‘One of the best shows around’: Thousands turn out for Bernardston Gas Engine Show, Flea Market & Craft Fair 

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2023 2:42 PM

BERNARDSTON — Plenty of “pops” were heard across Pratt Field during the 47th annual Bernardston Gas Engine Show, Flea Market & Craft Fair over the weekend, as collectors showed off their restored antique gas engines and tractors.

“People love to watch the gas engine just popping away,” said Russell Deane, event co-founder.

The event began as a small tag sale as a fundraiser for the United Church of Bernardston. The founders went to an antique gas engine show, or “putt putt show,” in New Hampshire, and decided to bring a similar show to town.

“Our first year we had two engines; the next year we had six. We kept doing it and it kept going,” Deane said.

And the show certainly kept growing. Now the show attracts 4,000 to 6,000 people annually who show up in Bernardston from across the Northeast to see how technology has changed.

The show has about 30 rows of hobbyists showing antique collectibles ranging from snowmobiles, cars, tractors and — the star of the show — engines. There are also about 100 flea market vendors selling crafts and everything under the sun.

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Throughout the year, hobbyists, with the largest demographic being retired men who love to tinker, buy and trade antique engines and restore them in their free time. They wait for the summer to travel far and wide to attend these specialty exhibitions, showing off their handy skills to like-minded people.

Many make a weekend out of the event, coming in their RVs and making friends on the grounds.

“This is a chance to make friends, get out of the house for the weekend and get away from the craziness,” said Don Quintal, who traveled to the show from Hampstead, New Hampshire.

Quintal camped out for the weekend with his son who has been attending the event since 2004.

The hobby is often passed down through the generations. Bob Allen, logistics chair for the entire show, explained many of the people who attend the fair have done so their whole lives, starting out as small children.

Whately resident Stephen Upham said he had been to every show in Bernardston for the past 47 years. He came this year proud of his restored engine from 1910. Being a fourth-generation collector, he started restoring engines in the 1970s. After restoring many since he began, he was able to purchase his 1910 engine last year. This weekend was his first opportunity to show off his work.

Many single-cylinder engine fanatics take their antique engines that no longer have a purpose, and set them up to do something new. Several on display pumped wells and Quintal’s made popcorn.

The organizers used to churn ice cream with an antique engine to sell to the public, but stopped this year. They instead use the engine to spin entire hogs of meat over an open flame to prepare for the ham and bean supper they host on Saturday night.

Organized by the United Church of Bernardston, the event is a fundraiser to pay for general upkeep of the church. The organizers raise money by selling food and taking donations in the parking lot.

Hundreds come out for the ham and bean supper on Saturday night, but vendors also sell hamburgers, hot dogs, baked potatoes, pie and more in individual tents run throughout the weekend.

Over the years the show has grown to add new events like a tractor pull, parade and educational tents set up by various local groups.

“This is one of the best shows around,” Upham said. “It has been here about the longest and it’s laid-back.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com

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