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It’s Full Steam Ahead With Wi-Fi at Old Threshers Reunion

June 27, 2008

By Jeff Mills, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

Jun. 27–DENTON — Early 20th-century technology steamed headlong into early 21st-century technology Thursday, and the two eras had one thing in common:

Regardless of the year, there’s no accounting for human error.

With the start of the 38th annual Southeast Old Threshers Reunion just days away, the hosts at Denton FarmPark hatched a plan to use their antique steam shovel to install a Wi-Fi wireless antenna on the top of the park’s observation tower.

Robbie English of Denton, owner of South Davidson Technologies, volunteered to climb the business end of the steam shovel and be hoisted to the roof with the 6-foot antenna.

“I kind of stuck my foot in my mouth on this one,” English said, nervously pushing his eyeglasses higher on the bridge of his nose. “I’m not crazy about heights.”

English had nothing to worry about.

After a snail-paced 200-yard trek across the grounds from the storage barn to the tower, the old steam shovel couldn’t reach high enough to do the job.

They tried. Ken Clippinger clambered into the steam shovel’s saw-toothed steel bucket, and he carried the antenna as high as it would go. He made it a little more than halfway up the 32-foot tower but could reach no farther.

What will reach farther is the Internet.

English finished the installation from inside the observation tower, bringing the World Wide Web to the woods.

“We’re going to start with this antenna and see how far the coverage is,” English said. “Eventually, we want the whole FarmPark covered with wireless access. … I’m sure we’ll have to add more points to make that happen. Wireless works good when you’ve got line of sight. When trees start getting involved, it cuts down on wireless effectiveness.”

Those trees keep the more than 500 campsites at Denton FarmPark shaded.

Every one of the campsites will be filled next week. The Old Threshers Reunion, which runs from Tuesday through Saturday at the 140-acre park, drew more than 60,000 people during its five-day run last year.

“We’ve had a lot of requests” for Internet access, said Karen Miller, the park’s general manager. “People come into the office right now, asking to use our computer.”

All those requests prompted Miller and the park staff to bring wireless Internet access to a festival of antique farm equipment, engines and crafts.

The show is the largest of its kind in the Southeast with almost 1,000 tractors, none made after 1960.

Last year’s reunion drew people from eight states.

“For a lot of the people who come here, this falls at the end of their (fiscal) year,” Miller said. “They want to come and have a vacation, but they can’t leave their business behind. They need to be able to get on the computer to take care of some business.”

This year, they might even get a chance to post video of a coal-fired, steam-powered Type B Erie Shovel on Flickr or YouTube.

“It was built the same year I was born: 1916,” said 91-year-old driver Willard Moore of Jamestown.

“It doesn’t go too fast. You more or less have to figure feet per minute instead of miles per hour.”

But how fast will it download?

Contact Jeff Mills at 373-7024 or jeff.mills@news-record.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

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