For 50 long years – from 1870 to 1920 – steam engines remained popular, not only on our farms but in our factories as well. Then the more convenient gas engine arrived on the scene, became widely used, and quickly phased out the cumbersome, heavy, steam-powered machinery which required large amounts of water and coal to operate. The shortage of labor on our farms in the 1920s – during the Great Depression—and ever since, was, it is believed, another contributing factor to the steam engine’s rapid demise. For those five decades, though, steam engines played a vital role in our country’s development, leading to the high standard of living we enjoy today.
It was late 1954 when Mr. Walter Armacost, Mr. Benton “Eddie” Martin, Mr. Howell Leppo, and his son Mr. Raymond Leppo attended a steam show in Kinzers, Pennsylvania. Observing the other visitors to the show, Walter, Eddie, Howell and Raymond realized that the younger generations didn’t know what the antiquated steam-powered machinery was used for, because it had long since disappeared from most farms. Having enjoyed the Kinzers event tremendously and inspired by the amount of interest many others had shown in the steam engines and farm equipment of yesteryear, the four friends hatched the idea of establishing an organization in their own community. They wished to preserve, exhibit, and demonstrate the operation of the old Steam-powered equipment that had served them so long and so well.
So it was that on January 22, 1955, the four gentlemen hosted their first meeting at Walter’s place of business, a farm equipment enterprise. They and five other friends—Harry Severn, Clarence Nott, Edgar Osborn, John Tillman, and Henry Grant—all of whom were collectors or steam buffs, drew up plans for the new organization. Officers were elected that very evening, and Walter Armacost became the group’s first president. Harry Severn was elected vice-president, Charles W. Spicer became secretary/treasurer, and Henry D. Grant became acting secretary. At the third meeting, Mr. Spicer relinquished the position of secretary, remaining as treasurer, and Henry Grant assumed the position of secretary. Three directors were selected for the first year, and they were Howell Leppo of Hampstead, Edgar Osborn of Reisterstown, and Eddie Martin of Upperco. Other attendees of record at that first meeting were Raymond Leppo of Sparks, Clarence Nott of Millers, and John W. Tillman of Glyndon.
During the group’s second meeting they deliberated over a name for the organization. Among the names submitted for consideration were” Old Steam Thresherman’s Association of Maryland,” suggested by Edgar Osborn; “Maryland Auto Steam Historical Association,” Walter Armacost’s proposal; “Portable Steam Power Engineers Association of Maryland,” Clarence Notts idea; “Maryland Historical Steam and Mechanical Engineers Association,” suggested by Ambrose Harn; “Old Reliable Throttle Boys of Maryland,” John Tillman’s suggestion; and “Steam Enthusiast of Maryland,” Henry Grant’s recommendation. Charles W. Spicer’s suggestion was selected unanimously by the twelve members present. Thus, “The Maryland Steam Historical Society” came into being.
It was also then decided that the Society’s by-laws would be patterned after those of the Hereford Volunteer Fire Company, with a few alterations as needed. Membership dues were set at $2, and suggestions for the design of an emblem were considered. A two-ball governor was one idea; Clarence Nott agreed to come up with others. Even so, no decision was made as to an official club logo.
Wasting no time, the Society held its first public exhibit of steam engines in 1955, from July 6th-16th, as a part of the Arcadia Firemen’s Carnival. Our show got its start with only five steam engines which our founding members had preserved for no other reason than their love and devotion to steam engines. Members who did not own original steam engines built models which could operate such devices as washing machines and butter churns. One particular member who had no steam engines to contribute instead offered a hand operated corn-sheller and a farm dinner bell, also tokens of a bygone era. The exhibit was a wonderful success, attracting a great deal of attention and the group had high hopes that their club would grow rapidly. Indeed, by December of that year, only five months later, membership had increased from 23 to 32. And by the time the Society held its 19th meeting on October 9, 1956, that number had increased to 82!
The decision was then made to incorporate the organization, and the appropriate papers were drawn up and filed at the court house in Towson, Baltimore County. From then on, records were kept of all meetings, and it was decided to also accept women into the society. Mrs. Delton Schaffer was the first women to become a member, and nine more ladies immediately followed her. Subsequently, many of the members wives eagerly joined and participated in all of the activities, and those who wished to, served as officers.
On November 13, 1956, the incorporated papers were read and approved by the members, and signed by the members and signed by Walter Armacost, Howell Leppo, Eddie Martin, and Russell Eiker. A month later, on December 27, 1956 The Maryland Steam Historical Society was officially recorded, with a membership of 97.
Over the years, our annual steam shows have been increasingly popular, and we hope they will continue to hold the public’s interest, for we believe they provide an educational and interesting exhibition of the tools and equipment our forefathers employed during those incredible 50 years.