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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Steam and Gas Buffs make old fashioned rope at the Spokane County Interstate Fair

Sept. 14, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 14, 2022 at 9:36 p.m.

Nevella Parris, age 10, spun a hand crank to wind three strings together, forming a colorful foot-long strand of rope for herself Wednesday at the Spokane County Interstate Fair, while Phil Kuhnkey guided her through the traditional technique.

“I like teaching the kids,” Kuhnkey said.

Every year at the fair, he and his friend Chuck Lyons demonstrate how to use simple rope-making machines from the early 1900s to anyone who is curious.

The contraptions work by stretching three or four separate strands of twine attached to a counterweight at one end and to hooks on the crank at the other. One person turns the crank while another keeps the ropes separated until they twist around each other to transform the individual strings into a sturdy piece of rope. The rope is taped off at the end to hold it in place for a couple weeks while it sets in.

Lyons operates a slightly larger version with two cinderblock counterweights. He found his crank, with a 1907 patent, online.

“There were a lot made,” he said. “This seems to be the one that was simplest and cheapest.”

These tools became popular as a way for farmers to use twine leftover from wheat-bundling, Lyons said. Historically, a nonmotorized machine called a “binder” could harvest grain into bundles. At the end of the day, a little twine might be leftover on the spool. Too much to throw away, but not enough for another day of harvesting.

“What do you do with it?” Lyons said. “Well, you put it away in the barn, and it’s in there for who knows how long, and you almost forget you have it, and some salesman comes along and says, ‘I can sell you this thing here that will make rope out of that, give you something useful out of that waste.’ ”

Kuhnkey said he can make a rope in about a minute and ten seconds. He makes up to 1,500 a year to give away.

The rope-making demonstration is part of the Inland Empire Steam and Gas Buffs area in the southeast section of the fairgrounds.

The Steam and Gas Buffs also display antique tractors, gas engines from the early 1900s and windmills. They also host a tractor pull every day at 2 p.m.

The Spokane County Interstate Fair runs through Sunday.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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