Pioneer Steam Engine Enthusiasts

Women put a new spin on steam engine show with "It's a Girl Thing."

DanaCarl_InfamousPinkBalls.jpg

Left: The infamous pink balls. Dana Carl and one of her “Girl Thing” collaborators playing with a steam engine.

Content Tools

Blame their dads. If their dads hadn't taught these girls to love steam engines when they were little children, they wouldn't be the pioneering women they are today. Take Coe Emens, for example. Owner of the Coe "Z" Acres Farm at Mason, Mich., he's trained his daughter, Dana Carl, in all things mechanical.

Dana is at home with all kinds of vintage machinery. Last fall, her family hosted a "farm celebration" following a bountiful harvest. Good food, good friends and festivities were in ample supply. Dana began the celebration day by driving a 1958 Willys Jeep around the place, and finished the day bullying a steam engine around the south end of the west field. Her Jeep runs around the farm as though it has been doing it forever. From time to time, Dana will twitch the steering wheel a bit, but mostly the Jeep seems to follow the established tracks all by itself.

Dana, who got married early last year, has been doing the steam engine thing since she was in the seventh grade. A well-established steam show is held at Mason each year, sponsored by the Michigan Steam Engine & Threshers Club. The Emens family and assorted relatives are deeply involved in this annual event. The nearly 50-year-old show even inspired the family to find their own steam engine.

The flea market section of the Mason show takes on a life of its own. Nearby, those who display and operate tractors, farm equipment and steam engines are perpetually busy. It was in this environment that Dana first started fussing with her family's tractor. To fully appreciate this, you must understand the relationship between Dana and her father, Coe Emens III. Dana has been wrapping him around her finger since she was tiny. It takes a lot to get Coe riled, and folks know that.

About four years ago, a new development transpired at the Mason show … It's a Girl Thing. Dana and friends Lori Ott, Howell, Mich.; Kelly Barson, Jackson, Mich.; and Beth Grosshaus, Gregory, Mich., started it. The four women, fully experienced operators of vintage steam tractors, began doing the same things that the "guys" had been doing since Adam, but with a feminine touch.

Decked out in matching T-shirts, hats and membership buttons that trumpeted "IT'S A GIRL THING," the four put their own spin on what has long been a male-only pursuit. With music wafting from CD players, and with charm bracelets sparkling on slender wrists, the quartet put their steamers through their paces. Anyone who has bonded with peers at deer camp or on a Red Hat outing would feel a kindred spirit with these trailblazers.

The movement thrived. Being young women, the group enjoyed the energy of youth. High spirits sometimes translate to late-night mischief. One morning two years ago, folks at the Mason show awoke to see governor balls on the girls' steamers painted an eye-catching shade of pink. This is not a customary accent shade on big, black steamers. Folks take a second look.

By all accounts, those pink governor balls attracted plenty of attention as the day got underway. Coe remained calm, but some of the old timers didn't take kindly to the innovation, and spent the morning reblacking the brightly hued balls. The founding members of "It's a Girl Thing," however, were undaunted.

Last year, forging ahead in true pioneer spirit, the young women encouraged their peers to "think outside the box." One morning during the Mason steam show, folks awoke to see gleaming pink governor balls on eight engines belonging to other people. This abomination stoked some highly emotional responses, until it was discovered that the balls had not been painted pink, but were instead merely wrapped in bright pink aluminum foil. Tempers cooled as the purists removed the foil.

Months later, on the surface, calm prevails. Still, as this year's Mason steam show approaches, many wonder … what will happen? We will be watching - everyone will be - waiting to see the latest installment of what has become "A Girl Thing."

- For more information:
Cecil Darnell is a freelance writer and photographer living in Michigan.

Michigan Steam Engine and Threshers Club 47th Annual Reunion, featuring Keck-Gonnerman, July 29-31, Mason, Mich., 3 miles south on Highway 127, northeast corner of Barnes Road exit. Contact: Carl Knoblauch, 308 Van Buren, Apt. B-402, Jackson, MI 49201; (517) 819-1471.