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A State Fair Blast from the Past

Just outside Pioneer Hall at the Iowa State Fair, you can see a relic from the past still chugging away. Well, clacking away is more accurate.

It’s a gristmill. A post-turn of the century gristmill, according to Jack Smith.

Jack Smith describes what a gristmill does.

“What this unit would do,” he says, over the steady din made by gas engines, shellers, and machinery humming around him, “is you’d put it in a stationary installation inside a building, and you can make cracked corn out of it; you can actually make flour with it. It has two stones inside it that go closer together and farther apart,” he says with his hands, “It quite literally will grind corn as fast as you can pour it in the top.”

The Central Hawkeye Gas Engine and Tractor Association maintains the machines strewn out in front of Pioneer Hall, and Jack is the association’s president.

Perry Smith is an expert on antique enginesAt the Iowa State Fair’s first day, the sun is beating down. Why stand out in the heat just to grind corn with arcane technology?

“A lot of kids nowadays don’t realize where their food comes from,” says Perry Smith, a Central Hawkeye member and an expert on antique gas engines. “[They don’t realize] how much hard work it took to get it to the level we’re at today. Food doesn’t come from Hy-Vee and Walmart.”

The Central Hawkeye Gas Engine and Tractor Association is set up along the ramp leading to the front entrance of Pioneer Hall.