Tractors, steam engines, an old school saw mill, a blacksmith, and watching apple cider and molasses being made the way they did it generations ago are all part of the three day Annual Belwood Antique Tractor and Engine Show. This year it was held September 10, 11, and 12th. The admission was very affordable, only six dollars per adult and four dollars per child (ages 6 – 12). My husband’s grandfather attends the festival every year in the upper Cleveland County area of North Carolina. This year my family, along with my husbands parents, decided to join him. The area’s agricultural roots make it the perfect place to host such festivities. It’s really a historic cultural experience of the rural south.
When we first arrived we were greeted by a horse drawn wagon full of people. We walked past vendors selling bumper stickers and t-shirts that oozed of southern pride. They sported sayings and logos such as, “Tractor Freak,” “Sons of the Confederacy,” and “Southern by the Grace of God.”
There is a very old store on site, opened for the event. Inside, they sold such goods as pies, beverages, and molasses. The store is located right across from the area where the molasses is made old school style.
We missed most of the process of making molasses and were only able to see the liquid being boiled, so I asked Pawpaw about the process. When he was young they would cut down the sugar cane stalks and take them to the mill. The stalks looked a lot like corn stalks, but were smaller and, of course, sweeter. Sometimes they would cut down the stalks and chew on pieces of it because it tasted sweet. The stalks had to be stripped of their leaves before they could be milled. The milling process pressed all the liquid out. The liquid would then be caught into a bucket and poured into a pan to be boiled. During the boiling, you would take a slotted spoon to dip into the liquid and remove any pulp. The molasses would be boiled until it reached the desired consistency. The table that held the pan was just barely elevated on one side to make it easier to drain into jars. When he was younger he loved to mix molasses with butter and put it on his biscuits.
We tried out the Apple Cider made in the old apple press. They used Mutsu apples, which happens to be one of my favorite varieties, and it tasted marvelous.
Next, we checked out the sawmill. We’re talking Walnut Grove style saw mill. It was interesting to see how they started with a tree trunk and ended up with wooden boards. The whole thing was powered by a 1911 steam engine.
I asked Pawpaw if that was the kind of sawmill they used when he was young. He named an older man, that we both know, who’s father owned and operated a saw mill in his area like the one at the show. When Pawpaw was young his family’s barn burnt down. When they started to rebuild it, the saw mill was brought and set up near their home. They used hand saws to cut the trees down. They would then hitch the fallen tree to a horse or mule and send the animal up to the mill. Once at the mill, the animal would be unhitched and sent back to retrieve the next fallen tree. The animals were trained so well they didn’t need anyone to walk with them. They knew what to do. The entire community pitched in to help rebuild the barn. That barn still stands in Pawpaw’s backyard today.
We then decided to grab some grub. That’s what my family does best, eat. We purchased BBQ sandwiches, hotdogs, homemade fries, and roasted corn.
At that point, we rode around in Pawpaw’s Gator and looked at all the different tractors on display.
I know nothing about tractors, but it was interesting all the same. Some people really go all out restoring their precious machines.
My father in law enjoyed the tractor show as well. After spotting a tractor like the one his father had when he was a boy, I really enjoyed hearing a story about the tractor, his dad, and himself. To me, that’s what makes history interesting. The precious real life stories people have stored in their hearts.
My son and I walked over to the blacksmith area. Unfortunately the men operating that area were taking a break, so we didn’t get to see them in action. But we did get to look around the little shop.
The Tractor Pull finally started and we made ourselves comfortable eating popcorn and roasted peanuts. (I’ve learned North Carolinians prefer roasted over boiled. You have to cross the state line into South Carolina to get the good stuff) The day was not only full of fun, but also a lesson in understanding how different life was in this area not all that long ago……