Montgomery People Stage 29th Annual Event

Steam Engine

Steam Engine Joe Rynda poses on the deck of the 12 hp. Nichols and Shepard engine at the 1969 Montgomery Threshing Bee. His son, Leonard, looks on from the extreme left background. In the center and to the right of the drum is Donald Bicek

John T. Hays

Content Tools

1511 Iglehart Ave. St. Paul, Minnesota 55104

The twenty-ninth National Steam Threshing Bee was held Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th, 1969 Montgomery, Minnesota.

Montgomery, a thriving city with a population of twenty-five hundred people is located on Highway thirteen about fifty miles south of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Montgomery was plotted in 1872 when the Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railroad came through Le Seur County. The site laid out by Jane B. Martin was in the midst of a dense forest of heavy timber.

It was founded by Czech, German and Irish immigrants when the tracks of the railroad were first laid through the area. Polish, Swedish and other nationalities also made up the population of both the town and the rich farming area surrounding it.

Montgomery, named after one of the directors of the railroad, had a population of 979 in 1900, and by 1910, it totaled 1267. During the past twenty years, the community has experienced steady continuous growth with new industrial buildings and additions, new residences and improved, modern civic projects, to better serve its growing population.

Located in south central Minnesota, Montgomery is surrounded by rich agricultural land of flat to gently rolling terrain. The elevation is 1063 feet above sea level. A growing season of one hundred and forty-three days is the average for this section of Minnesota, allowing ample time for the farmers to grow corn and soybeans along with a diversified agricultural system.

In accordance with the industrial and agricultural activity of both the city and the surrounding community, Montgomery has a modern school system.

It has one public elementary school, and a junior and senior public high school.

All schools have modern equipment, including gymnasiums for both the elementary and high schools. A modern public library is available to students, as is also a $25,000 city athletic field.

Rural students are transported by twelve district-owned busses.

Along with schools, a community must have churches. Two of these spiritual congregations are located in Montgomery. Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic parish has the largest congregation, with St. John Evangelical Lutheran ranking second. Within a ten-mile radius of the city, Methodist, Evangelical United Brethren, Church of Christ, Episcopal and Baptist churches are available.

Montgomery has a medical clinic and a modern hospital.

The city has a second class post office housed in a fine fireproof building.

A modern housing project has added two new residential areas to the city.

Minnesota Valley Natural Gas company serves Montgomery with natural gas.

Electric power is furnished for Montgomery by Interstate Power Company. The city has a complete street lighting system. Two wells, each six-hundred feet deep, furnish the water supply.

The city has a large sewage disposal plant that serves the entire city.

Montgomery is located on a main line of the Chicago North Western Railroad and is also served by the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific.

Passenger bus service is available to and from the city.

The city has no airport but the Minneapolis-St. Paul International air port is but twenty-five miles away. However, private plane facilities and air charter service are available at nearby Faribault, Mankato and Flying Cloud airports.

There is a city park furnished with picnic benches and fireplaces. There is also a completely equipped children's playground at the public school.

A tennis court and golf course are available and hotel-motel accommodations are plentiful.

Montgomery has several industries. They include the Green Giant Company where sweet corn and peas are processed, Mensingwear, Inc. employing 300 to 400 women, the Polar Panel Company, Holland Plastics and the Adolph Kiefer Company.

Take into consideration all of the business places of this city that can well be compared with a city more than twice its size, and well, you name it, Montgomery has it.

Montgomery is famous for two annual events.

Kolachy Day is an annual community celebration held each year in late summer. The festival pays homage to the glorified fruit-filled bun, the Kolachy, which is a native of Czechoslovakia. Because of the popularity of the occasion, Montgomery has become associated with the title, Kolachy Kapitol of the world, and is recognized nation-wide as such. The event annually attracts from 35,000 to 50,000 people for its giant parade and various other activities.

Montgomery also boasts the largest private collection of steam traction engines in the world. The collection is owned by Joseph T. Rynda, known as 'Steam Engine Joe'. At the present time, Joe has a collection of forty-five different models of which four have no duplicates anywhere in the world.

Steam Engine Joe was the originator of the first steam threshing bee in the world, and has conducted a threshing show every autumn for twenty-nine consecutive years. This annual event has been known to draw ten thousand people from a ten-state area, and is held on the second Saturday and Sunday in October.

In the forenoon of October 11th, while at the threshing show site, I discovered I needed a black and white camera film, so Pete Pedersen, a friend of mine and I drove over to the business section of town. We noticed a drug store on a corner so I parked the car and we went inside.

