My wife and I found ourselves in the old Winnebago headed for Albany in early September 2002. Unfortunately, we aren't talking about the capitol of New York, which is only three hours away from our home in Connecticut. The Albany we headed for was a small Minnesota town 1,600 miles west. Our destination was the 28th Annual Pioneer Days Threshing Show held each year in Albany.
We normally don't drive so far to a show, but Pioneer Days featured two of my favorite clubs. The Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club and the Historical Construction Equipment Association held their national shows together at Pioneer Days. Members from both clubs traveled from across the United States and overseas to put on one of the largest displays of construction equipment ever. In the final count, nearly 300 pieces were hauled to Minnesota for the show, with about 100 Caterpillars and 200 old construction machines on display.
My wife and I arrived a few days early, and the number of tractors and machines already there surprised us. Several hundred tractors were set up in the surrounding fields and more arrived daily. Fifty antique tractors would be considered a large show in New England, so I was impressed by the nearly 400 pieces of equipment at Albany. There were many tractors representing all the popular brands. I always look for the rare and unusual at any show, and I wasn't disappointed. Right in front was a good grouping of big prairie tractors. Included in the lineup were fine examples of Minneapolis-Moline, Twin Cities, Rumely, Avery and Hart-Parr tractors. The biggest surprise for me was the Pioneer tractor. I believe that prairie giant was built in Winona, Minn., and is quite rare. Besides the Pioneer I saw at the Earl Mahanka sale in 1991, it's only the second I've ever run across. The Pioneer stood out because of its very modern look. It would be wonderful to see that beautiful brute pull eight or 10 bottoms across the open prairie.
John Peternell, who helped start Pioneer Days in 1974, did a fantastic job making everyone feel welcome. He owns a large collection of old tractors, machinery and construction equipment, most of which is stored on the grounds year 'round. John and his friends spent all weekend playing on his iron toys, side by side with other collectors who brought equipment.
The thing that sets a Caterpillar construction equipment show apart from most others is the working exhibits. In fact, the old machinery is put to work as soon as it gets unloaded and usually works for the rest of the show. Collectors are always eager to lend a hand and show off their pieces. When our Albany host needed a new road built, there were plenty of volunteers. It was tricky work. The road had to conform with modern standards since it would eventually lead to a housing development. Hundreds of spectators watched the action. There were cable shovels, bulldozers, scrapers, trucks and many different machines working together to get as much finished as possible during the show.
The showground is unique. Through the years, the Pioneer Days show grounds was converted into a replica of a small, 19th-century Minnesota farm town. Old buildings have been moved onto the place or built to form a small village recreating rural life.
I found many interesting displays and demonstrations throughout the village as I walked the grounds. Each one hearkened back to a time quite different than today. I watched in awe as a man set type and was impressed by the tedious and time-consuming task. I also was surprised to find a gentleman selling very nice but simple pine coffins. He displayed several boxes, and was ready to measure people for a personalized coffin.
Albany Pioneer Days is a first-class show, but I was really there for the greatest show in dirt. The Caterpillar-construction people were located in two areas: a display tent surrounded by equipment on the main grounds and a large worksite to the west. Nearly 180 machines were at the worksite, with another 120 on display. The equipment included 14 cable shovels, 70 crawlers, 18 graders, 20 scrapers and many more different pieces of machinery.
By Thursday morning much of the equipment was ready to start the road job. A huge Allis-Chalmers HD 41 bulldozer - the largest that company ever built - stripped the topsoil and pushed it into piles. A short distance away, Erv Maier used his Unit Model 1220 dragline to clear vegetation from a clogged streambed. There was construction in all directions, and spectators loved every minute, sitting on hay bales, dirt piles or whatever was handy.
Besides the wide array of Caterpillar equipment on the job, tractors and machines sat in front of each club's tent. The oldest was a 1909 Holt 60, built before the Caterpillar Co. was formed. Other Cat machines on display covered many years of manufacture, right up to the present.
Pioneer Days experienced one of its biggest shows ever. During the weekend, nearly 35,000 people passed through the gates to indulge their passion for old iron. The sun shone brightly on the big parade each afternoon, and people who watched enjoyed every minute. The show had something for everyone, and for those who love old iron, I suggest a trip to Albany next September for the annual show.
Unfortunately for myself, the construction equipment club will hold its show in Bowling Green, Ohio, and the Caterpillar club will be in Iowa. It looks like the old Winnebago is going to get a few more miles on it next summer. My wife and I never miss a chance to watch grown men play in the dirt. FC
- Ed Bezanson is an avid collector of tractors and old farm photos and postcards, as well as a freelance writer who covers old iron topics. Write him at Connecticut Yankee Tractor, 85 Dayton Road, Waterford, CT 06385, or call (860) 442-5182.
The thing that sets a Caterpillar construction equipment show apart from most others is the working exhibits. In fact, the old machinery is put to work as soon as it gets unloaded and usually works for the rest of the show.