Smithsburg athletics pick up steam from yearly festival
Steam engines power a sawmill, cutting giant logs to size for building shelves and rooms. Rot-resistant cedar is fashioned into shingles before a craftsman uses a red-hot, coal-fire forge to brand each one.
It sounds like a scene from yesteryear, and in a way, it is. But today, it’s a fundraiser that draws more than 12,000 people and brings in tens of thousands of dollars each year for the Smithsburg High School Leopards’ athletics program.
The 45th annual Smithsburg Steam Engine and Craft Show will take place Saturday, Sept. 28 and Sunday, Sept. 29 behind the Smithsburg Volunteer Fire Co. The fundraiser — featuring tractors and gas engines, steam and traction engines, saw and shingle mill demonstrations — also offers a steam engine and antique tractor parade Saturday at 5 p.m.
Art and crafts, antiques and flea market items, as well as home cooking and the event’s legendary kettle-cooked Leopard Stew will be available for sale. Breakfast is served each day from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the concessions area. Admission is free with donations accepted for parking.
“The event has been around a really long time. There is a lot to see,” event chairman H Schmieder said. “People start filling the parking lot at 6:30 or 7 a.m.”
Schmieder anticipates the show will feature around 300 tractors ranging from modern lawn mowers and tractors to antique varieties and “hit and miss” engines.
“There is a whole bunch of antique farm equipment,” he said. “They’ll be threshing hay that a committee member has grown in his field and cut. They’ll use a steam powered thresher.”
Smithsburg is an orchard town with a rich agricultural history. Organizers capitalize on that history for the benefit of its young people.
“It’s a farming town. That is the history of the town and that’s why it exists. It is a farming community,” he said. “We are surrounded by dairy farms, regular farms and a lot of orchards — peaches, apples, things like that. The show started and was based off of that.”
The event’s parade, he said, follows that concept.
“We have local officials, floats, high school and middle school marching bands. It’s very community-oriented,” he said. “Everything is based around the history of the town and the farming community. We have no hot rods. It’s tractors and farm equipment.”
A successful recipe
Athletes and their families are required to volunteer at the event. This unique formula has been successful for decades. While many athletic programs struggle for funding, Smithsburg High School has thrived in large part due to the show.
“Smithsburg has a lot of athletic ‘firsts’ in the county because this show does so well,” Schmieder said. “For instance, we were the first high school to have a full-time athletic trainer when everybody else had part-time. We donate an awful lot of money from these two days. We cut a big check.”
Last year, the show brought in $42,500, he said.
The bulk of proceeds comes from food sales, which include two kinds of soup cooked in iron kettles over an open fire. The recipe for Leopard Stew came from “somebody’s gramma” 45 years ago and remains in a notebook that has been passed on over the years, he said.
Other popular fare includes hand-cut fries that come from potatoes grown on a local farm.
“We hand-cut 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of potatoes in two days for the fries. We get them off of a 12-foot trailer. Everything we have is local — the red potatoes for the home fries for breakfast. All the meats are fresh from a local butcher,” he said.
Athlete volunteers make homemade pies to sell. Organizers provide them with pans and recipes.
“We’ll have 180 pies that we sell at the concessions stand,” Schmieder said.
A community effort for the kids
Athletes and their families work to support the event in other aspects as well.
“The way it started 45 years ago is that every fall athlete and one parent has to work a two-hour shift,” Schmieder said. “What they do is determined by the sport and by the roster. Different people do concessions, parking, trash pick-up. We will have at least 200 volunteers.”
Schmieder has lived in the Smithsburg area for about 16 years. His friend Dan Rishell chaired the show many years before Schmieder took the reins.
Schmieder’s wife, Carrie, oversees the 150-plus vendor portion the event.
The couple has two children who have graduated from Smithsburg High School and one in middle school. All have been involved in local sports.
“Everything is geared around raising money for the Smithsburg High School Athletic Boosters,” Schmieder said. “The whole thing is very community-oriented. We try to make it all about the kids.”