South Dakota Threshermen Building History-Town

Rumely Oil Pull

Courtesy of Dana C. Jennings, 216 NW 7. Madison, South Dakota 57042 A 1912 Rumely Oil Pull attracts visitors to the village fund drive headquarters.

Dana C. Jennings

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216 NW 7, Madison, S. Dakota, 57042

Ten thousand people swarmed across the stubble fields and pastures of a farm 14 miles north of Madison, seat of rural Lake Country, South Dakota. Biggest thing ever to happen to the county, mused the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce - and here it was, miles out of town. What can we do to bring these 10,000 people into town?

Attracting the crowd was the third annual Eastern South Dakota Threshermen's Steam Threshing Jamboree. Suddenly the C/C decided to give the event some sponsorship. Previously their attitude had been that if they'd ignore it, it might go 'way. Suddenly they awoke to the opportunity which had been tickling their noses for three years while they snored soundly on.

Upshot of a long winter of discussion was the transformation of the Eastern South Dakota Threshermen's Association into the Prairie Historical Association, Inc., which immediately launched a drive for $100,000 to build a pioneer village adjoining Madison.

Members promptly assembled small barrel engines of an early date, an ox yoke, an early hand-cranked washing machine, a battery radio and other items of the pioneer past. They installed a secretary and a telephone, printed brochures and got the drive on the road.

The hunt for land turned up the availability of 130 acres in an ideal spot: immediately west of the city limits, fronting U.S. 81 - S.D. 34 and between the highway and Lake Herman State Park, the second most popular tourist attraction in the state.

Business donated sums of a thousand dollars up to five thousand dollars. East River Electric Power Cooperative voted to buy $10,000 worth of land for the site. Individuals pledged amounts from a few dollars to over $1,000, and many people donated antique equipment.

Professor Joe Habeger, mathematician at General Beadle State College, Madison, gave a 1915 Case 20-40 2 cylinder tractor; farmer Palmer Reinicke, Winfred, donated a 4-hole spring corn sheller; Joe Richter, Madison, gave two barrel engines; Larry Green, the town artist, donated a big sign for the front of the building, painted a water color of the proposed village and created a clever 'choo-choo' sign showing the progress of the fund drive. The little steam train has already passed its halfway mark.

The village scribe immediately set about cranking out free publicity, magazine articles, newspaper articles and a brochure. Businessmen headed committees and the first thing anybody knew, the following buildings were pledged to the village: a frontier jail; an early depot; a one-room school-house; a typical early farm house; claim shanty; a complete turn-of-the century blacksmith shop. Miss Bena Jacobs, a local school principal, volunteered to build a genuine soddy.

Also planned are a steam railroad, a steam-driven merry-go-round of an early date complete with calliope and a 1900 theater. An airstrip will be built and classic airplanes will be restored to flying condition to use it. Professor Habeger has dragooned his friends and other members to help him restore a Jenny, a World War I 2-place trainer biplane.

A 2-story, 4-room log house was discovered at Canton, 75 miles southeast, built in the 70's and soon covered with clapboards on the outside and plaster on the inside so the oak and walnut logs are in 'mint condition'. Volunteers have stripped the plaster and clapboarding off and are planning to move the house - log-by-log if necessary - to the village site.

Beards are sprouting all over the place as the more virile members of the community leap into the spirit of the project. The Chamber of Commerce had huge lapel buttons made bigger than a silver dollar - showing a mustachioed dandy saying, 'I'm for the Prairie Village fund drive.' These sold like 50 dollars.

You hear some talk about how many hundred carloads of tourists the project will draw, how many dollars each carload will spend and how this will give the local economy and $11-million-a-year boost. But mostly you hear talk about what a fine educational thing this is and how it will preserve for our children a bit of their pioneer past so they will appreciate how their forefathers made a blooming garden of this raw, wild land.

Some 90 acres of the village site will be reserved for growing grain to be bound and shocked to await the annual steam threshing jamboree, this year scheduled for August 24-26. Here city kids will get their first look at a team of horses (and maybe even oxen) working. They'll see steam engines chuffing and a very few supremely lucky boys and girls will have the rare privilege of shrieking, 'Hold your horses!' and yanking the whistle cord.

A delegation to Sioux Falls, which with its 75,000 population passes in South Dakota for a metropolis, found exciting support for their project among metropolitan businessmen. These backed their words with substantial checks.

A delegation to the state capital came away with Governor Nils Boe's blessing and his promise to turn a spade and say a word at the June 4-5 groundbreaking. This planned as absolutely the most gala event ever to hit the area: a balloon ascension, water show, square dance, horse show, jet fly-by Indian Dance, musical events, maybe even a buffalo herd.