OLD THRESHERS AT THIRTY -SEVEN

Virgil Coonrod

If you can't buy one, build it. This looks like one out of a scrapbox, belonging to Virgil Coonrod, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Content Tools

10022 Marnice Avenue Tujunga, CA 91042

Like the feller said, 'The older you get, the faster time flies.' That must be true, because it didn't seem like only a couple or three months ago that we had gone to Mount Pleasant, Iowa for the 1985 Old Threshers reunion and here it was, almost time for the August, 1986 37th running of the reunion again. So I said to my wife, 'Retta, what do you think about going to the reunion again this year?' 'What reunion?' she asked. 'Why, the Old Threshers, of course,' I replied. 'My land,' she said, 'is it time for that again? Where does all the time go?' So I guess time does fly after all.

Anyway, the next thing you know we have the old Caddy packed and gassed up, ready to go. We left a couple of days early this year as we wanted to get to Iowa in time to spend a couple of days with our old friends, Raymond and Ethel Troyer up Kolona way. The Troyers, along with their four sons, operate a rather large spread up there, managing to survive the setbacks that have occurred to all the farmers in the nation, growing corn and hay and feeding lambs, hogs and turkeys and even dabbling in the liquid fertilizer business. Makes it interesting around there, you never know whether you are going to get run over with a corn combine or flogged by an old Tom turkey.

So after spending a couple of days on the farm and getting the smell of good clean country air in our nostrils, along with some mighty fine cooking by Ethel, we decided to try for Mt. Pleasant, a few miles down the road.

We arrived at Mt. Pleasant on Wednesday, the day before the show opened, as we wanted to attend the Blue Grass Music show that night. This show is done in front of the grandstand as are all the music shows and is entirely Blue Grass type music along with many of the old folk songs from away back. So, as I say, we arrived early and inasmuch as our good friend Edna Wright had set us up with a place to stay, we figured she should be our first stop. So down Walnut Street we went and stopped at Edna's house and found her deep in her reservation books and records. Of course, with true Iowa hospitality, Edna jumped up from her work and after a few hugs and 'Glad to see you's,' brought out the coffee and chocolate chip cookies. So for the next half hour it seemed rather nice to sit there in Edna's kitchen, eating cookies and listening to her and Retta discussing everything from the weather to growing African violets in the backyard.

After we left Edna's and went down the street to our home for the next couple of days, we moseyed on down to the Old Threshers grounds and started looking around for some of our old friends. They began popping up all over, along with some new faces, many of whom, I am sure, will become good friends also.

We got on one of the little trams that circles the grounds and went over to the other side where the gas engines, horse drawn equipment and tents were located and sort of got reacquainted with things. Not too many people there as the show hadn't opened yet, so we had a better chance of looking around and seeing more. But there was lots of activity in the gas engine section as the guys were bringing in their pride and joy and getting them all ready to fire up. It was a pleasure to hear the bang-bang and putt-putt as the big ones were slowly rolling over and the little ones were hurrying along at a much faster rate as though they were in a hurry, trying to catch up with the big ones.

When we were visiting the Troyers up in Kolona, one of the sons, David by name, being quite a student of music, agreed to meet us for the Blue Grass concert Wednesday night. So at the agreed time, we were at the entrance to the grandstand, and sure enough, there was Dave, all bundled up like he was going to the North Pole. We asked about the heavy jackets, etc., and the reply was 'You'll find out how cool it can get in this part of the country after the sun goes down.' Well, we found out before the night was over.

We went up into the grandstand and enjoyed about three hours of very good Blue Grass music, but the longer we sat there, the colder it got. Even the musicians started making remarks about it being so cold their fingers got stiff. So old Dave was right. It can get chilly real fast up in that part of the country when the sun goes down. My feet didn't get warm until way up into the next day.

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear, and as we drove down to the grounds it seemed like spring was in the air. We parked our car and got on the tram for a ride over to the grandstand side for a breakfast of sausage and gravy. This is a treat I always look forward to every trip we make and it is certainly worth it. Wonderful food and eating in the big tent gives the whole thing a sort of circus atmosphere.

