Show Volunteers at Midwest Old Threshers

For the thousands who attend antique farm equipment shows each summer, it's all about fun. But for a show volunteer, it's a good deal closer to work.


| September 2006



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Horses and a vintage steamer are used alternately to power the sorghum press. The juice extracted from sweet sorghum cane is cooked down to a dark, thick syrup by the Heaton family.

For the thousands who attend antique farm equipment shows each summer, it's all about fun. But for a show volunteer, it's a good deal closer to work.

The Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, is a classic example. A small army of volunteers take tickets, man equipment, operate transportation systems, direct traffic, answer questions, sell buttons and manage exhibits. Working in weather that can range from typhoon to inferno, volunteers put in long hours to make the show a success. For the workers, it's no small irony that the show ends on Labor Day. But there's also no mistaking that – for the dedicated volunteer – working at a show is a labor of love.

Living a legacy

Alice Rohrssen is a woman of diverse interests: woodworking, silversmithing, pottery – and antique stationary steam engines. At the 2005 Old Threshers Reunion, the Marengo, Iowa, woman worked a regular shift as an operator at the steam powerhouse. Keeping a watchful eye on a 1908 Vilter originally used to pump ammonia, she traced the route that brought her to Mt. Pleasant.

"My grandmother was the first woman to study mechanical engineering at Iowa State," she notes with pride. "My grandfather also studied engineering there, and my dad was involved in historic preservation. When I come here, I get to play with the engines, but I don't have to buy one and store it. At the same time, I feel like I'm helping keep a piece of Americana alive."

As a steam operator, Alice knows she' a bit unique at Mt. Pleasant ("There are other women volunteers, but they don't tend to work on machinery"), but she doesn't give it much thought. Mostly, she's busy answering visitors' questions and manning the engine. She participates in workdays before the reunion, welcomes opportunities to tear into a piece of equipment and relishes the relationships she's made. "I wouldn't miss this for the world," she says. "It's a great bunch of people here, and I get to play with big boy toys and get out of the house. It's just fun."

Running the quarry shovel

"What is today? Saturday?"