Antique engines have been family's passion for half a century

John Thompson • Jun 5, 2018 at 9:31 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The chugs, pops, bangs and huffs on antique engines will once again be heard on Sciota Road at the Unicoi-Carter County line Thursday through Saturday, because the 47th Annual East Tennessee Crank-Up, sponsored by the East Tennessee Antique Engine Association will be taking place.

It is a remarkable accomplishment for the association to be nearing its 50th anniversary, but for Goeff and Susie Hutchings, it marks three generations of a family involved in collecting and restoring the increasingly rare engines that were a vital part of farms and oil fields in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries.

“I started 52 years ago,” Geoff said. “It was a 1.75-horsepower Economy engine. He brought the engine to the farm of his aunt and uncle, Harry and Florence Scalf. That farm at 2045 Sciota Road is still the location of the annual Crank-Up all these years later.

Watch Krystian and Jeffrey start one of the antique engines:

Geoff was fortunate to find a woman who encouraged his interest in antique engines. Susie said their first date included a stop to view antique engines.

Geoff and Susie had three daughters. Gennifer Edwards now lives in Wichita, Kansas. She has two children, Will and Gwenyth. Gretchen Norton lives in Knoxville. She has three surviving children, Hannah, Ellie and Jeffery. Ginger Booher lives in Bluff City and has four children, Hunter, Aaron, Krystian and Ariana.

Last weekend, two of his grandsons, Jeffery Norton, 10, and Krystian Booher, 12, helped Geoff get the engines ready for the Crank-Up. They oiled up the engines and started many of them.

Geoff’s interest in antique engines quickly grew from the small engines used on farms to the huge machines used in the oil fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

It was a good time to collect them. Most of the old oil fields were going dry or were economically unproductive. He found oil field operators eager to sell the engines they no longer had a use for. Not only that, but the operators often gave away the other components from the fields, such as drilling lines.

It took a lot of work to move the huge engines from the oil fields down to Tennessee, but the collection began to grow. They can now be seen in the many sheds and replicated oil field buildings on the old farm.

Some of the engines came from museums, such as the Henry Ford Museum. The biggest engine, collected by the East Tennessee Antique Engine Association, came from a plantation owned by tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds. The plantation was on Sapalo Island off the coast of Georgia. Two huge 125-horsepower 2-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse Diesel engines were used to drive generators that powered the island. One of those big engines was loaded up and trucked to the Tennessee farm.

Three are other big engines on the farm that belong to other collectors who have found the farm to be a convenient place to keep them. The result of all this is that there are many giant antique engines on display that are all in operation during the annual Crank-Ups.

With so many engines, Geoff and his grandsons had plenty to do to get ready for the Crank-Up, including clearing out the leaves that blew in under the door of a replica of an oilfield power house. The power houses were often named for someone and the one on this farm followed that tradition. It is named for Carter Norton, Jeffery’s brother, who died at the age of 11.

The boys did more than just clean up. Krystian liked to start the engines after a long winter of idleness. He showed his abilities by quickly starting a Superior gas engine, which weighs 23,000 pounds, that had been brought from an oil field in Springfield, Ohio. Kristian was able to get the cold engine started in about three minutes. Jeffery made sure all the critical parts were well oiled.

Krystian has certainly inherited his grandfather’s mechanical interest. He hopes to become an engineer and would like to enroll in the Milligan College engineering program.

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