Breaking Records at Rock River

1 / 7
Twenty-nine vintage threshing machines were put through their paces at the Rock River Thresheree August 2008. Fading paint on the machines’ windstackers shows manufacturers’ names.
2 / 7
A labyrinth of belts connects separators and steam traction engines.
3 / 7
An amazing line-up of working vintage threshing machines.
4 / 7
Putting the belt on a Nichols & Shepard steam traction engine.
5 / 7
On the job during the record-breaking threshing operation at Rock River. More than 200 people were involved in the effort.
6 / 7
A scene from the Rock River Thresheree near Edgerton, Wis. Running the thresher’s blower was a notoriously dirty job, as the air filled with straw and chaff.
7 / 7
Panoramic view of record-setting steam threshing at Rock River.

Put one vintage threshing machine to work at an antique farm equipment show or county fair, and you have a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Fire up 29 of them at one time, and you have the makings for a threshing event that will go down in the annals of agricultural history.

That’s precisely what the members of Rock River Thresheree Inc. accomplished last Aug. 30, when they started up a ring of 29 separators powered by 28 steam traction engines and one gas-powered tractor, followed by a second ring of 29 vintage gas-powered tractors and separators.

Thousands of people, along with print and broadcast media, turned out to witness the record-setting event held at the club’s Threshermen’s Park in south central Wisconsin near Edgerton. Club member Lori Niemuth says the event set a record for the most separators, the most steam traction engines and the most gas tractors threshing at one time.

Lori says the original goal was to bring in 20 separators, but as word of the event spread, more and more collectors declared their intention to participate. “In 2006, our club set a record by threshing with 12 separators,” Lori explains. “When another club surpassed that mark by bringing in 15 machines the following year, our club decided to go all out.

“Our members own several separators, and the Wade Bros. collection, which includes four working separators, was a feature of our 2008 reunion. As word got out, we heard from friends of the club who decided to bring their separators, along with other collectors who wanted their steam traction engines and gas tractors to be a part of the event. And many of our workers came from sister clubs, such as the Badger Steam & Gas Engine Club of Baraboo, Wis.”

Separators featured in the event represented a who’s who of vintage threshing equipment. There were models bearing the nameplates of Case, McCormick, Advance-Rumely, Oliver Red River, Belle City and Huber, as well as Minneapolis, Allis-Chalmers, Aultman & Taylor, John Deere and Avery separators. Among the rare models on hand were a wooden 20-inch Advance-Rumely and a wooden 36-inch Red River Special.

Steam power kicked off the day’s activities, with power provided by a variety of steam traction engines. Vintage engines included numerous Advance-Rumely, Minneapolis and Case models; Gaar-Scott, Frick and Port Huron engines were also represented. In addition, the event featured a 30-98 single-cylinder and a 30-98 double-cylinder Nichols & Shepard engine, as well as a 1924 19 hp Keck-Gonnerman steam traction engine.

Vintage gas tractors used in the second half of the record setting event included a rare Waterloo Boy, a 20-35 Eagle and a 20-40 Eagle, along with Rumely OilPull, Aultman & Taylor, Avery, Hart-Parr, Titan, WD 45 Allis, Case, Minneapolis-Moline, McCormick, Farmall and John Deere models.

Under the supervision of Richard Kuhlow, chairman of the organization’s crops and threshing committee, volunteers spent weeks planning and preparing for the event. Crops were raised, reaped and stored. Wagons were repaired or constructed and belts were gathered. Plans were made to lay out and prepare the event arena, safety plans finalized, and publicity activities implemented.

“Roughly 200 people were involved in running, operating, threshing, monitoring and recording the event,” says Lori. “After the steam event was completed, we hurried the steam engines out of the threshing field and into our daily Parade of Power, then brought in the gas tractors and started up all over again.”

“It was a lot of fun to do, especially with the excellent, hard-working crew that made it all possible,” Richard says.

Lori says the club contacted the Guinness Book of World Records prior to the event. “Although they decided not to add our threshing event to their records at that time, they recommended that we fully document our event with video and photos and resubmit the documentation, which we are in the process of doing,” she reports.

Rock River Thresheree Inc. traces its history to 1955, when area farmers August Handtke and John Horton decided to stage an old-fashioned threshing event. The organization was formed in 1958, and the following year the event attracted an estimated 6,800 people. In the early 1960s, the organization purchased 102 acres and created Threshermen’s Park.

Today, Threshermen’s Park is registered as an amusement park, offering attractions including a museum of agriculture and industry, a blacksmith and woodworking shop, and a sawmill, shingle mill, sorghum mill and gristmill. There’s a Henschel narrow-gauge 0-4-0 train and tracks on the grounds, along with a steam-powered pile driver, an Osgood steam crane, Bucyrus steam shovel and a steam calliope. The park also serves as the depository for many of the records of engine manufacturer Fairbanks, Morse & Co., Beloit, Wis.

Several annual events are held at the park, including tractor pulls, swap meets, an annual Classic Construction Equipment Show, and conferences of blacksmiths and steam engine aficionados. Each Labor Day weekend, the club holds its annual Rock River Thresheree Reunion. FC

For more information: Rock River Thresheree Inc., W2352 County Rd. Y, Helenville, WI 53137;
Jerry Schleicher is a country humorist and cowboy poet. He grew up on a crop and cattle operation in western Nebraska, and now lives in Missouri. Contact him at 8515 Lakeview Dr., Parkville, MO 64152; e-mail:
Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment