Mackinaw Bridge Antique Tractor Crossing. It was the first time MDOT allowed tractors to be driven across the bridge. Club member, Ed Socolovitch, was chosen as the first parade Grand Marshall. The club has participated each year since and is registered for 2012.

For many years the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Horse Posse has patrolled the grounds during the July show. The Deputies Mike and Judy Wheat and their horses undergo tremendous training to serve the public, and it is comforting to know they are on the grounds ensuring the safety of everyone present.

No one can resist a flea market and the Flywheelers Flea Market is one of the best in northern Michigan. The flea market has been in operation since 1988 and now has over 100 vendors offering everything from antiques to fresh fruit.

For the annual Membership Appreciation Picnic, the board prepares the entrée and members bring salads and desserts. Activities at the picnics have included free drawings for club memorabilia, “slightly used” auctions, pig roasts, and special guest presentations. At the 2010 picnic Flywheelers Club President, Jim Mort, announced that the club was DEBT FREE!

In 2011 the old filling station was a wonderful addition to the Flywheelers exhibits. On display are items found in a 1920-30’s filling station including a gas pump offering gasoline for .10 cents a gallon.

Under the windmill with the water trough drinking spouts you will find tractors, steam engines, and doodlebugs galore. They are on display in varying degrees of repair, everything from “showroom quality” to “work in progress.”

The Billeau/Holzschu New Huber steam engine is owned by club members and has been on display since 1988. The Taylor/Wellington Farm’s Advance Steam Engine is huge! The earth rumbles and shakes when it’s steel wheels roll down the lane belching smoke from the boiler to get enough steam to climb the hill and blow it’s whistle to the delight of onlookers. The engines are belted to the thrashing machine for a fabulous display of grain processing each day.

You will find small engines running all kinds of machinery plus large hit and miss or throttle engine demonstrations. Some of the over 60 displays in the small engine area travel hundreds of miles to exhibit at the Flywheeler’s show.

The Flywheelers Club is on Facebook.

The 25th Anniversary Show featured a Barbershop and Jailhouse. There are two barber chairs and all the accessories needed in a 1930’s barber shop. Visitors might even get a haircut for .25 cents. The new Flywheelers Jailhouse features the original jail cell door from the Atlanta Michigan jailhouse.

Many lives were changed in 1988 when the decision was made to form the Flywheelers Club. Friendships have been cemented in a shared dream to last a lifetime. Many members have dedicated the last years of their lives to the success of the Flywheelers Club. We are indebted to those members for their loyal service, their gift of knowledge and dedication to preserving the past for future generations.

To experience a taste of Flywheeler history, visit the show the last full weekend in July at 00145 US Highway 131. The sights and sounds of your ancestors’ history will come alive and you will see that dreams do come true!

Complied May 2012
By Debra L. Matthew
Charter Life Member