Full Steam Ahead

South Dakota show features pioneer power

| February 2005

"It all started when my dad (David Mensch) brought a 65 hp Case steam tractor home for my mom's birthday," Dawn Walz explains, recalling how the Menno (S.D.) Pioneer Power Show really got its start. Although the Mensch family used that tractor to thresh oats the first year they had it, it wasn't until David and Bubbles Mensch took it to Menno on the following Fourth of July that the show's wheels began to turn.

"I hooked the Case to the threshing machine and drove about 13 miles to town for the parade," David says. "Afterwards, I stopped in the city park where several others joined me and we had a little show." For the next few years, the steadily growing power show became the highlight of the Fourth of July in Menno. When it began to overshadow other Independence Day activities in the small South Dakota town, it was moved to September. Within just a few more years, the annual event outgrew Menno's city park.

"We had been filling up the park and spilling into the streets, which caused traffic problems and other safety concerns," David says. So the group organized as the Menno Pioneer Heritage Association (MPHA), and bought their own land on the north edge of town. The location, aptly named Pioneer Acres, is now permanent home to several historic buildings, steam engines, a sawmill and many other pieces of machinery, in addition to the show.

The 18th annual show, held Sept. 25-26, 2004 drew thousands of visitors, several hundred exhibitors, and offered displays, activities and demonstrations to pique everyone's interests. Minneapolis-Moline equipment, Gade Bros. engines and Chevrolet vehicles were featured. Toys, models and memorabilia were also in good supply. Spectators were treated to many exciting demonstrations, including steam plowing, tractor pulling, wheat milling and cake baking - the old-fashioned way. "We are proud of the show, because it offers so much variety," says Willard Zeeb, Menno resident and long-time show supporter. "Be sure to get a piece of chocolate cake at the summer kitchen."

History comes alive

"I think of myself as a historian, not a collector," David says, and the MPHA's bylaws continue to reflect his founding commitment to preserve and to educate. The group accomplishes that and more through a rich variety of living history demonstrations at the show. "It's one thing to look at things, and it's another to see how they were used," Dave adds.

Each year, the women of the MPHA create a living display relating to some aspect of early American home life. For example, in 2003, the Women's Building at Pioneer Acres bustled with demonstrations of old ways of washing clothes and included a soap-making demonstration. For 2004, the ladies created a summer kitchen that featured cooking techniques and tools of yesteryear. Marilee Hauck, Rita Hoff, Morna Anderson and Donna Zeeb outdid themselves with demonstrations of vintage egg-handling devices and displays of vintage gadgets, but the highlight of their exhibit was definitely the scratch-made chocolate cake baked to perfection in a Kerogas brand oven atop a three-burner kerosene stove made by Kenmore. Yum! Whole wheat bread was another treat that the women coaxed from their kerosene cooker. Now, just where does that flour come from?