The HCEA Big Dig 2019

Historical construction group, Prairie Plowing Days organizers plan the ultimate “working show” in Kansas.

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by Bruce Strait
This 1916 30-60 Aultman & Taylor, owned by Brad Smith, will be part of the local lineup at the Big Dig.

When the Historical Construction Equipment Assn. (HCEA) kicks off its 35th annual International Convention and Old Equipment Exposition in rural Kansas this summer, members will get a chance to do something unusual with their equipment: work.

Held in conjunction with Prairie Plowing Days, Update* Aug. 27-29, 2021, the event will take place on the Kurt Kocher farm south of Concordia, where collectors will be able to put their equipment to work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty is the hallmark of the spring of 2020. But as this issue goes to print in early April, organizers say it is far too early to cancel the event. And so, for now anyway, the show goes on.

Among the planned demonstrations:  A clamshell crane, scrapers and drag line will work on pond dams, a steam shovel on loan from the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag will be put through its paces, and a belly dump wagon will be used in a road-building demonstration. Organizers are expecting displays of as many as 200 pieces of antique construction equipment.

“These people are serious about their hobby,” says Kurt Kocher, one of three men (including Brad Smith and Dane Barclay) organizing the event. “At a lot of shows, all they can do is move a pile of dirt from one place to another. Here they’re going to dip out ponds, build roads and terraces and give demonstrations.”

Kansas City-area members of the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club (ACMOC) will be involved, as well as Caterpillar collectors from all over the U.S. Members of two chapters of the American Truck Historical Society plan to participate in the show, as do the Ladies of Steam, members of a steam car collector group and the Heartland Car Club.

The host organization — Prairie Plowing Days — will have plenty going on as well. In a re-creation of a 1911 plowing promotion featuring three big Rumely tractors, the plowing event will feature an Oliver 50-bottom plow working with a series of trios: three 32 Reeves, three Holt 75 crawlers and three Aultman-Taylor tractors. “Each day, there will be a different demonstration,” Brad says. “We know of 15-18 steam engines and several big Aultman-Taylor, Rumely and Twin City prairie tractors that are coming.”

Preparing for crowds of up to 10,000, event organizers are spreading events over a full section at the Kocher farm. Maximizing safety and spectator experience, a space the size of a football field will be cordoned off, with seating along two sides and vendors at one end. The interior of the space will be used for a daily parade of power.

Plans also call for demonstration of an 1880s wood-beam, 31-bottom gang plow built by H.C. Shaw in Stockton, California. The plow was once used with Holt and Best steam engines. “There’s not another working one of those plows in the world,” Brad says.

Normally, he says, the antique tractors would be demonstrated in farming applications. But at the August show, four ancient elevating graders will be paired with early tractors, crawlers and steam engines. “We have old photos showing those big tractors pulling graders, building roads,” he explains. “As manufacturers quit building the big units, their last attempt to stay in business was selling them to counties to build roads.”

The first Prairie Plowing Days event was in 2016. The day of the event was picture perfect — except for the standing water from a 3-inch rain the day before. “We still had hundreds of people there,” Brad says. “We didn’t anticipate there’d be so much interest.” Rescheduled for two weeks later, the event drew a crowd estimated at 2,500.

And that’s the motivation for a second event, one put on by a loose-knit coalition of volunteers with little budget, no formal club organization behind them and no permanent grounds.

“It’s all about promoting our values, our hobby,” Brad says, “and that’s the reason kids will get in free. We want to keep kids involved. Since we held the event in 2016, the number of steam engines in Kansas has doubled. It really sparked a resurgence of interest in this hobby.”

“This could be a one-time deal,” Kurt says. “We want to make it a memorable occasion for everyone.”  FC

For more information:

Historical Construction Equipment Assn.’s 35th annual International Convention and Old Equipment Exposition, hosted by Prairie Plowing Days, Aug. 28-30, 2020, at the Kurt Kocher farm, 1151 Hawk Road, Glasco, Kansas. Event will be held rain or shine. People movers will run loops from the parking area to the demonstration area. Buildings will be open and demonstrations of every type will fill the three-day schedule. Primitive camping is available; lodging is also available in Salina, 35 miles away. Contact Cloud County Tourism, (785) 243-4303; Kurt Kocher, (785) 243-0083; or Brad Smith, (785) 243-0067.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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