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Engine exhibit shows century of evolution

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MADRID — One hundred years of history came together for a single weekend of motors and engines at the 31st annual Antique Gas and Steam Exhibition, held Saturday and Sunday at the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum.

A horse-drawn carriage trundled past sports cars from the 1950s, tractors from the 1940s and early engines from the 1920s. Wheels spun and an antique sawmill whined as visitors arrived to learn more about the area’s past.

Museum members aim to preserve and share the region’s history, especially the evolving tools and technology that shaped St. Lawrence County.

“We’re growing every year,” said museum member Shirley A. Dickinson. “I love the idea that children today can come and see things that we had growing up.”

The museum’s newest addition is an exact replica of a little red-and-white Texaco gas station that served customers throughout the early 20th century, when fuel prices were measured in dimes, not dollars. Museum officials originally planned to move and restore the original, which still stands in Madrid, but found it was too run-down to repair.

“There was nothing to move, so we decided to build a replica,” said project coordinator William S. Mousaw.

The station’s shelves are lined with boxes that once held car parts from an earlier era. A worn checker board and pipe sit on a table in the corner, as if someone had just stepped away from a game for a moment.

Mr. Mousaw wore a Texaco uniform as he dedicated the building Sunday.

“So many people today don’t realize what their ancestors used. Things today are so modern,” he said.

The weekend was filled with activities for the historically and mechanically inclined. Saturday had a horse pull and the dedication of the museum’s new antique saw mill. On Sunday, competitors tested their machines’ strength at the tractor pull and children rode ponies.

Throughout the exhibition museum, members demonstrated the machinery of bygone years.

“The old engineers were pretty shrewd,” said Gary F. Hargrave, explaining a large wood-burning engine once used to crush rocks and melt tar.

“It’s amazing what they could do with the things they had,” he said.

Although modern conveniences mean life no longer requires daily physical toil for most, that does not mean life has gotten much easier, according to Mr. Hargrave. It has just changed. And with reminders of the past such as those at the museum, everyone can see just how different things are.

“Life then was more physical than life now, but life now is still hard,” he said.

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