We were greeted by Henry J. Tupa, owner of Tupa's Rexall Drug Store. 'The best drug store in the country, we've been right here on the corner for thirty-four years'. 'We keep people well', he said. We met Mrs. Tupa, a trained nurse who works at the hospital. She wrote some notes for me on Montgomery. We were introduced to the head clerk, Emma Zelenka. She was the third Kolachy Queen. A queen is selected from the charming young ladies of the community for the Kolachy

festivities each year. We also met Leatta Trnka, a clerk in the drug store, who was the first Kolachy Queen.

Speaking of Montgomery industries, Emma Zelenka mentioned that the Green-Giant plant in Montgomery was much larger than the company's plant at LeSuer, their headquarters.

'They employ more people here', she said. 'They've got the chiefs but we've got the Indians'.

Kolachy Day in 1969 was held on August 24th. The celebration stages one of the best parades in the state, with a beautiful queen riding in all of her splendor. Women in the parade dress in Czech costumes.

While in Montgomery I stopped in at the Franke Bakery where I talked with Emil Franke, who retired from the bakery business which is now being carried on by his son, Alvin.

Mr. Franke who was born in Vienna, Czechoslavakia, learned the baker's trade there. Migrating to this country, he settled in Montgomery where he established his baking business, sixty years ago. Taking me through the bake shop, he pointed out a bun machine that came from Czechoslavakia, and the oven where ten thousand Kolachy buns are baked at one time, or one hundred loaves of bread. The bakery is famous for its Bohemian rye bread.

The Kolachy bun is baked with a fruit filling of either Prune or Apricot, or poppy seed.

The Franke Bakery is the largest Kolachy bakery in Minnesota.

Mrs. Emil Franke told me 35,000 Kolachys were baked for the 1969 Kolachy Day, but the bakery at nearby Waterville helped out.

Ten thousand Kolachys a day is a common output.

Housewives of Montgomery and the surrounding area have specialized in Kolachy baking over the years. Lately, however, this angle of production has reduced from a commercial basis to the individual family requirement.

At one time a neighboring community tried to take the Kolachy World Title along with the Kolachy Day celebration away from Montgomery. Through the efforts of a group of citizens led by Emil Franke and Steam Engine Joe Rynda, a copyright was obtained and recorded; thus the day was saved for the Montgomery community.

Two weeks before the 1969 Threshing Bee, I drove to Montgomery and had a very pleasant interview with Joseph T. Rynda who prefers to be known as Steam Engine Joe. I will try to relay to you the information as he gave it to me. The first Original National Steam Threshing Bee was held two miles east of Montgomery on the Richter farm. The site of the threshing was near a lakeshore. Joe used a J. I. Case 65 hp., serial number 3268, built May 4, 1915, and it was shipped to George, Iowa, from Racine, Wisconsin. It was sold at one time for ten dollars. The gear pump sold for five dollars. Later Joe bought the engine for a hundred dollars. A Case separator was used, that later was destroyed. Although the threshing Bee was held each year, he did not mention all of them, but he did give me the years that he thought were most worthy of mention. In 1947 and 1948, the Threshing Bee was held at New Ulm before the largest crowds of people in the history of the event. Fifteen to twenty thousand people saw Steam Engine Joe and his crew, most of whom were women, dressed as they always have in Czech costumes.

In 1953, on the second Saturday and Sunday in October, they threshed at New Prague. 1954 was a very wet year and the threshing was held in Montgomery. It had rained so much that they had trouble setting the machine. The ground was so soft that they had to use horses to back the engine into the belt. A second setting of grain was pitched over. It was too wet to re-set the machine.

In 1955, the threshing event was held on the Livestock Breeding Farm at New Prague.

In 1956, the threshing was held at Heidelberg near Montgomery. It was the one-hundredth anniversary of the church there.

In 1962, they threshed at Elysan, Minnesota, using an A. D. Baker engine which was moved on the road for twenty-seven miles drawing the Case Agitator separator and the tank wagon.

While at Elysan, Joe was giving a demonstration with The Baker steam engine. Going up a steep hill in a stubble field, he would cause the engine to jump the front trucks off the ground about six inches. Suddenly a flue sprung a leak in front in the smoke box. Joe pulled the fire and the steam went down. Next, he went to his car and came back with a piece of two by four and an axe. He split the two by four and made a wooden plug which he drove into the flue. The leak was at the very end so the plug covered the break.

