Sent to us by L. Martyn 1375 11th Ave. Edgar, Wisconsin 54426
Edgar, Wisconsin is a small town with a population of about 1500. During the last weekend of August each year, at least three times the population of the town converges on the farm belonging to Kurt Umnus, Jr. What causes this vast migration is a show which has been presented for the last 16 years by members of the North Central Steam and Gas Engine Club of Edgar. By Sunday noon, all 4500 souvenir buttons had been sold. Some of the ladies still selling tickets at the entrance didn't get a chance to stop for lunch because of the line of cars filled with people wanting to get in to see all there was to see. There were acres of land set aside for parking so there was room to spare for all who wanted to attend.
Being a native of New York City, and relatively new to country life, all that the show had to offer was pretty new and different to me. What a lot there was to see.
We went over to the grounds at dusk on Friday night before the show officially started. There was a local polk a band playing for the entertainment of the exhibitors and flea marketeers who had arrived earlier in the day to get set up and ready for the weekend. Many of the folks there were swapping stories of their latest acquisitions and catching up on what had happened since they had seen each other.
Outside, there was some last minute painting of equipment. One fellow was painting up a rather rusty piece with some pretty green enamel. It seems that until a few weeks ago the plow had been up to its axles in mud and had been rescued from oblivion in the nick of time to come to the show, and thus the last minute paint job. It reminded me of the scene in 'Alice in Wonderland' where the card men frantically put red paint on the white roses to please the Red Queen.
Featured both Saturday and Sunday was a 1 o'clock parade of vehicles. Participants ranged in size from the 80 HP Case owned by George Sommers to mini replicas of a Case steamer and a thresher presented by Rick Stencil, Edgar. There were a good dozen of the crowd pleasing giants, Advance Rumely, Case, Minneapolis. Also appearing was a goodly selection of smaller, newer tractors, Ford, John Deere, Avery, Huber, Rumely Oil Pull. There were crawlers, homemade cars and wagons. Representing an even earlier day of farming technology were wagons pulled by giant horses and one HP cart pulled by a pony. There was a trained dog in one of the wagons--the driver honked 'shave and a haircut' on a horn and the dog barked the 'two bits.' That got a laugh from the crowd every time. Another crowd pleaser was the contraption made from an old garden tractor which had been ingeniously modified into an aluminum can-crusher.
After the parade was over, we hitched a ride on an antique car to go to the south field to watch the big steam engines each take a turn plowing. We got to sit on the 8 bottom plow while the men raised and lowered the bottoms into the earth. Pulling the plow was host Kurt Umnus's 1919, 22-65 Advance Rumely #14962 driven by Ted Knack from St. Paul Park, Minnesota. It was a really impressive sight as the giants steamed and puffed along, black smoke streaming from the stacks. In the air was that odor of oil and steam that is a whiff of nostalgia even for those who have never smelled it before. The non-working passengers got to watch the tall grasses and clover being turned under the soil and see the scurrying mice, frogs and grasshoppers being displaced by all the activity. Next to us came a hay wagon load of watchers being pulled by those patient Belgians who certainly earned their oats this weekend. Behind them came the next tractor with a 6 bottom plow. It didn't take long to get the plowing done and the drivers seemed reluctant to stop when they ran out of field to work.
It was interesting watching the people watching the work being done. There were folks with video cameras, regular cameras, sound recorders. One of the steamers suddenly made a terrible clunking sound and quit working. People came from all around to see what the trouble was. Some just watched, some made 'helpful' suggestions on cause and cure, some talked and compared this with modern machinery problems. It was neat how even a breakdown was of interest to everyone there. After a little tinkering here and there we were off and running again. 'Running' may not be quite an accurate description of our movement. We were able to talk to people quite comfortably strolling alongside us as we rode along.
When the steamers weren't plowing, they got to work with the threshing machines. Several wagon loads of oats had been cut and saved for the event. Among the antique machines used was a Red River Special owned by Kurt Umnus. After taking their turn at threshing, they ran the sawmill and cut up some lumber. There was always a large crowd gathered there to watch and plenty of wood ready to be cut.
The oldest steam engine that we found was a Minneapolis 22 HP, made in 1913. It was brought to the show by Steve Mole, Connorsville. His grandfather had worked with it when it was new and it has been in Steve's family since his grandfather bought it from its first owner. It was beautifully restored with bright red wheels and yellow trim. Some of the mechanical parts on the top were green with the embossed parts highlighted in gold.
We got a kick out of seeing the smaller items at the show as well: the Maytag washer with a butter churn attachment, a scale model sawmill built in 1945 by Norman Franck of Minoqua, a 2' scale 'Phoenix Steam Hauler' logging engine built by Dan Kiekhaffer of Colfax, model carousels, pumps and Ferris wheels run by hot air compression motors and made by retired carpenter Russell Bryan of Baraboo. We liked the McCormick Deering Type M, 3 HP, gasoline/kerosene engine from 1936 with the quirky habit of blowing perfect smoke rings and the collections of toy tractors. One display of toy John Deere tractors had examples ranging from the Waterloo Boy Model R, 1915-1919 through the 5020 model of 1965-72. You could see the development in farm machinery happening right there before you. The display was presented by Bill Proft, Waukonda and Russ Buss, Athens.
A permanent fixture at the farm is a display of household objects, cooking utensils, plates and fancy dishes, dolls and other toys, old magazines and books. We liked browsing in this area and getting a feel for how the rest of the family lived while the men were out running their machinery.
Sandi Coyle brought her scaled down version of a cook shanty. It is a faithful reproduction of the building used by the wife of the threshing foreman for her job of feeding the threshing crews. Sandi was aided in researching the authenticity of her project by finding an ex-cook living in her hometown of Granton. She has plans for additional work to be done. Sandi was usually to be found cooking buckwheat pancakes in the Pancake House run by the ladies of the Steam Club.
Gene Coyle brought another unique item to the show, an Adams Leaning Wheel Grader #12. It was used in Clark County for county road work around 1927. Gene's mother remembers seeing this grader being used when she was in high school.
One of the odder looking machines is the Albaugh-Dover 'Square Turn' tractor. It has a single, smaller wheel in the front and two large ones in the back. It pivots on the front wheel and can be made to go backwards or forwards with very little effort. It is one of only three left and seemed to be of great interest to the show's visitors. We got a good view of the moves it can make when it appeared in the parade. Wonder why they quit making them as it sure seems like a good idea.
It was getting late on Sunday and folks started to pack up their machinery to go home. We decided to do the same. We bought a bag of buckwheat flour ground there for us by Bill and Verena Sheldon, carried our little sack of ground corn that we had shucked with a hand mill and then fed into a gas powered grinder, toted our boards cut at the mini-saw mill and looked up into the sky to catch a last glimpse of the bi-planes that had been coming and going at Wein International Airport all weekend. As we drove away the steamers seemed to salute and talk to each other with their whistles. We'll look forward to hearing them again near Edgar next year and smelling their 'Eau de Nostalgia'.