In 1971, two neighbors living in Rogers, Minnesota, rescued a thresher in the path of bulldozers working on Interstate 94. Resting in the same place for 22 years, the thresher was locked in place by trees growing through its steel wheels. For many, it would have been an inconvenience with a direct path to the junkyard. Instead, Walter Dehn, Adrian Milless and John Altenweg decided to restore the piece.
One month later, the rescue mission-turned-restoration project became the seed of a new threshing show when the trio held the first Rogers Threshing Show on Walter Dehn’s farm with 80 attendees. Fifty years later, despite changes and challenges, the show is still going strong.
Strength in numbers
On April 23, 1971, Ralph Altenweg announced the first-ever meeting of the Anoka Engine Club on April 23, 1971. Seventeen members joined that night. During the coming years, Anoka Engine Club participated in parades, county fairs, nursing home events and threshing shows. By 1975, membership had grown to 95.
Later that year, Walter Dehn invited the club to display their collections at his show in 1972. By 1974, the Rogers Threshing Show had grown to 5,000 attendees and the Anoka Engine Club was fully invested in making the show an annual success.
The Anoka Engine Club changed its name in 1987 to the Rogers Pioneer Power Association (RPPA). The Rogers Threshing Show continued at Walter Dehn’s farm until Walter’s death in 1992. Having only leased the property, the RPPA was confronted with its greatest challenge yet.
Ultimately, the RPPA purchased a site for permanent grounds. Between the 1993 and 1994 Rogers threshing shows, all of the buildings and equipment were moved to the new site in Nowthen 14 miles northeast of Rogers.
Preserving the past for the future
In 1997, the organization again changed its name to the Nowthen Historical Power Association (NHPA) and renamed the show the Nowthen Threshing Show. Over the past five decades, NHPA membership has grown and the group has rescued many old buildings, engines, cars, trucks and tractors, bringing them to the show in Nowthen.
Members have taught the next generation how to make egg coffee, use a wood stove, quilt, saw logs, start massive engines, thresh, blacksmith and use a printing press. Visitors can explore an old one-room schoolhouse. Live music is often heard from the restored church. A gas station, print shop, general store, depot, log house and barn have been relocated to the grounds, and a permanent building houses engine displays.
Through partnerships with like-minded organizations, NHPA brings more to the show than the organization could do alone. The Guild of Metalsmiths conducts daily demonstrations highlighting the skills of blacksmiths. The Anoka County Historical Society helps staff and run the General Store, sharing history of Anoka County.
The Oliver Kelly Farm has brought oxen for plowing demonstrations. A local chainsaw artist shares his talents. Several community organizations help run the gates and serve as food vendors. And connections with other shows around the state have created partnerships for training new members on lost skills and troubleshooting new issues.
The Nowthen Threshing Show’s feature in 2020 was intended to celebrate the event’s 50-year history. Rescheduled by the pandemic, the 50th anniversary Nowthen Threshing Show is set for August 20-22, 2021. FC
Why is it called Nowthen?
When Jim Hare, the first postmaster of Burns Township, contacted the U.S. Postal Service to request a post office in Burns Township, Minnesota, his request was denied because a township in another county had already been issued the name.
Responding to a request for another name, Hare offered several alternatives. In closing his letter, he ended with the word “nowthen” and his signature. Unaware of the fact that Hare routinely started and ended every sentence with that word, postal authorities apparently thought it was a worthy name for the new post office and formalized the name as the Nowthen Post Office.
In 1894, the Nowthen Post Office was closed, but local residents continued to refer to the area as Nowthen. On Dec. 12, 2007, Burns Township filed a petition with the Office of Administrative Hearings, Municipal Boundary Adjustments, requesting incorporation of Burns Township as the City of Nowthen.
“Nowthen,” notes the city’s website, “that’s our story.”
– Farm Collector staff
Anne Zimmerman is NHPA’S 50th Anniversary Feature Chair.