Shore Profile: Erick Harvey navigates the future while reflecting on the past
By Manning Lee | Photos by Maire Mcardle and Stephen Walker
Eric Harvey takes a break to tell about his role at Tuckahoe Steam and Gas
Now more than ever it is evident as Americans, we love the work of our hands and the blessings it brings. Work makes us feel alive, useful and connected to one another. We all work hard, but in our culture we play hard, too. Sometimes playing takes on the same intensity as our work. Passion for our playing is a serious business, as it keeps our grueling work pace at bay. One way we play is through our hobbies, and we take them very seriously, too.
On the Shore, we treasure our rich agricultural heritage. One popular hobby that celebrates our heritage centers around collecting, restoring and showing steam-engine tractors and the farm equipment of the agricultural steam age. We don’t use steam-engine tractors today, but they once played a major role in farming. They still live on in farm lore and in the hearts of people who make their living off the land. Of course, this hobby centers around collecting giant toys, but more importantly it encourages us to study and reflect upon the strengths of the American agricultural lifestyle. It’s about discovering the true grit our grandfathers needed to tame our lands and feed their people. It’s about claiming for ourselves our ancestral work ethic as an inheritance and using it in whatever our chosen profession.
Perhaps no one embodies a greater understanding of these principals today than local hobbyist, Eric Harvey of ER Harvey Metal Working Company in Easton. Eric was nine the year his father bought him his tractor, a 1935 McCormick Deering. His father already owned a few farm pieces and Eric worked on his tractor right alongside of his father. They began showing them together. Together they took their toys to the parades around Talbot County and to regional shows. One thing led to another and all the sudden they had five or six antique tractors. Sadly, Eric’s father died of cancer when Eric was fifteen. His family sold most of their collection, except for Eric’s tractor.
Eric stayed involved in the hobby by helping others care for their collections. Most of the men in the hobby were already in their 70s and 80s. They needed a younger person to help them with the more physically intensive projects. As he worked beside them, they mentored him and taught him the love of the hobby. Because of Eric’s passion for the agricultural steam engines and what he had learned from his mentors, he further involved himself in the Tuckahoe Steam and Gas Association and also their Annual Show.
“There were a couple of guys my age that we kind of did it as a group on weekend nights and weekends,” he said. Eric joined the board of directors of Tuckahoe Steam and Gas when he was 18 years old. “Of course, being on the board of directors leads to collecting more things that are related to the world agricultural hobby,” he said.
As a purist collector, Eric described his collection of toys. “I collect a little bit of everything from corn shellers to thrashing machines,” he said. At one time he even worked for a steam powered railroad. As a married man, he and his wife continued Eric’s passion in the hobby. They found a Frick Steam Tractor built in 1899 and restored it to its operating condition. “We have a sawmill that makes roof shingles for houses that was built around 1900. We also bought a horse powered treadmill. To make it work, you put a horse in it. As the horse walks, it powers a transmission that runs a power take off shaft and you hook that to a pulley, that runs a thresher machine, a sawmill or whatever you need. That was built before 1900,” he described.
These machines and the interworking parts keep Eric busy at his shop. He spends most Saturdays with his friends repairing and making parts either for his antique tractor or making parts for someone else’s antique tractor or steam engine part. That is how his hobby got him started in his trade which is welding and blacksmithing.
A peek into a shed at the Tuckahoe Steam and Gas shed.
“All of these machines have something broken on them. You’ve got to fix them,” he said. That’s where this hobby is more like a team sport. Eric contributes his talents and resources as the welder and blacksmith of the team, they have machinists, wood workers, they even have a friend in Pennsylvania who has a foundry that makes cast iron parts for them. Through this network of friends, they keep the hobby going. Their teamwork and comradery are essential to the hobby. Each summer Eric and his family and team of hobbyists prepare for the regional shows where they show off the work they’ve been doing all year. “This isn’t something you can do by yourself. It takes several people to load and unload our equipment into tractor trailers. We help each other get to and from each of the shows,” he said.
A key life lesson, but also important to the success to this hobby, is the principle of recycling. “We collect everything. If something breaks, we take the nuts and bolts apart and put the bolts away saving them for next time. You might restore a tractor or engine and there might be extra parts that you save for something else. That’s what we need to learn as a people, we can’t be a society that uses things one time and then throws them away. Here in the shop, we recycle everything. Nothing goes in the trash. The parts and pieces for some of these tractors are near and dear and are worth a fortune. That translates into life today. We repurpose things and try to make everything count. That’s something that I take away from my work in this hobby,” Eric explained.
When all is said and done, after the machines are fixed and in working condition, the summer steam shows are finished for the season, what do the people of this agricultural hobby hope to accomplish? “When it gets down to it, we want to show each new generation how hard life was on the farms. We want them to know what tools their ancestors had to work with and what an advancement having these machines made in agriculture,” Eric said.