By preserving the past, volunteers keep the Rose City Threshing & Heritage Festival and Minnesota man’s dream alive.
Every display of old iron is unique, and the Rose City Threshing & Heritage Festival of Miltona, Minnesota, is no exception. Mixed in with familiar events like threshing and shocking demonstrations are less familiar, quirky things – like potatoes free for the digging.
From its founding (a display of one man’s collection) to an inventory of odd and unusual relics (a bale collector and a well-drilling rig) to the way the event has grown (like a weed), the Rose City festival goes its own way – and makes it work.
Thirty years ago, Harvey Danielson decided to start a small show on his property – a 160-acre century farm near Rose City – with exhibits showcasing his gasoline engine collection. Joe Steinhagen, Alexandria, Minnesota, a member of the show association who works closely with the summer presentation, describes what happened next.
“The next year, Harvey asked, ‘since everybody comes here anyway, why don’t we do a little bit of threshing?’ Which they did, using his Belle City thresher,” Joe says. “After that, somebody brought in horses to pull the bundle racks, and they were followed by somebody offering some tractors.”
When the work involved began to become overwhelming, volunteers came together to launch an association and the Rose City show. “Not only the association for the show,” Joe says, “but also for the legality of everything.
Next the association bought Harvey Danielson’s farm, including the house, milking barn, granary, corncribs and 80 acres of land – which might have left Harvey out in the cold. But not at Rose City. “He still needed a place to live,” Joe says, “and we knew it was also good to have someone living there, so the association just allowed him to live there. That worked out well.”
When Harvey rented the remaining acreage, he sold his Farmall tractors, Minnesota binder and other machinery. When he announced plans to take his Minneapolis corn sheller and New Idea husker-shredder to a junk dealer 10 miles away, Joe stepped in. “I thought they were too good to junk, so Harvey and I agreed on a price and I bought them from him,” Joe says. “That way, we’ve kept those original machines on the farm for the show.”
They’re not working displays, because Joe has his hands full at the show, running his Case steam engine, Rumely OilPull and old trucks, and working at the shocking and threshing demonstrations. “Plus, we don’t grow corn here at the farm,” he says, “and those machines were for corn.”
Other original machines at the show include a Belle City thresher and gasoline engines shown by Harvey’s son, Phil, following Harvey’s death in 2013. So essentially, the show as it is today would never have existed without all of Harvey’s input, land, machinery and farmstead. It is, almost by accident, the evolution of one man’s show.
Threshing is Joe’s favorite part. “We own our own ground, plant our own seed, cut our own grain, and use a binder that cuts the grain and puts it into bundles,” he says. “The last couple of years we’ve had rye. It matures early, so it’s ready for the show at the end of July.”
A local farmer sprays the crop to eliminate weeds. The rye cures for a week or so on the rack. “If it has weeds, it gets hot,” Joe says. “When we’re ready to thresh, we stick our hands into the bundles and feel if it’s hot or not.” The 2017 crop necessitated special treatment. “It was 4 feet tall, so we had to make a little modification on the binder to handle that high stuff,” Joe says.
Originally, the threshing was done with the association’s Belle City threshing machine. “But now we’ve started using a 32-inch Red River Special owned by Jim Pospisil,” Joe says, “because it’s been entirely rebuilt.”
Joe got interested in the Rose City show 25 years ago, five years after it began, when he displayed his collection of machinery wrenches. “It was boring standing around,” he says, “so I asked Ray Erickson how one of the old steam traction engines worked. He explained it as a mechanical wonder, and that started the steam bug in me.”
That led to Joe’s true love, a 1913 60 hp Case steam engine he bought a few years later. The engine needed a lot of work. “First it had to be re-plumbed,” he says. “The state of Minnesota required double thickness on that type of plumbing before it would pass the ultrasound test on the thickness of the boiler walls, and then the hydro test, with the boiler filled with water and pressurized at 1-1/2 times its highest pressure to check for leaks. Mine has been duly inspected and passed the tests, so it can be used at the show. I also rebuilt the engine and the drive train, with new water bunkers and coal bunkers.”
Next, Joe added a pair of injectors and new clutch shoes. He removed rubber from the drive wheels and made basic repairs. He also extended the width of the drive wheels so he could use the Case to plow at the show. Joe says steam runs in his family: His uncle once owned six steam engines, and his father grew up with steam engines.
The Rose City show has its share of odds and ends, including a bale collector that was donated to the show. “Since we don’t do anything with bales, we don’t use it,” Joe says. “It’s odd-looking, and nobody knows anything about it.”
Then there’s the well-drilling wagon, manufactured by Justin Mfg. Co., Chicago, Illinois. Joe says a pair of pistons creates water pressure. A large dome at the top equalizes the pressure while dirt is being drilled away, and a 2-inch pipe is slid down into the ground. “A winch raises or lowers that pipe,” Joe says.
Another odd machine at the show is Joe’s half-scale Minneapolis steam traction engine, which he never runs. He rescued it from a junk pile in 1999. “A clever blacksmith by the name of M.S. Skatberg built it,” Joe says, “and he did a fine job on it. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can build anything like that. He built it from three different junk piles in Minnesota and North Dakota.”
All steam engines need to pass inspection in Minnesota. When a state inspector checked out the scale model, he told the builder that a single weld had to be replaced. “Though Skatberg was clever, he was also ornery,” Joe says. “Instead of rewelding it, he ordered the inspector off his property. So the machine couldn’t be run in any shows, although it could be run on the owner’s property.”
Joe bought the engine knowing it had a defective boiler. “I knew I’d have to replace that boiler, but I discovered that because it’s a half-scale, a new boiler is hard to come by and awfully expensive,” he says. “It would have to be handmade, for as much as $20,000. So I decided to keep it as a static machine for people at the show to look at.”
Unusual pieces offer a good backdrop for unusual demonstrations – like the potato-dig. “A couple of guys from the association plant a 300-foot-long row of potatoes so people can see how they are grown, because many people think potatoes just come from the store,” Joe says. “At the end of the field is a fork, so people can dig them up and take them home free.” The show also has a flower garden.
For kids, there’s a variety of games and contests, a BB gun safety shoot, a tractor pull and an ATV/lawn mower pull. The small set shows up early for the ever-popular sawdust coin-diving contest. “Coins are dropped into a pile of sawdust,” Joe says, “and the sawdust really flies as the kids try to find quarters, dimes or nickels.”
There’s also a church on the grounds. The structure was scheduled for demolition when the association purchased it (for $1) and moved it on to a foundation. Today, services are held there on the Sunday morning of the show.
Joe says the group has an important mission. “A lot of people don’t know anything about this old stuff,” he says.
“The younger crowd nowadays are not farm people, and they don’t know how farming works, so it’s good to have it here to show them.”
Take the threshing demonstration, for example. “People are amazed by the threshing machine,” he says. “They had no idea that grain went in and the straw and grain come out at the same time.
“We just need to maintain what we’re doing,” he says. “If we’re drawing in about 2,000 people over a weekend, we’re doing pretty good.” FC
For more information: Joe Steinhagen, 11980 Kluver Addition Rd. SE, Alexandria, MN 56308; (320) 762-2706. Rose City Threshing & Heritage Festival, Miltona, Minnesota, July 28-29, 2018. Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.