Christian Williams, associate editor of Gas Engine Magazine, poses with a 1920 1.5 horsepower International Model M engine that he and magazine editor-in-chief Richard Backus plan to restore. (Photo provided)
Christian Williams, associate editor of Gas Engine Magazine, poses with a 1920 1.5 horsepower International Model M engine that he and magazine editor-in-chief Richard Backus plan to restore. (Photo provided)
He could hardly be called a veteran in the world of collecting and restoring gas engines.

But what Christian Williams lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm, a desire to learn, and a passion for introducing younger generations to what most see as a hobby for older men.

Williams, the associate editor of Gas Engine Magazine, will bring his unique perspective to this week's 44th annual Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association show.

While it will be just the third Portland show for Williams, he has been to a total of 12 gas engine shows since taking his current position in 2007 less than a month before the Tri-State Show.

"The Portland show is a great way to learn about the hobby. Everyone there is very interested in educating people who want to learn. (The exhibitors) hope to run into someone who thinks their hobby is interesting."

Williams, who will be at the Tri-State show on Thursday and Friday, will come away with a long list of stories to write for the magazine, and even more good memories.

"I like to hang out with the people ... and not only do I get to meet a lot of people, but I end up cultivating a lot of stories. I'm still running stories from last year's show ... and in the past year, the vast majority of videos I've put up on our site through YouTube ... are from the Portland show," he says.

Williams, whose previous experience with antique gas engines was strolling past some as a child at a fair in Sandwich, Ill., is now a gas engine collector as well as a magazine editor.

And one of his missions is sharing the excitement he has for the hobby with a younger crowd.

"It doesn't take too long walking around a show to recognize the hobby is supported by the older generation ... and you've got to get the younger people involved," he says. "I'm try to use the Internet to reach that web-savvy generation. We've got the YouTube site set up ... and it's also helped our older generation realize the value of the Internet."

He says that his perspective as a newcomer who has immersed himself into the world of gas engine collecting has allowed him to see a rebellious streak in collectors - a trait that could attract younger participants.

"When you go to a show, there's kind of a proud defiance going on. These guys are proud they're interested in what most people would consider to be a completely archaic idea. There's also a segment of younger people who respond to that same kind of defiance. These kids find it interesting to kind of buck the trend (of today) and go back to what their parents and grandparents were into," Williams says. "The trickier part is introducing younger people who have absolutely no background or connection (to gas engines)."

Gas Engine Magazine showcases young collectors, both male and female, in each of its issues. And those issues are packed with information gleaned from the Tri-State show. In fact, two of the three latest issues (July and September) have cover photos taken at the 2008 show in Portland.

The July cover features a 1904 8 horsepower International that is the oldest known IHC engine, while the September edition showcases a 2.5 horsepower Aermotor shown by Art Gaier.

Many of the magazine's 18,000-plus subscribers will be at the Portland show, Williams says. And, if they're not at the Tri-State Show, they will very likely be at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant the following week.

Asked why he believes the Tri-State show grew into the largest of its kind, it's obvious Williams has given the subject some thought.

"As far as location is concerned ... it's kinda strange that Portland, Ind., would be the epicenter for gas engine shows. A lot of it has to do with longevity," he says, adding that the Jay County Fairgrounds makes for an ideal location.

"There's plenty of shade for people to set up under. It's a very large space that doesn't feel constrained. It's kinda snowballed in a positive way. And Portland's definitely an area of the country where farming's been a way of life. It's essential. You couldn't set up the world's largest show in New York City.

"(The Tri-State club has) been able to get everything right. Organization is definitely a key to that. Other shows have been around just as long, but they lack the organization the Tri-State group has," says Williams.

Williams and his boss, Gas Engine editor-in-chief Richard Backus, recently purchased a 1920 1.5 horsepower International Model M engine.

He and Backus plan to begin restoration of the engine in the fall, with the intention of having it up and running for shows in and around their home, Topeka, Kan., next summer.

While he's no expert in the mechanical workings of old engines, Williams, a history major in college, describes himself as "an enthusiast in terms of the history of the engines ... I find it fascinating to do research on some of these obscure companies."

In fact, the magazine's readers have come to rely on Williams and other staff members' detective skills, as well as submit questions about their engines and/or parts. More often than not, those questions are answered.

Williams, in addition to being a gas engine journalist and enthusiast, is also a folk musician who recently released the 12-song CD, "Songs of the Iron Men," featuring poems written by early 20th century farmers, threshermen and their wives.

The poems were published in Iron-Men Album (later re-named Steam Traction) in the 1950s and 60s. Williams wrote the music, sang, played instruments and produced the entire CD in his home studio.

Although he won't be performing during the Tri-State show (he says it would be tough to carry his guitar and other instruments onto a plane), copies of the CD will be available at the Farm Collector booth near the north end of the engine area.

Though new to the hobby, Williams has quickly learned that the men and women who collect, repair, restore and proudly display historic gas engines are among the proverbial sharpest tools in the shed.

"A lot of the attraction for these guys is the technical stuff. These guys are really smart," says Williams. "Some of these guys who restore these engines, if they'd have lived 100 years ago, they're the ones who would have been making the engines. Every single one of them is a genius as far as restorers of gas engines. Some of these guys will travel the world trying to find engines and bring them back for restoration."