1026 Kearney Manhattan, Kansas 66502
The Northwest corner of downtown Kansas, Buckle on the Wheat belt, once again played host to four fun filled days of high plains style of antique engine and threshers show. Bird City came alive with a puff of steam, a cloud of smoke and the whirl of gears. Folks gather around every year to play hard, after working hard gathering in the wheat and delivering it to the grain elevator, and 1990 was a record breaking year.
The pioneer exhibit gets a little more crowded in spite of the new building, which took no time at all to fill up. One of the exhibits drawing attention last summer was the wool and spinning booth. The pioneer exhibit includes vintage home furnishings for the ranch house, farm house, or even a homestead dugout. Farther down the long aisles, one can experience early prairie life in village stores, as well as tradesmen's shops.
The steam races and parades are every day. Those big old engines running quiet and smooth, sometimes make you wonder how gas and diesel ever replaced coal on the farm and rail. I may just be a hopeless romantic, but those coal burners sure do look better to me, and they certainly do smell better.
I can never say enough about the older folks. Of course, 'older folks', is a relative term. To some of the younger engineers, I'm well over the hill, however, to the older folks at Bird City, I'm still a kid who needs a little guidance now and then. Anyhow, as many years as I've been coming to the show, there's always a whole bunch more old methods that I seem to pick up. I had a little more time this year to spend with the early gas tractors, and there was always somebody older than the tractor to show me how to start or operate it. Here I'd like to give special thanks to Floyd Wright for helping me out.
With the help of the Threshing Master, Leo Wilkins, and my helper engineer, John O'Neal, I threshed some of that 1990 record setting wheat crop with the Russell. Stopping the engine, however, I got into trouble as the belt flew off the flywheel in the direction of the engine and it got tangled in the clutch, but, Leo was patient with me as he inspected the job I did of destroying his belt. John O'Neal, by the way, won about two thirds of the slow races while running that Russell.
Leo Wilkins always brings part of his toy collection around to the show. The show cases filled with miniature farm implements and trains always brings in the little ones with their noses pressed against the glass. Above the cases, suspended from the beams, swings Leo's collection of little red wagons, most of which were manufactured of wood.
Every year from Bird City, I carry away an armload of fond memories and a long list of new friends. On the way in, at the top of my packing list, is my appetite for those fabulous pies baked fresh every morning by the lovely ladies of Cheyenne County. They bake about 37 different kinds of pie and I love all 37. When it comes to feeding a person, better fare cannot be had anywhere, at any price, than at the Tri-State Show. Inside the dining hall is the stationary steam engine exhibit which includes one highly polished and smooth running Corliss. Our little Corliss was made at the Murray Iron Works, Burlington, Iowa.
Nellie Le Bow Burr, Bird City's own 1990 thresher queen, was born in 1902, out on her father's ranch; her father was a cattleman before he turned to farming. Nellie remembers the early years of eating hunted rabbits and drinking rain water before her father put in the first well. Congratulations, Nellie, you're a sweet lady.
I always seem to find time to amble on down to the swap tables. Lots of old books, tools, a gasket for your whatever, that missing butter churn part, a valve grinder that only your grandfather can identify, but best of all is the talk of earlier times. You learn how it was made, went together, and used.
The folks in Bird City have been working all winter, fixing some old things up for this year's show. Come on out where the fun is grand, the food great, the camping is free, and we'll keep a boiler warm for you. See you in July when once again the ground will shake and the earth will move under the awesome display of horsepower.