The Story of the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion

20 HP Advance-Rumely

Photo courtesy of Grosz Studio, Moorhead, Minnesota.

Grosz Studios

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D.D.S. 1324 23rd Street South Fargo, North Dakota 58103

Peter Kieffer's 20 HP Advance-Rumely doing some belt work at the 1982 WMSTR show. This is one of the machines that plows each fall at the show. Peter and Bob Macmillan from Miami, Manitoba, operate the exhibit.

Over Labor Day weekend, September 3-6, 1982, the 29th annual show was presented by WMSTR to a record number of enthused onlookers. Once again the lure of giant steam and internal combustion tractors, threshing, plowing and sawing wood; the sounds and smells of hundreds of gas engines; the silent majesty of the stationary steam engine; the steam locomotive pulling its burden around our newly constructed railroad line; and the smell of good food and display of older pioneer crafts brought 54,000 people to WMSTR's showgrounds.

The Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion, Inc. was founded 29 years ago on its present site at Rollag, Minnesota, located 35 miles southeast of Moorhead, Minnesota. From those humble but significant beginnings WMSTR has emerged as one of the finest working museums of its kind in this country.

The 1982 reunion was highlighted by the completion of a 10 year rail road project. (See IMA, Vol. 37, No. 1, Sept.-Oct. 1982, page 5). Engine #353 hauled 25,000 people on our 2 mile mainline during the show, thus actively competing with Amtrak!

The Women's Activities Department included in their demonstrations such things as bread, cinnamon roll, lefse and hardtack baking, the making of rommegrot in the pioneer farm log cabin, spinning, weaving, lye soap manufacturing, apple cider making with an old apple press, the grinding of wheat flour with an old mill powered by a steam engine, the dying of wool with natural dyes and a wash day scene complete with Maytag gas-engine-powered washing machine.

The WMSTR has always tried to provide activities that involve the use of our tractors and engines believing that the depiction of early-day activities is much more meaningful when the machinery is actually working. So twice each day all tractors, both steam and gas, parade past a central viewing area so that all who come to the show can see and hear and smell these old machines. Our parades take l-2 hours, involve over 200 units and are led by a horseman carrying the U.S. flag and by a 25 HP double simple Gaar-Scott traction engine which was the first engine at the show spending its entire life in the Rollag area.

During the show there were 2 saw mills set up for cutting lumber using belt power from any of the larger tractors at the show, a Baker fan for providing a load to the engines and for providing practice in the ancient art of 'belting up,' a dynamometer for providing direct readings of horsepower for any of our tractors, several separators for threshing oats, and a field to plow for those engineers who really wanted to work their engines! On one day there were five engines plowing at once: a 120 HP double Rumely, a 110 Case, an 80 HP Case, a 20 HP Advance-Rumely, a 16-30 Oil Pull. That was a sight to long be remembered.

110 HP Case owned by Jim Briden, Fargo, North Dakota, and Norman Pross, Luverne, North Dakota, getting ready to pull a plowing demonstration. 

The WMSTR is blessed with a very large and complete selection of internal combustion engines ranging in size from a Maytag to the giant DeLa Vergne oil engine with a 26' bore and 40' stroke. (This engine was featured at the 1910 world's fair and is thought to be the largest of its kind in existence).

The engines run both day and night and provide a symphony of sound as beautiful as the chirping of crickets, the singing of the birds or the croaking of the frogs. While threshing is an all-important aspect of the show, WMSTR has branched out into industrial exhibits and has built up an amazingly diverse display of stationary steam engines.

The simplest of these is the steam forging hammer built in 1896, used by the Burlington Northern RR until 1970, and first used by WMSTR in 1976. The obvious question of what one does with a steam powered hammer was answered by an extremely talented member of our show who designed a process whereby the hammer could be used to stamp out a commemorative aluminum plate which would differ in design each year. This item has become one of the most popular exhibits at our show and the plates made are rapidly becoming a collector's item.

The 100 HP tandem compound Corliss design engine with rope drive powers the flour mill. The engine was used to drive a mill in Freeport, Minnesota, for 50 years. The same family operates both the Freeport and the Rollag mills. There is now a model one can obtain that is patterned after our rope drive.

Another working exhibit is the 380 HP Twin City Corliss engine which belt drives a 250 KVA alternator. This provided power to a box factory in St. Paul for 60 years and was erected on the WMSTR grounds in 1971.

Ray Shoberg, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shows steam hammer operator Frank Hollands, Moorhead, Minnesota, a partially completed aluminum plate stamped at the 1982 show. Each year Ray designs and builds a die for the project.

Just being completed is a 600 HP cross compound vertical Allis Chalmers corliss engine direct connected to a 400 KVA alternator. This 25-foot high machine will be a major attraction at the 1983 show.

Always a big attraction is 'miniatureland' where dozens of working scale models, both steam and internal combustion, thresh, saw wood and act just like the big ones. The show has a scale and a 3' scale railroad, the largest of which can haul 20 adults at a time and which provided rides for 5,000 people during the four day show. Again this year the blacksmith shop sharpened plow shares, made horseshoes, did machine work and dispensed liberal quantities of 'blacksmith wisdom.'

This year a rather unique use of a steam engine was seen as a local couple were married on the platform of the 110 HP Case.

The Rushfeldt log cabin at the 1982 WMSTR show. This building was built in the Rollag area and was taken down and reerected on the showgrounds. Pioneer craft demonstrations are shown in it. It is one of several reconstructed log cabins on the show grounds.

The Henry Ortner memorial railroad is about to pull out with a load of passengers after taking on water. It has a 14' gauge track with 3 coaches.

A scene from the blacksmith shop located at WMSTR headquarters. On the left Anker Hanson of Malta, Montana, pounds a horseshoe with Carl Resset of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota assisting.

Throughout the showgrounds there were antique cars, trucks and fire vehicles, women in pioneer dress and children playing in the haystacks, all of which added that indescribable flavor to the reunion that makes one feel as though time has gone backwards for a few days and one really is experiencing turn-of -the-century times.

The Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion will continue to grow and enrich the lives of all who either work or play at the show each Labor Day Weekend. Join us next year and plan to participate in this great experience and adventure. Come to 'the old-time show where there is always something new.!'