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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Antique gas and steam engines at fair kept in good condition, for a purpose

Hugh Grim, left, a longtime hobbyist who restores old farm windmills, chats with Spokane County Interstate Fair visitor David Haraway, right, under an antique windmill that was pumping water Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 at the fair. Grim’s windmills are usually displayed near the antique gas and steam engines on the south side of the fairgrounds. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Hugh Grim, left, a longtime hobbyist who restores old farm windmills, chats with Spokane County Interstate Fair visitor David Haraway, right, under an antique windmill that was pumping water Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 at the fair. Grim’s windmills are usually displayed near the antique gas and steam engines on the south side of the fairgrounds. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Long before the gates opened Friday morning at the Spokane County Interstate Fair, there were plenty of attractions.

In the Steam and Gas area near the south entrance, Hugh Grim tended to his windmill. Twenty feet away, Jim Lunneborg fiddled with a tiny 97-year-old engine.

Many decades ago, both were standard equipment on nearly every farm and ranch in Eastern Washington. They drew water and powered the machinery that helped feed the region.

Now they’re consigned to the fringes of an event they helped to create. After the gates opened, most fairgoers ambled past the machines and toward the cotton candy sellers in the middle of the fairgrounds.

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Those who stopped were rewarded with a glimpse into a rich heritage, thanks to the passion of the members of the Inland Empire Steam and Gas Buffs club.

Their mission is to educate the public on antique farming methods and the pioneer way of living.

Tractors dominate the scenery in the Steam and Gas area. Lunneborg had two tractors on display, but he preferred to talk about the smaller creations he’s refurbished into like-new condition.

“They bring back a lot of memories,” said Lunneborg, who grew up on a farm near Mount Spokane where his family grew row crops, grass seed and wheat.

His contraptions included a 1.5-horsepower engine from 1922, which can be connected by a belt to a water pump or grain grinder.

Also on display were manual lawn mowers and a Town & Country riding mower from the 1970s; compared with current riding mowers, it looks like a kiddie car with its 5-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine.

“But it runs just fine,” said Lunneborg, a past president of the IESGB and a resident of Newman Lake who has pursued his hobby for at least 10 years.

Grim has pursued his passion for windmills for decades and is going into his second decade displaying his restorations at the fair.

He enjoyed a trickle of visitors, who looked the windmill up and down as it drew water from a large tub and returned it via a tilting bucket.

“They call me the windmill man, and sometimes worse things,” Grim said.

Joy comes from rescuing old windmills before they’re consigned to the scrap heap, a mission that takes the 88-year-old Grim around the region.

“It keeps me young,” said Grim, whose agricultural roots go almost as deep as Lunneborg’s.

Grim worked for decades throughout the Inland Northwest as a general contractor, building grain elevators and grain storage buildings while developing a keen understanding of the mechanics of farming.

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The wind-driver windmills were vital to farms early in the 20th century but gave way to electric power after the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

Today, most farms draw water with electric submersible pumps.

Through his work, Grim developed an appreciation of the rural way of life, especially the windmills. He works to “not only save them but beautify them,” Grim said.

His handiwork can be seen around the county, especially in the Dishman-Mica area and at his home on the western edge of Spokane.

He has a 1907 Red Cross windmill and a 1924 Flint & Walling, plus a 1910 Dempster model.

“They aren’t pumping water but they could,” Grim said.

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