Back to the steam section to watch the guys get the old engines hot, ready for the big parade at noon. It was then we discovered that a lot of the guys who had been there on previous reunions were missing. There was Marc Lamoreaux from down Kansas way who had the Westinghouse that was built in 1900. Understand Marc sold his Westinghouse and was unable to make it to the reunion this year. We missed his smiling face around the old campfire, but maybe next year.

Then there was Gene Morris. Didn't see him around, but he did have an old fire engine on display over in the steam building. Another beautiful job of restoring an antique.

We also missed Kim Graham and Bill Allen. Bill is in college and Kim has a calliope factory somewhere around, but we missed seeing Bill on Henry's Avery and hearing Kim's calliope music floating over the grounds.

We missed most of all our friend Henry Oswald. Henry was the owner of the Engine of the Year for 1983. Time took its toll once again and we lost Henry last April, and we are going to miss him a lot around the reunions in the future, as he was one of the bright spots of the show.

But life goes on and the engine is now owned by his daughter and son-in-law Max and Barbara Biddle of St. Charles, Illinois. They were there with the old Avery and it looked pretty good, sitting there beside its big brother, the 40 horse Avery, owned by Midwest Old Threshers and operated by Leon Foree. Which brings me to another story.

At least in everybody's lifetime, this will happen once. You will meet someone like the automobile salesman that sells you a used car and then charges you for the rope to tow it home or the paint salesman that sells you house paint that you put on and the first time it rains you have two colors of grass in your yard, green around the edges and around the house, it is the same color as the house. Well, that's the sort of feller I'm talking about. Won't mention any names, but let me tell you what old Leon pulls on me.

Now, I like to poke a little fun at people and I have been kidding Leon about being a hot rodder with the big Avery and trying to scare me when I was riding with him. All in fun, of course, but I guess old Leon thought he would get me back, so here's what he did.

He sidled up to me Thursday morning and said, 'Would you like to ride with me in the parade? You just sit up on the left side of the cab and watch to see that I don't hit something.'

Well, I figured here was the chance I had been waiting for. Retta was riding with Max and Barbara on their engine, I had on my cowboy shirt and boots, my Midwest cap with all the buttons and my aviator's type sunglasses, so I figured I looked pretty sharp and here would be my chance to sit up there and wave at the pretty girls, so I said, 'Sure, I'll be glad to'.

About the time we were ready to leave Leon said, 'Hey, there's a friend of mine who wants to ride, too. So let him sit up there and you stand down on the platform and sort of keep an eye on the damper. If the steam drops a little, open the damper and if it goes up, close it. Nothin' to it.' So now I'm standing behind the backhead where the pretty girls can't see me, but I figured I could lean out and wave at a few of them anyway.

So here we go, around the track and the first thing you know the steam pressure drops a little, so I open the damper. Nothing much happened so I figured I'd better check the fire. I opened the firedoor and right then I knew Leon had been leading me on all the time. He had piled the wood up just inside the firebox door so I grabbed the poker and started shoving it back into the firebox. Then I had to throw in some more wood and get the fire smoothed out, finally getting the steam pressure back up to where it belonged. All this time old Leon and his friend were sitting up there blowing the whistle and waving and being big heros while I'm down there doing all the work. So it ended up we were past the grandstand and back in the steam area before I could get up to where I could see and be seen, but by then it was too late, the only thing I got to wave at was two mules hitched to a hay rake. Boy, old Leon sure put one over on me that time.

Of course what I have just written was all in fun. Leon is one of the finest in the business. He is a big wheel in the reunion they put on down in Paris, Missouri every year, then he comes up to Mt. Pleasant to help out, so you can put Leon down as one of the best. However, my daddy used to say to always watch these guys with squinty eyes. Well, I've been noticing that Leon has squinty eyes, sort of, anyway. So just to be on the safe side, I'm gonna watch him.

