Do you remember the new kid at the playground who stood on the sidelines with his glove, just wanting to get in the game like everyone else? That’s what I was reminded of when my soon-to- be-new friend Paul flew by myself and Rich Beaman. I remember thinking Paul’s ’85 Gold Wing looked more than slightly out of place at the end of the freight train of ape-hangered, pipe-wrapped bikes that had just gone by, and I wondered what the story was, but figured I’d never see him again to find out.
Rich and I had vowed to make some time to enjoy the wonderful roads of wild and wonderful West Virginia this year, so we found ourselves heading out of town on a Saturday morning, going no place in particular. The group to which Paul was tethered was riding with, shall we say, great purpose, the polar opposite of the “I don’t know where I’m at and I don’t care” pace that Rich and I were setting.
When we pulled over a while later to determine where we were and where we were going, Paul reappeared and pulled into the parking lot with us. We introduced ourselves and invited him to ride with us, and he did. We rolled south on 119 to Grafton, where Mother’s Day was founded, and then rode east on Route 50 through the switchbacks of Friend Gap toward Maryland. At this point, Rich and I realized we’d been here before on a vintage ride years ago, recognizing Cool Springs Park—a popular gas/food stop with an exceptional stash of old tractors, machinery and vehicles—but we still didn’t really know exactly where we were. We pushed on a few more miles then reconnoitered to decide how to get roughly back to the Mountainfest Rally. We decided that Cool Springs Park would be a better choice of places to ponder this, and surprisingly the suggestion was warmly welcomed by Paul.
Once we got back to Cool Springs Park, the kind of place you might expect to find the world’s largest ball of string, we were greeted by a tame turkey roaming the parking lot, and it only got better from there. We took some time to discover the bounty of old machinery assembled and resting in this wooded grove on U.S. 50. The sign beneath the life-sized artificial Guernsey cow on the roof of the general store proclaimed, “Established in 1929.”
Cool Springs Park features a mixture of steam engines, early farm tractors, railroad equipment and trucks. Paul had an interest in farm equipment and knew a potato digger from a plow. It turns out he’s involved with an antique machinery club based in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Most of the gas-powered tractors were Farmalls or Fordsons, with one lone John Deere thrown in for good measure. The steam tractors were mostly Eclipse, manufactured from 1876–1930 by the Frick Company in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.
None of the tractors had moved in years and most were showing the effects of Mother Nature. She hadn’t been kind. If Mother Nature was a real mom, she’d be brought up on abuse charges. A dropped tree here and swallowed wheel there, these old-timers deserve a better life, but there is a quiet dignity in what is left of them. As we dug a little deeper, we found an old Ford Model AA truck from the late 20’s or early 30’s resting peacefully under a machinery shed next to a Ford convertible of the same vintage. It’s like we are watching history fade before our eyes.
Inside the general store/diner/souvenir shop, Roadside America had been waiting patiently for our arrival. A lunch counter, convenience store and cedar trinkets with your name on them were mixed in with postcards and various hardware items like wood-burning stove elbows and flashlight batteries. They don’t make them like this anymore. The sign above the cash register next to founder E. Harlan Castle’s picture reads, “Old Enough for Yesterday… Modern Enough for Tomorrow.” I hope Harlan was right, ’cause this place is too cool to lose, even though we couldn’t find any old bikes.
We eventually made it back to Mountainfest where the polished chrome lights and beautiful mile-deep paint jobs were in stark contrast to the more rustic beauty we’d just enjoyed at Cool Springs Park. I wonder what these bikes will look like in a hundred years, buried to the hubs in dirt, with maple saplings growing out of the oil tanks.