This year’s Historical Construction Equipment Association Show was in my backyard, held at the IUOE Local 150 training facility in Wilmington, Ill. Having never attended, I drove down to see what I could see.
The highlight was two Erie steam shovels rebuilt by Local 150 technicians and operated by Local 150 operators. I posted a short video on our Facebook page. What struck me was how silent the machines were when they weren’t working. At the end of the video, after swinging the bucket off to the side, the machine quiets. If you listen carefully as the operator pulls the chain that releases the floor of the bucket, you can hear the dirt hit the ground with a “whoomph.”
I was there on Friday, a travel day according to HCEA folks, so there was a limited number of machines. Two, in fact, arrived while I was there and more were supposed to be coming throughout the day an into Saturday.
But those few machines rumbled up and started moving earth. I’ve posted a few pictures here, but the rest are on our Facebook page.
As I left the demonstration site—hot and dusty—the experience of seeing these old pieces of working iron enriched my understanding of machinery. We’re in awe when we see today’s machines, able to haul 400 tons, load and carry in speedy cycles, or dig lengthy trenches in a couple of hours. Watching those steam shovels helped me appreciate the amount of work done years ago at a slow pace, yet building projects that still stand. Watching a cable-powered excavator dig from a bench—without bucket curl—helped me appreciate the skill the operators had then.
And watching the operators of these machine fire them up and put them to work reminded me of the passion shared for iron. As I drove home, I was glad I could share in it.