Cities, Rust, and the Antique Powerland Museum

In Brooks, OR, the Antique Powerland Museum does its part to preserve the past.

| September 2001

It's been hard to come by this summer, but come winter, rain will fall frequently in Brooks, Ore. It's usually not the hard, swollen-dropped rain of the Midwest, but neither is it the misty drizzle of the Pacific coast. Here in Brooks, the rain falls as if it's pacing itself.

Plunked down between Salem and Portland along Interstate 5, Brooks is a small town, threatened on two fronts by its neighbors' appetites for land. Farmland to both the north and south has been folded into housing developments. Salem sits on the Brooks' southern horizon like a molasses-slow army campaign, Sherman to its Atlanta.

Perhaps it's the threat of the cities and the changes they represent that causes people to celebrate the old ways of farming here in Brooks. You could say that, but you'd be wrong. These aren't people who would let the past go even if they woke and found skyscrapers in their backyards - many of those who come to Brooks actually live in cities all along the Western edge of the country. These are people who love the old things, but aren't afraid of the new.

Talk to them long enough and you realize it might be the rain which makes them hanker to be around their collections of old iron. The rain makes the rust rise and, steadily, like the rain, collectors whose red-edged engines and tractors call the Antique Powerland Museum home set about the task of fighting it off.

Oregonian collectors of vintage farm equipment have been gathering to swap stories, parts, and information for nearly 50 years. No one remembers exactly when it started, but everyone agrees that Harvey Mikkelson hosting a threshing bee in Silverton, Ore., in the mid 1950s was what got the ball rolling. Through the years the show grew and changed until, in 1970, the first 'Great Oregon Steam-Up' was held on the leased land in Brooks where the museum stands today. This year's Steam-Up was held the last weekend of July and the first weekend of August.

'Most of the founders of the 'Western Steam Fiends' have gone on to the happy hunting grounds,' says Larry Leek, former president and current vice president of Western Antique Power, Inc., the group which owns the land. 'I think they'd be proud, though. We've got guys in each club who worked with the club founders and we're pretty much coming along into the third generation. There's a lot of history here and we're getting more people involved.' Kory Mikkelson, grandson of Oregon's godfather of steam, Harvey Mikkelson, has gotten involved recently. Kory, 30, seems to embody the idea of returning to the past. Employed by computer technology giant Intel, he never really shared his grandfather's fascination with the cutting-edge technology of the turn of the previous century. 'I didn't really get interested in steam engines until after he passed away,' Kory says. 'Better late than never, I guess.'