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Preserving Farming’s Past

Preserving Farming’s Past
November 28, 2004 |

The meeting was supposed to start 30 minutes ago, but nobody seems to care. It’s 7:30 on a Saturday night in Randolph County, and the almost 30 men gathered outside Ralph Witt’s shed in Wedowee, Ala., are still talking–glad for a break from the work week. They’ve come together for a monthly meeting of the East Alabama Antique Farm Equipment Club, and judging from the laughter echoing across the yard, they’re happy to be here.Only one of the dozens of antique equipment clubs springing up across the Southeast, this east Alabama group is brought together by a common love of restoring antique equipment and an appreciation for the “good old days.””It’s a good pastime,” said Rayford Johnson, a former president and founding member of the club. “It gives you something to look forward to; you get to go out and work on something and show off what you’ve done. To me, the whole thing is the fellowship that we have–it’s worth it all.”The club members feel that their work restoring antique equip-ment is important, and being a part of this group helps keep them informed on upcoming opportunities to showcase their labor. The club also gives them a built-in group to hang out with at the shows they attend. The shows–which range in size from the annual Sunbelt Ag Expo that attracts thousands to Moultrie, Ga. each October, to smaller shows like one in Dadeville–are family events that offer something for everyone, said Johnson. These shows give people a chance to take a glimpse into the past and experience what life looked like a hundred years ago, he said.”We can go and put on a show or take some of this old stuff that people haven’t seen,” said Ralph Witt, who not only helped found the club but continues to host the meetings. “People come up and ask all these questions about it (the equipment)…they want to know what it does and when it was made and all about it. I go way back, but a lot of people haven’t seen this stuff, and I like to tell them about it.”Started in the fall of 2000, the group began with 11 members and has since grown into an organization of almost 70 people. The members of the club enjoy the opportunity to meet with others who share their passion. They describe themselves as “a bunch of kids” who can’t contain their excitement when they get together. “We’ve had fun with this thing,” Witt said.”This is just very laid back, and we really enjoy what we do.”Although there is no official statewide organization of antique equipment clubs, Johnson guesstimates there are about 30 such clubs across Alabama. The east Alabama group boasts members from Randolph, Cleburne, Clay, Coosa and Talladega counties as well as a few members from Georgia. In the future, Johnson hopes to see Alabama’s clubs unite to put on a show with representatives from all of the state’s antique equipment clubs. For members of the East Alabama Antique Farm Equipment Club, preserving the history of rural Alabama is not all that motivates them. The shows they have attended or organized have helped to raise money for everything from the volunteer fire department in Dadeville–with an $8,000 profit off of just one show–to historical societies. As their group grows, the club plans to begin sponsoring an annual scholarship for a deserving student.There are lots of reasons the guys gathered on this Saturday night love their club, but the biggest seems to be the sense of community that has developed among these men. For them, it’s about sharing what you have with others, working together for a common goal, and a sincere and mutual appreciation for antique equipment.”You don’t have to have a tractor, you don’t have to have anything (to get started),” Johnson said. “You just have to love old farm equipment and have a desire to be here, and we’ll get you up something to show.”

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