Each year for the past few years the Old Threshers organization has chosen one particular engine in the display as the engine of the year. This year the honor went to an 1886 12 HP Case engine, owned by William O. Sater of Mt. Pleasant. This 100 year old engine has been beautifully restored and is unique in that it can move under its own power or can be pulled with a team of horses. I went looking for Mr. Sater and found him down in the steam area, talking steam engines, of course, with a bunch of the guys. I managed to pry him loose long enough to go over to the engine and have his 'picture took'. Needless to say, Bill is mighty proud of the old Case and rightly so, as it is a beautiful piece of machinery and she sits there and ticks them off just as pretty as the day it came off the assembly floor.

Darelene Glidewell has for the past four or five years committed herself to the, in my opinion, tremendous job of making a quilt every year with a picture of the engine of the year embroidered on it, and this year was no exception. Her beautiful rendition of the 1886 Case hangs in one of the museum buildings, attracting the attention and admiration of everyone who passes. Darelene is doing a wonderful thing in making these quilts every year and deserves all the credit and recognition that the Old Threshers Board of Directors can give her.

After checking out Mr. Sater and his engine, I wandered over to look up Jay Sigafoose. I'm interested in Jay because he is a living example of how some kids have grown up to be great men in their field, be it engineering or whatever, as opposed to many young people of today, especially around the big cities, who waste their lives on dope, drinking and the frivolous things of life.

I first ran into Jay when he sort of hogged his way into a picture I took for IMA back in 1983. At that time he was a sort of a skinny runt, always in the way, but eager to learn as much as he could about the workings of the big hissing iron monsters. The next time I was at the reunion, Jay had come up a step in the world of steam. Now he was in the steam room with all the big stationary engines as an assistant to the engineers. Still too young to get his license, he was in there with both feet, still learning and storing knowledge for future use.

This time I found Jay sitting on Midwest's little Stevens 9 HP engine, having been assigned to it as a helper to Dick Roe of Norman, Oklahoma. Dick is a regular here at the fair and helps out by taking care of one of the engines during the show. This time he drew the Stevens and got Jay as a bonus. Don't know how Dick felt about it, but he seemed to be in pretty good spirits when I talked to him. So Jay was up another notch in the world of steam. Shows what you can do if you try.

As Thursday drew to a close and things started cooling off, Retta and I figured we had better scurry around and grab a bite to eat as we had tickets for the Mel Tillis show and we sure didn't want to miss old Mel. This time we were going to be prepared in case it got cold like it did the night before, so we each one grabbed an extra coat, but once again we got fooled. It was a wonderful evening, just cool enough to be brisk, but still comfortable. Old Mel put on a fine show which was enjoyed by a sellout crowd and a good time was had by all.

Friday was goodby day as we were leaving for Kentucky to spend Labor Day weekend with friends and relatives there so we started out early to gather up the loose ends and head East. Retta wanted to go downtown to the beauty shop so she headed in that direction while I went back to the steam area to check out a few things, take a picture or two and start saying goodby to our old friends. After awhile Retta showed up, all prettied up and ready to go. She got together with Darelene Glidewell and Barbara Biddle for some last minute girl talk and I went over to the steam table where Wes was using his half scale Case to power the models on the table. After handshakes all around, I stopped by to see Everett Wright's flea market once more, then we were ready to roll. Then I got hooked again.

Retta came along and said 'Something over here I want to show you. Now I'm not going to buy it, too much money, just want to show you'. Well, this 'something' turned out to be a clock in, of all things, an ostrich egg. Incidentally, with a pretty high price tag on it. I could tell she wanted it real bad and figuring something might come along that I would want, so to keep peace in the family, I said, 'Oh, go ahead and get it. 'Taint that much'. Well, she grabbed it like a dog with a bone and I steered her out of there real quick before she could see something else 'she didn't want to buy, just show me'.

So with a lot of horn blowing and waving of hands, we headed for the main gate and away we went, having had a wonderful time, saw a lot of friends and had a lot of fun.