THE MUSEUM IS HAVING IT ONCE YEARLY OPEN HOUSE THIS SATURDAY, JULY 9, 2011, FROM 10AM – 4PM.  And if you stop in to Yanni’s Sausage (I never pass through Penngrove without stopping in for one of their homemade sausages), tell them Houston sent you.  They are just about the nicest people you will ever meet, not to mention that they make award winning sausages.  (Harvest Fair 2010 – Best Charcuterie.)

(This blog is a reprint from July 2010)

Not a conventional “museum” but certainly as educational and thought provoking as any I have been to, the Penngrove Museum of Power and Implement (PMPI) goes way beyond any expectations I may have had prior to my first visit to one of their popular and heavily attended “Power Ups.”   

This baby is whirlin'!

Stereotyped as typical or not, I am a guy who likes engines.  (“Engines” are usually considered to be devices with combustion chambers; when run by electricity they are normally referred to as “motors.”) More globally, I am a guy who likes to know how things work and am often intrigued by the history of an item or genre that may have brought about a significant change in society.  More than the meeting and melting of cultures or the exploration of new frontiers, mechanization defines who we are as a nation and has touched every important event in our brief but storied history.  Directly related to these machines are the ingenuity and drive behind their inventors, builders, and users.  Many of the machines we use today may trace their roots to foreign lands, but rarely do we get our hands on a machine and not find ways to improve upon its foundation.  This is one of the many facets of “Yankee Ingenuity.”

Her first tractor pic...

I have waited since last fall for the Penngrove Museum of Power and Implement to throw one of their rare “Power Up” events, so July 10, 2010 has held a spot on my calendar ever since hanging the new year’s calendar…and has been a major source of joy every time we flipped the calendar to July in order to mark down other plans.  I couldn’t tell you what date my school starts, what date I am supposed to fly out to Europe, or even what today’s date is, but I knew I was going to be in Penngrove at Steve and Nancy Phillips’ place during the waking hours of July 10.  Even the GF knew this date, declining wedding invites and other couple events in lieu of Power Up.  (I would have never guessed it but the GF has always wanted her picture taken on a tractor, a left-over dream long dismissed since her childhood. 

...probably not his first tractor pic.

Not knowing too many people who haven’t had their picture taken on a tractor, I inquired how she had avoided this all these years, especially in a town with so many tractors.  But I had forgotten……she grew up on the East Side, poor thing.  Let this be a cautionary tale to you East-Siders.  Get your kids out to one of these events so they don’t have to live half their life always wanting something that was so close at hand.  BUT – ask permission before climbing up into the seat of someone else’s tractor.  Without permission you may as well try on their underwear, tip over their spit can, or speak harshly of their wife (or husband.)  Thank you Danny Phillips for allowing us to snap a few shots on your big green and your mom’s big red tractors.)

Yanni's

Our day started at the newest place in downtown Penngrove, Yanni’s Sausages.  With their full selection of sausages that morning, we picked three different ones, figuring we would pass them around and all get a good taste of what Yanni’s has to offer.  I had eaten there before (twice in two days) but had missed a couple of sausages that sell out quickly, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to eat there again.  Since we were short on time (have I mentioned how long I had waited for July 10th???) we passed on the deep dish breakfast pizza and opted for breakfast sandwiches.  Before you start thinking this is some sort of wimpy, limp, bland breakfast sandwich, let me assure you that it is not.  Served on fresh local bread, the breakfast sandwich is filled with sweet Italian, hot Italian, traditional Greek “Loukaniko” or any of the available selection of sausages, with eggs in place of the normally grilled veggies toppings…although Yanni is more than happy to make it anyway you want.

As we hastily ate our sandies out in front of Yanni’s (they are small, so they get packed easily) we saw lines of old cars driving by.  This is not an unusual occurrence during the summer months in the wine country but I suspected they were heading to the same place we were.  The PMPI is more than just a bunch of old engines lying around the Phillips’ yard and barn.  They graciously invite any group that wants to join in to come and show off their wares.  There were classic cars, old trucks, and even a nice selection of historic Model A and Model T Fords, all driven in by the owners just for this event.  The robotics club from the Rohnert Park Technology School’s Team 675 was in full effect showing off their latest creation as well as visiting with the crowd explaining who they are and what they do.  There was a young fellow with a slew of miniature steam engines, all in working order.  I don’t know if any other exhibit drew as constant a crowd as this messy hair kid, as he fired up the fist-size boilers and coaxed the tiny engines to life.  A group of HAM radio operators were on site showing off a huge selection of radios, both old and new, as well as a huge antenna array, which was inconspicuously strung around the property above our heads. 

