Roll out the barrel! We’ve got the blues on the run!” A dance hall band performing on an outside stage sets the tone at the Little Log House Antique Power Show in July. From one end of the beautifully manicured grounds to the other, the prevailing mood is that of an enormous party where the guests just happen to bring their favorite collectible – tractors, engines, cars, you name it – along with them. A worker at a concession stand sums it up neatly. “If you can’t have fun,” he says with a mock stern expression, “you can’t have fun.”
Owned by Steve and Sylvia Bauer, Hastings, Minn., Little Log House Pioneer Village offers a unique look at authentically restored historical artifacts of southern Minnesota. Fifty buildings have been salvaged and moved to the grounds; most have been furnished with period relics in a very professional manner. Friendly volunteers offer insights to local history and rural traditions.
Nestled in a quiet pocket, Sylvia’s Garden offers a peaceful diversion from the hubbub of the show. Covering more than 40,000 square feet, the garden boasts countless flowers and shrubs, two ponds, a working waterwheel, brick paths and arbors. For three days each summer – the only time each year that the village is open to the public – that backdrop of local history and natural beauty sets the stage for a show celebrating traditional farm practices.
It started, as all collections do, innocently enough. As Steve Bauer helped a neighbor demolish an old house near Hastings, under the siding he discovered logs dating to 1856. Demolition work stopped; preservation began. Steve moved the structure to his farm, and he and Sylvia launched a full restoration.
One year later, on a Sunday afternoon in 1988, the Bauers hosted a threshing bee near the little log house for family and friends. Over time, the event exploded into a three-day show – the Little Log House Antique Power Show – with visitors from every corner of the U.S.
Today, in addition to that little log house, visitors roam through an engine shed, schoolhouse, print shop, millinery and dress shop, jail, telephone building, U.S. Land Office, general store, butcher shop, church, freight house, Ford garage, train depot, implement and car dealerships, 1960s diner and more. A working rock quarry, a replica of a very unusual spiral bridge and a dirt track for truck and tractor pulls more than round out the offering. Want more? There’s a car show, historic re-enactments, crafts demonstrations, a military display, threshing, well drilling, shingle branding, parades and live music. The guy at the burger stand knew what he was talking about. If you can’t have fun here, you probably can’t have fun anywhere.
Tim Brown, St. Francis, Minn., is a regular at the show. “I love the flea market and all the activities,” he says. “And there’s always something new every year. Last year they brought in a Sherman tank. When do you ever see anything like that at a tractor show?”
Tim showed a 1947 Cockshutt Model 30 in July 2012. “I like the rounded nose and the styling of the Cockshutt,” he says. “I had it in mind that someday I’d get one. Well, ‘someday’ came on eBay.” When he pulled the trigger, the tractor was 120 miles away. “I bought it without knowing how I was going to get it home,” he says. “I was very unprepared; I had to borrow a trailer.”
A bit of a project (“It was junk when I got it,” Tim says), the Cockshutt was complete but covered with rust and dents. The engine was stuck and the tires were rotted. Adding insult to injury, the tractor had been painted green. Tim rolled up his sleeves and went to work. His first restoration project, the Model 30 runs well now and looks better than new.
Over by the sawmill, 15-year-old Daniel Wyman, Carver, Minn., kept a watchful eye on a half-scale 80 hp Case steam engine owned by Kevin Poncelet, Zumbrota, Minn. Daniel’s brother Jack, 13, volunteered the information that Daniel had received his driver’s license permit three days earlier. No small event in the life of an American teenager, the permit was almost an afterthought as Daniel discussed his involvement with antique farm equipment.
The third generation in their family to be captivated by steam engines, the trio of Wyman boys (including 10-year-old Wyatt) eat, sleep and breathe old iron. The three field questions easily. Jack explains that Daniel has already amassed more than 800 hours’ operating time on steam engines. “We’re at a show somewhere just about every weekend,” Jack says.
At the Little Log House show, the three are the primary crew on the scale-model Case, used there to power a buzz saw. “It’s got electric start, so it takes about an hour to build the fire and heat the water,” Jack says. “We keep it at 100-150 psi.” Engines are tested annually by state inspectors, he notes, and safety is a key concern. “If something goes wrong, it’s usually not the engine’s fault,” he says. “Most of the time it’s the operator’s fault.”
The brothers speculate that the Case’s builder was an engineer, perhaps a machinist by trade. The scale-model version is easier to operate than a full-size engine, they say; with care and good treatment, it should remain in running condition for decades.
At home, Jack has a 730 John Deere diesel; Daniel has a John Deere 50; Wyatt, a John Deere B. “We just like tractors and gas engines,” Jack says. “It’s fun to get down and get dirty, and when we’re at shows, it’s cool to see the older people come up and look at this stuff; they like to see that their heritage is still alive.
“Nobody,” he adds, “ever gets tired of this.”
Decades ago, farm operations could be brought to a screeching halt by something as simple as a dull cutting edge. Scythes, grain cradles, scissors, knives, drill bits, chisels and mowers all depended on regular sharpening. Walt Haeussinger’s trailer display, packed with grinders of every size, shape and application, puts a sharp edge on that point.
Motivated by memories of boyhood, when he played with his granddad’s sickle bar mower grinders, Walt (who lives in Fountain City, Minn.) began building a display. “I went to shows and nobody else had anything like it,” he says. The oldest grinders in his display date to the late 1800s and run the gamut from industrial to household use. Some are run by pedals; others by hand cranks. Free-standing, screw-type or wall-mount, all were vital small appliances on the farm of yesteryear.
Prowling through flea markets, Walt eventually found more than 100 grinders. The collection includes oddball pieces, like hand-crank grinders used to sharpen sheep shears, and razor blade sharpeners said to have been used by soldiers during World War II.
Walt’s display also dips into other categories. From the ceiling of the trailer hang a variety of scales used on the farm to weigh everything from hides to chickens, eggs to grain. Other unusual pieces in his display include an antique soil thermometer, original packaging used in the 1930s-’40s to mail eggs for hatching on the farm and an egg grader. It’s an evolving collection. “I’m still looking,” he says with a smile.
Butch Davies, Hastings, grew up hearing his dad’s story. Two teenage boys, trying to help support their family in the 1940s, built a conveyor and shaker screen to automate a fledgling gravel operation. A Sauerman drag-scraper bucket run by an old Fordson tractor relieved the need for hand shoveling. After 10 years’ faithful service, the rig was replaced by upgraded equipment – but no one in the family was prepared to junk the old relics.
Today they form a working display at the Little Log House show, feeding rock to a pair of crushers Butch’s dad bought used in the 1940s. “It’s all babbitt bearing equipment,” Butch says. “Keep it greased, don’t overrun it and do a lot of maintenance. Treat ’em right and they’ll keep working for you.”
The quarry is a hive of activity, a sandbox come to life as vintage construction equipment is put through its paces. The rim of the “bowl” is lined by a silent parade of rust-covered commercial trucks abandoned to the elements. The conveyor, Fordson and crushers are still going strong, run by three generations of the Davies family. And the gravel? Everything the quarry produces is put to work on roads and paths around Pioneer Village. FC
For more information: Little Log House Antique Power Show, July 26-28, 2013; phone (651) 437-2693; Little Log House Show.
Read about a manure spreader that was converted into the "Minnesota Ferrari" in Manure Spreader Turned Into “Minnesota Ferrari”.