When the Granite (Iowa) Threshermen’s Association’s Threshing Bee was established some 36 years ago, it was somewhat of a happy accident. The fact that the 2020 show was held despite a global pandemic was not.
In spite of pandemic-related restrictions, members of the association felt strongly that the group’s 36th annual show should proceed as planned in July 2020.
One of the association’s primary goals is preservation of agricultural history and members were reluctant to put that on pause in 2020. Since most of the event’s activities are held outside and the number of positive Covid cases in Lyon County was low at the time, the group decided to forge ahead.
During the show, pandemic precautions included hand sanitizer stations set up across the show grounds and placement of barriers where food was served to help protect workers and customers.
All that’s left of Granite is the show
The show – which typically draws crowds of 5,000-6,000 – is known for the fact that no admission fee is charged. But its location also makes it unique: The show is located on what was once the town of Granite (known as Iuka until late 1887), which is approximately 9 miles southeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“All that’s left of Granite now is a few houses, two of which are from the original town,” says GTA President and Granite resident Darrel Hansen. “Years ago, my parents purchased most of the lots in the town. Over time, we pushed in the foundations of old buildings and cleared off the grounds. There’s about 10 acres here where we hold the show.”
Threshing activities were first held at a nearby site in 1985. Darrell used a couple of grain binders and a threshing machine he had purchased from a local collector. His plan was simply to find out more about how the equipment and overall threshing process worked.
“I was pretty small when my family still threshed,” he says. “About all I remember from that time is seeing the big straw stacks. I had no recollection of how bundling grain or the threshing machine worked. Being an old farm boy, I was always curious about threshing and all the equipment it involves.”
Word of mouth brings in a crowd
That first year, Darrell and his son planted about 5 acres of oats. When the crop was ready for harvest, friends and neighbors worked together to cut, bundle and shock the oats. One week later, on a Sunday afternoon, they set up Darrell’s threshing machine and prepared to finish their harvest.
“Just through word-of-mouth, people heard about our plans. Some brought old cars, vintage tractors and gas engines down to the threshing site,” Darrell says. “It was just supposed to be a one-time event, but we were surprised how many people wanted to come and watch. Afterward, there were so many in this area who wanted to hold another threshing day that we ended up founding our association and we’ve been threshing every summer since then.”
The Granite show is held the third weekend of July. Each show features a specific tractor brand (it was Allis-Chalmers in 2020) and includes demonstrations such as corn shredding and binding, stationary silage cutting and stationary baling, as well as displays of gas engines and other vintage farm equipment.
The event includes antique tractor and garden tractor pulls, a parade and flea market. A one-room schoolhouse, train depot and gunsmith shop are also popular attractions.
From sawing to shredding, demonstrations fill the weekend
The association acquired a sawmill several years ago through a donation by Michael Cwach, Yankton, South Dakota. It is housed in a building on the grounds. Each year, members bring in logs that are used in demonstrations. Volunteers man the sawmill and demonstrate milling processes.
Unless another exhibitor brings in their own machines, the association sets up a 1930s-vintage McCormick-Deering corn shredder and a Minneapolis-Moline corn sheller dating to the 1950s to use in demonstrations.
In the early 1900s, corn was often shredded in fall or early winter. Before it was ready for the shredder, the crop was cut, bundled and shocked in a similar manner to oats. Shocks were loaded onto a wagon and taken to the shredder. The corn shredder was belted to a horsepower, tractor or steam engine.
Shredders were generally set up to blow cornstalks into a barn loft as the corn was separated from the stalk. Stalks were fed butt-first into the shredder. Ears slid down a trough and into a grain elevator to be loaded onto another wagon. Stalks were smashed, partially ground or shredded and used as livestock feed. Kernels that inevitably pulled loose from the ear were gathered and fed to poultry.
“We have a neighbor and fellow GTA member who allows us to plant some corn every year in wide rows (or sometimes we check-row plant) so we can cut and bind it and take it to the show site,” Darrell says. “We also pick part of the corn and put that in a bin at the show site. Every fall we draw a pretty good crowd to watch the corn picking.”
No wasted space
The Two-Cylinder and New Generation clubs and the local John Deere Collectors Club also participate in the show by displaying John Deere tractors.
“We cram a lot of activities and equipment into a small area,” Darrell says. “Some of our association members have huge Allis-Chalmers collections. However, the virus kept many of them away from the 2020 show. For that reason, our Allis-Chalmers feature wasn’t nearly what it would be in a normal year.”
Because Granite is just a few miles from the Minnesota and South Dakota borders, show participants and visitors come from all three states and well beyond. “One of our parking attendants noticed an Illinois license plate in the parking area,” Darrell says. “We learned that this family saw our website and decided to make the six-hour drive from the Chicago area so they could get out of the house and do something fun.”
Grateful for the involvement of younger generations
Without grain, there can’t be any threshing. Because oat maturity dates are unpredictable, volunteers plant a crop of winter wheat each year. The wheat is always ready by threshing time. Four loads of bundled wheat are needed for each demonstration during the weekend.
Unlike most early threshers, which have just one feeder, the association-owned Case thresher has two wing feeders to feed bundles into the machine. The thresher is powered by a vintage tractor.
“In the early years of the show, we threshed about 10 acres of grain,” Darrell says. “In the past, we’ve used steam engines to power the thresher, but it takes a lot to move those big machines around, and there is no room to store them on the show grounds. The art of running a steam engine is growing less common all the time.”
Volunteers organize and produce the show. Among them are second-, third- and fourth-generation members. The association is grateful for volunteer support, and especially for the younger volunteers.
“We’re fortunate to have some people from younger generations on our membership board,” Darrell says. “Our members work really well together and the level of friendship between all of us is something that’s difficult to describe. Everyone pitches in wherever they can.”
The old guard hopes to see younger generations take the show over and keep it going. “As with all things in life, things about the show have changed over the years,” Darrell says. “We now see many tractors from the 1960s and 1970s on display, as that generation gains interest in agricultural history. Those of us who’ve been around for a long time have been more accustomed to seeing equipment from the 1920s to the ’50s at these kinds of shows.”
Still, the association’s show theme of Back to the Basics remains. “We’re fortunate to have younger people who volunteer to help with the show and participate in displays and demonstrations,” Darrell says. “Preserving our history through our shows is the main intention.”
Memorializes Once-Bustling Community
Europeans first arrived in the area of Blood Run Creek in the late 1600s. Pioneers followed, building dugouts and sod houses in the 1870s.
The town of Iuka was established in March 1887, featuring a post office and train station as well as a few residents and a blacksmith. Stagecoaches on their way to Dakota Territory passed through this area. In late 1887, the town’s name was changed to Granite. Passenger and freight trains arrived in the small town daily.
In the early 1900s, a stockyard and scale house, grocery store, drug store (complete with soda fountain), bank and two grain elevators were operating in Granite. Like many prairie towns, the community began to decline in the 1930s and had faded away by the 1970s. FC
For more information: The Granite Threshermen’s Assn. Threshing Bee is set for July 16-18, 2021. Show features: Massey-Harris and Massey Ferguson tractors and Fairbanks-Morse engines. Visit Granite Threshing Bee on Facebook.
Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.