Along with cars, trucks, tractors, and trains, there was a plethora of informational displays inside the barn.  They ranged from antique outboard motors, to twine machinery, to old razors and sewing machines.  The displays were well thought out and diversely equipped.  Being someone who always has gloves on hand (no pun intended), I was particularly impressed with their glove making display.  There really is a little bit of everything at the PMPI.

Pratt & Whitney R-4360

But the big event, about every hour, was the firing up of one of the two large engines outside.  One is a remnant of Howard Hughes’ famous Spruce Goose and the other is a giant engine once used to generate electricity for a mill or factory out in the valley.  This engine was built by Fairbanks Morse, stands ten feet tall and twenty feet long, and is housed in its very own building.  The 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine certainly was impressive and could move a lot of air, even with a cropped prop, but I was most impressed with the Fairbanks Morse thumper.  Although huge by comparison to the Pratt & Whitney, it has a low, thumping sound that shook the ground as it pushed out its 400 or so horse power.  I could see my nephew really stop and think after I told him that the engine in my car turns out almost 300 horsepower and would easily fit into just one of the Fairbanks Morse’s six cylinders. 

The amount of time, material, and energy that it took “way back when” to get things done is mind blowing, but it is even more amazing that they were leaps and bounds ahead of the farmers and industrialist of just one generation prior.  After witnessing the ground shake, feeling the concussion of the exhaust, and hearing the loud hum of this huge engine, I will never again complain about my car running “rough,” the annoyance of a modern generator, or the way the neighbor’s leaf blower has interrupted a tranquil afternoon.  What our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents must have lived through in order to give us the life and the country that we presently are graced with is almost beyond comprehension.  Although it was impressive and exciting for an afternoon, I cannot imagine retaining my sanity if I had to work in a factory every day, with an engine like that running in the background.  Ah, how soft we have gotten…and I consider myself one of the stronger ones (mentally, anyways.)

"...take you for a ride on my big green tractor."

July 10, 2010 was a day I will remember for a long time.  With an active imagination, I can look into the fields of our sleepy dairy community and imagine what it was like without devise of power and implementation.  I can imagine was it was like when the first small, portable steam engines were introduced.  Whether one was working class or an industrialist, the dawn of the mechanical era must have been both frightening and invigorating.  The possibility of using power to make their daily tasks easier, quicker, and more efficient must have been mind boggling. 

I just purchased my first “smart phone” (a Motorola Droid, which I love, by the way) and cannot imagine how I lived without it.  But I can remember feeling the same thing when I purchased my first GPS, my first computer, my first laptop, and my first Bluetooth headset and compatible car stereo.  Those all fail in magnitude to what it must have been like to go from doing all your labor by hand to being able to rely on machines for your daily tasks.  Running a power “take-off” from a tractor or a small engine all of a sudden meant that laborious tasks, like pumping well water, spinning yarn, sawing wood, and sowing and harvesting crops, having always been done by hand, were all of a sudden something of an afterthought.  In a time when electricity was being introduced in the cities, farmers could use their new mechanical devices to run lights for harvesting.  Even in this modern era, surrounded by infinitely more complex equipment, I could feel the excitement that our ancestors must have felt when they first learned of, saw, and started to explore the possibilities of how a spinning driveshaft or a pumping piston could innovate their lives.  I think the Penngrove Museum of Power and Implement should be on every parent’s “to do” list.  Even if your kids only want to ride around on the train, the PMPI will expose them to history and culture rarely found in even the finest urban museums.  The same goes for non-parents.  Learning how our country was built and how it evolved through the use of machines, as well as discovering how many of these machines work, was one of the best days I have spent in my inquisitive years.   

…and even if you aren’t a gear head, many of the displays are true works of art, with classic lines and beautiful shades of color — more interesting, diverse, and beautiful than we could ever hope for from a tiny private museum run entirely by volunteers and donations.  (We bought two snow cones, several shirts and donated money to help power the Pratt & Whitney, which uses over a gallon a minute of expensive aviation fuel.  Please do your part if you get a chance to visit them at their next Power Up.)