In a short time, he had enough steam to move the engine. Gradually he climbed the hill to where he hitched the separator on and pulled it between the grain stacks. Threshing proceeded as usual.

Joe said, 'I was showing off at the time. It doesn't pay.'

Plowing was done both years at Elysan with an eight-bottom John Deere platform plow.

Plowing with horses was demonstrated there also.

The 1964 Threshing Event was held at Vesely, Minnesota, thirteen miles from Montgomery. The wood-wheeled Aultman and Taylor moved all of the way up and back pulling the separator and water tank. This engine was built in 1878 or 1879.

In 1965, Joe used a Case engine at Vesely. The serial number of this one 33516. It pulled the separator and tank.

In 1966, they threshed at the Eilers Brothers farm at New Prague. A 16 hp. Huber, serial number 3867, was used. It moved the ten miles to the farm and return, pulling the Case Agitator separator and tank wagon.

In 1967, they again threshed at Eiler Brothers using a 12 hp. return flue Case engine with link motion return balanced steam valve, with large steam chest. It was built September 29, 1890, with serial number 4348. It is the only known large steam chest of that type on earth. It pulled the separator and tank wagon to the farm, ten miles away and returned. Wood as usual was used as fuel.

In 1967, Steam Engine Joe Rynda driving his 10 hp. wood-burning, wood wheeled Aultman and Taylor, shaft-drive engine, was Grand Marshall of the parade at Strum, Wisconsin. The occasion was the annual Steam Engine Days event.

The 1968 threshing was held at Montgomery on the Holy Redeemer Church parking lot. The wood-wheeled 10 hp. Aultman and Taylor engine, burning wood, was used for power. The Case Agitator hand-feed separator was used, as it has been each year since Steam Engine Joe purchased it in 1947 from Mr. Heim of St. Stephen, Minnesota for $200.00. In 1969, Joe purchased a De Smith Tally box, used for measuring with a half bushel from Mr. Heim's son for $25.00.

On Saturday, October 11th, after having purchased the camera film we returned to Holy Redeemer parking lot which was the site of the 1969 show. We found the threshing underway to the extent that two stacks of oats had been lowered by men on each side of the machine, to where it was possible for two women to work on a stack pitching bundles.

The stacks, two of which were threshed each day, were the work of a skilled grain stacker. Although the stacks were small, they were solid.

The grain to be threshed was owned by the Eilers brothers of New Prague, who hauled the threshed oats with a team of horses to a truck parked in the background. The J. I. Case Agitator, size 32 inch 12 bar cylinder; and 46 inch rear, was used. It holds serial number 8920, built in 1885. It is a hand-feed machine with a slat straw carrier and a Kicker tailings elevator.

A 12 hp. Nichols and Shepard traction engine furnished the power.

Mr. Eilers hauled the water wagon with his team of horses.

Tom Zahratka, also known as Team Engine Tom, long associated with Steam Engine Joe and the Montgomery Threshing Bee, was the fireman. He used wood for fuel.

Other firemen who have worked with Steam Engine Joe are Frank Sebritz of Algona, Iowa and Henry Sebek of New Prague, Minnesota.

Frank Smisek was the separator man. He also fed the machine. On Sunday, he was relieved of feeding for a while when Congressman Ancher Nelson fed the machine.

Joe Speikers Sr. was a helper and he ran Tom Zahratka's upright steam hobby engine giving rides. Another helper was Donald Bicek. Father Robert Dobihal of the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church is a consistent cooperator with the Threshing Bee.

Women taking part in the 1969 threshing were dressed in attractive Czech costumes. The ladies I saw working on Saturday were not dressed in the floor length dresses of the 1890's as they usually have been, but they were about the length, popular with, lets say, middle-aged women of today. Don't get me wrong, I'm not classing them into any particular age group, but they were real neatly attired, which would imply that they must have some up-to-date beauty shops in Montgomery.

Women taking part in the threshing during the two days were Jennie Mack, Ann Lusk, Lillian Petrica, Mary Franke, Adeline Havel, Mayme Schleis, Mary David and Helen Keohen, chairwoman.

Ever since the Original National Steam Threshing Bee was organized, twentynine years ago, women have cut bands, pitched bundles and on some occasions, stacked straw.

I watched them in their positions with one cutting bands on the right of the feeder, and the other band cutter on his left. On the right stack, one woman passed the oat bundles to another who laid them on the 'table' for the band cutter. On the left, State Representative Henry Morlock pitched alone from the stack.

