Indiana State Fair Pioneer Show Preserves American Agricultural Heritage

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Exec. Secy.Purdue Agricultural Alumni Assoc. West Lafayette, Indiana 47907

Two wonderful artifacts of the past rest in quiet repose Davis Sullivan of Emporia, Ind. and his beautiful Case engine. Both are well into their eighties.

As a boy, growing up on a farm in Eastern Indiana in the forties, I can remember longing to hear just one steam engine whistle calling up another load of bundles. Or wouldn't it be wonderful, just one more time, to experience the pleasant sway of the old hay wagon as it slowly made its way to the barn. Well, there wasn't much chance of either of those happening. The farmer had just recently progressed beyond those dangerous tasks, and he had no desire to bring them back.

Nowadays, however, the summer air is filled with the scream of the steam engine whistle, the pop and snort of the old tractor, and the whir, click, and snap of all kinds of old time practices once so prevalent on American farms. As the 'Golden Age' of American agriculture slips into the past, rural people, young and old, realize that the preservation of the equipment and the methods of a day gone by is important if we are to fully appreciate the excellence of the modern farmer and his produce.

The Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association, a service organization of professional agriculturalists, realized the importance of our heritage, and inaugurated a Pioneer Farm Show at the Indiana State Fair. With a meager collection of antiques and a few people who knew anything about them, we began. The first year, 1961, we were amazed when over 40,000 people visited our little exhibit. From that point, we have grown to several thousand excellent artifacts, dozens of demonstrations, and over a quarter million visitors during the twelve day run of the Indiana State Fair. As a matter of fact, the Pioneer Farm Show has become the most popular attraction on the State Fairgrounds.

The re-enactment of the old farm skills such as shocking wheat is an important part of the Pioneer Farm Show. Please note that there are very few old people in this picture. Who says the young aren't interested in agricultural tradition?

We figure that a majority of our visitors are non-farm people, so we direct our explanation toward them. There's no sitting around, talking about the good old days for our workers. They are busy, telling the story of agricultural progress to our city friends.

The old sawmill owned by John Burkhardt of Decatur and powered by Davis Sullivan's beautiful 8 HP Case steamer is a central attraction. Do-it-yourselfers rush in to buy the fine white oak, walnut, cherry, and sassafras, sawed to order.

Dan Miller of Bunker Hill is the owner of this Keck Gonnerman engine. It pulls the forty inch Red River separator that belongs to the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association.

There is one demonstration that we will never change. Folks come back year after year to touch the old Keck Gonnerman steam engine and to hear the whisper of the Red River Special as it threshes wheat as it has for seventy years. Somehow, the romance of the old threshing rig makes an indelible impression on all, the young, the old, the city bred, the young farmer, and even those who don't even know what is going on around all that noise and dust.

We're resting up, gettin' ready to thresh. What a beautiful sight; old time threshing, and a crowd of people to see it, many for the first time.

As you walk around our grounds, you'll pass by the Rumely Oil Pull that belongs to Earl Sottong as it pulls the Papec silo filler, or maybe stop and watch the corn shredder in operation. Albert Payne of Galien, Michigan is there with his great collection of animal powered devices. There is the old dog pumping water. Over there you might see the rare three horse treadmill as it operates a grain thresher. Glance around. You'll see well drillers, blacksmiths, potters, hucksters, handle makers, and dozens of other old rural arts in all their original splendor.

Every noon, the dinner bell rings. Bundle pitchers drop their forks. Kids run. Engines are shut down. Everybody heads for the kitchen. There, you will witness one of the highlights of the Indiana State Fair the re-enactment of the old threshing dinner. There it is! Men wash in an old galvanized tub and wipe their faces on a soggy linen towel. Prayer is hastily pronounced, and the men dive in. There's chicken and dumplings with the egg yolks floating around in the grease, roasting ears, baking powder biscuits, sour cream butter, fresh maters, and finally, wild blackberry cobbler with real whipped cream. Now, you see why it is a famous show on the Fairgrounds.

Inside the Pioneer Building, you will stroll through our thousands of farming antiques, sit down and listen to fiddlers, banjo pickers, and lonesome singers, or maybe just stand back and contemplate the authentic hand hewed log cabin that was completely built at the Fairgrounds and only during the fairs (it took five fairs to complete the cabin). Original methods were followed to the letter.

People beg for the opportunity to get up there and pitch bundles, just for one more time. Threshing was a wonderful time on the American farm, and people drive in from many states, just to watch a few moments of that magnificent time in our re-enactment.

One of our newest and most popular features is the Antique Tractor Show. Entries are made in advance, and remain on the grounds for the duration of the Fair. They do a lot of fooling around, lying about their tractors, driving through the tractor pull, clogging up the Farmers Day Parade, and other kinds of fun things. The serious part comes when it is time to be judged. Tractors are polished, exhibits neatened, kids washed for the big competition.

For 1982, Charles Simpson of Noblesville was designated the 'Oldest' with his nice 1917 two wheel Case. Gary Sparks of Greenfield and his rusty Farmall F-12 carried off the 'Most Original' honors. Glenn Edwards of Arcadia was the Junior winner with his Farmall F-30. Jerry Tague from Indianapolis showed the 'Best Restored' tractor, a beautiful John Deere A. Duane Blocker of Colfax had the 'Best Exhibit', and C. W. Schilling of Fountain town won the 'Grand Champion' trophy with his marvelous 1924 Waterloo Boy.

Over fifty tractors were exhibited. Some of them won. Everybody had a great time.

The Indiana State Fair for 1983 will be held on August 17-28. Come and see us.