Ray Ramey, president of the Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association, is gearing up for this weekend’s Small Engine Show at the site. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Turn back time at Chilliwack Threshermen’s site this weekend

Annual small engine show a chance to discover Fraser Valley history

It’s just another day at the Atchelitz Threshermen’s site.

An older gentleman walks purposefully down a gravel road, hands tucked in the bib of his grey striped coveralls. He moves past tractors, wagons, and antique shop fronts, before disappearing around a corner.

Across the field another man, Ron Finnigan, primes the engine of a tractor. It wheezes a bit but eventually catches. He smiles and drives away, towing a wagon behind. He’s off to meet a school group, and give them a grand tour of the site.

They’re just two of the 80-some members of the Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association (ATA), which has been preserving local history since 1982.

Anyone can drop into the ATA site, right beside the Chilliwack Heritage Park on Luckakuck Way. It’s a museum, complete with important historic artifacts, displays and records. But it’s also a busy, active workshop, and various members gather there daily to tinker away on their own pet projects, improve the site, or meet with the public.

And this weekend, they’re hoping to see plenty of visitors. They’ve been preparing for their annual, two-day Small Engine Show. Held every May long weekend, the event really kickstarts the summer season of visitors. ATA members will be on site all weekend to answer questions about the engines, local history, and the group itself.

There are engines that ran grain elevators, saw mills, forestry, mining, road and rail building equipment. Some of the machines even date back to the 1800s. Interest in small engines and engineering history seems to be waning, says ATA president Ray Ramey, and it’s a phenomenon that’s occurring everywhere. But looking to the past can be fascinating, especially to those in modern versions of engineering, construction, and manufacturing.

“This is basically the beginning of technology as it is today,” Ramey says, walking through the site’s Gasoline Alley. “There were a lot of people just building their own engines.”

Knowledge was more about hands-on trial and error, mechanical talents and engineering discovery. Machines were built for the job at hand, and that’s led to collections of small engines of every type.

Members “adopt” engines that are donated to the ATA, and care for them. Ramey has adopted one that helped shaped the roads we travel today. The blue, 20 horsepower Caterpillar Two Ton dates back to the 1920s, and was donated to the ATA by Bill Kingdon of Sardis.

“It spent some of its life working for the Department of Highways and was painted government orange,” a sign nearby explains. But Ramey admits, he’s not sure exactly what machine the engine powered. It’s one of several he’d like to eventually see running, of the 80 or 90 small engines stored around the site. Some of the owners of the engines have managed to get them, or keep them, operating as they did back in the day. Others have modified them slightly with modern starters, to have them operate smoothly.

“It’s not noticeable to the general public,” he says. “But I can see it.”

This weekend’s show is just one of several, held all around the world by other like-minded associations, Ramey says. The ATA is working at making their show bigger and better every year. This year’s theme is “Weird Apparatus,” and next year will expand to include miniatures and steam engines.

The ATA small engine show has been around since the 1980s, he notes, and usually includes a yard sale. The sale won’t be a part of this year’s event, and the reason is quite exciting. Ramey put in an application for a Canada 150 grant, and was shocked to receive $50,000 toward renovations. They are using the grant to put a concrete floor into barn area of the Pioneer Building, and that work was taking place this week.

That means they couldn’t access the upstairs area of the Pioneer Building, where many of the smaller items are placed, to move them downstairs and outside in time for the show.

But the public will be allowed through the Pioneer Building by this weekend, as with all the other nooks and crannies around the sprawling acreage.

There is something new to discover around every corner, especially for those who’ve never been, or those who have only taken a quick peek around.

“I call this Chilliwack’s best kept secret,” Ramey says.

The ATA Small Engine Show will run on Saturday and Sunday, May 20 and 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission to enter the site, but donations are always accepted. Some of the other highlights of the site include a small chapel, Granma’s Grill, the school room, a children’s play area, and the General Store.

For more information, visit www.atchelitz.ca or call 604-858-2119.