The weather for the show was unfavorable. A mist fell Saturday forenoon but it stopped about noon. It stayed cloudy but didn't rain in the afternoon. Sunday brought showers, but they managed to finish threshing.

Attendance at the show was low due to the weather. Lunches, which of course included Kolachy's were available. Fancy needlework was sold by local women. Mickie Feschels of Waterloo, Iowa, represented IRON MEN ALBUM and THE GAS MAGAZINE. She had quite an interesting stock of antiques for sale.

Men in public office including high state officials, have taken part in most of the Montgomery Threshing Bees over the years. When Orville L. Freeman was Governor of Minnesota, he came to the show and stacked straw. Governor Elmer L. Anderson helped feed the machine on one occasion and Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolwaag, at that time, helped sack grain.

The 29th National Steam Threshing Bee of October 11th and 12th was the second appearance of the show in 1969, In August, they staged a special threshing show in the evening under the lights at the LeCenter, Minnesota Fair.

Other special appearances they have made are as follows: In 1950, they threshed at Redwood Falls, Minnesota. It was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the town. In 1954, they threshed at the Jordan, Minnesota County Fair. The one-hundredth anniversary of the city of Jordan was being celebrated. At Morris-town, Minnesota, they threshed at the one-hundredth anniversary of the town. They threshed at the National Plowville at Waseca, Minnesota. Rain hindered the operation.

Wood has been used as fuel through the years except for one year when they burned straw. As I have stated, Steam Engine Joe Rynda is the owner of forty-five steam traction engines, at least four of these engines have no duplicates in the world. His first engine was a present to him from his uncle, Albert Bradec.

As a boy, Joe had helped install flues in it. In 1925, his uncle gave him the engine, a wood-wheeled Aultman-Taylor, 10 hp. A few years later, Joe's health failed him. In 1931, 1932 and 1933, he 'lived on milk and crackers'. He didn't expect to live. He offered to give the engine to the Ford Museum. They would not accept the engine unless a complete history of the engine was furnished them. By the time they received the history, they wanted to buy it. Joe refused to sell it, but said they could have it under one condition, that if the museum was ever closed or moved out of the United States, the engine was to be returned to his descendants. The Ford Museum accepted the engine.

Fortunately, Joe's health came back, for which he thanks the good Lord, and he began buying engines in 1938. He continued to buy engines until 1966 when he purchased the last one. It is a 25 hp. Northwest high wheel, flat spoke, wide gear plow engine, serial number 5904, built about 1908. Joe says it may be the only one of its type and size in the world. It was purchased from a woman, Mrs. Kubas, who came to him to sell the engine. She began talking to him in the Polish language which he recognized by the few words he knew. Joe told me, 'I said, Lady, I'm Bohemian, not Polish'. 'We finished talking English.'

He mentioned a traction engine, one of the few engines of this type that were built. They were built by the C. Aultman Company of Canton, Ohio and were named 'Canton Monitor'. They were built with an upright boiler and were known to be great hill climbers. Joe recalls one occasion when a locally owned Monitor climbed a steep hill. It was no contest, but the engine made the hill with ease.

Steam Engine Joe Rynda who is known all over the world wherever steam is turned on, was born February 12,1892 in Lexington township, Le Seur County, Minnesota. At the age of twenty years and four months, he became a chief engineer, being employed at New Prague, Minnesota. He spent forty-two years as a chief engineer. In 1924, he worked in St. Paul, Minnesota as a turbine operator for Northern States Power Company. He was superintendent of the New Ulm Light Plant in 1947-48 and 1949. He flew his own airplane from 1945 to 1964. In 1915, he married Anna Cordes. They have two children, Leonard, at home, and Delores, who lives nearby.

I visited with Steam Engine Joe Rynda at his home in Montgomery and as the September afternoon had flown all too fast, the time came for me to leave.

Joe said, 'Stop over at the Printing office and see Helen Keohen; she's the chairwoman'. 'I told her you were coming.'

At the Printing office, I met Mrs. Keohen who with her two sons, Jerry and John, publish the city and community newspaper, the 'Montgomery Messenger'. I greatly appreciate the effort she made to supply me with information on the Threshing Bee as well as Montgomery.

You're right! Instead of confining to what I was writing, an account of a Threshing Bee, I wrote a lot about a town. But its a famous town populated with fine people who are proud of their heritage, their city and community. Yes, there are threshing shows alright, all across the country today, but to kindly Steam Engine Joe Rynda and the people of Montgomery, belongs the honor of organizing the first one. Not only was it organized but perseverance has carried it out.