Pioneer Steam Engine Enthusiasts

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Left: The infamous pink balls. Dana Carl and one of her “Girl Thing” collaborators playing with a steam engine.
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Dana Carl in her family’s 1958 Willys Jeep.
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Dana (Emens) Carl and her dad, Coe Emens, on the family farm at Mason, Mich.
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Dana Carl driving the Emens steam engine during the family’s harvest celebration last fall.

Blame their dads. If their dads hadn’t taught these girls to
love steam engines when they were little children, they wouldn’t be
the pioneering women they are today. Take Coe Emens, for example.
Owner of the Coe “Z” Acres Farm at Mason, Mich., he’s trained his
daughter, Dana Carl, in all things mechanical.

Dana is at home with all kinds of vintage machinery. Last fall,
her family hosted a “farm celebration” following a bountiful
harvest. Good food, good friends and festivities were in ample
supply. Dana began the celebration day by driving a 1958 Willys
Jeep around the place, and finished the day bullying a steam engine
around the south end of the west field. Her Jeep runs around the
farm as though it has been doing it forever. From time to time,
Dana will twitch the steering wheel a bit, but mostly the Jeep
seems to follow the established tracks all by itself.

Dana, who got married early last year, has been doing the steam
engine thing since she was in the seventh grade. A well-established
steam show is held at Mason each year, sponsored by the Michigan
Steam Engine & Threshers Club. The Emens family and assorted
relatives are deeply involved in this annual event. The nearly
50-year-old show even inspired the family to find their own steam
engine.

The flea market section of the Mason show takes on a life of its
own. Nearby, those who display and operate tractors, farm equipment
and steam engines are perpetually busy. It was in this environment
that Dana first started fussing with her family’s tractor. To fully
appreciate this, you must understand the relationship between Dana
and her father, Coe Emens III. Dana has been wrapping him around
her finger since she was tiny. It takes a lot to get Coe riled, and
folks know that.

About four years ago, a new development transpired at the Mason
show … It’s a Girl Thing. Dana and friends Lori Ott, Howell, Mich.;
Kelly Barson, Jackson, Mich.; and Beth Grosshaus, Gregory, Mich.,
started it. The four women, fully experienced operators of vintage
steam tractors, began doing the same things that the “guys” had
been doing since Adam, but with a feminine touch.

Decked out in matching T-shirts, hats and membership buttons
that trumpeted “IT’S A GIRL THING,” the four put their own spin on
what has long been a male-only pursuit. With music wafting from CD
players, and with charm bracelets sparkling on slender wrists, the
quartet put their steamers through their paces. Anyone who has
bonded with peers at deer camp or on a Red Hat outing would feel a
kindred spirit with these trailblazers.

The movement thrived. Being young women, the group enjoyed the
energy of youth. High spirits sometimes translate to late-night
mischief. One morning two years ago, folks at the Mason show awoke
to see governor balls on the girls’ steamers painted an
eye-catching shade of pink. This is not a customary accent shade on
big, black steamers. Folks take a second look.

By all accounts, those pink governor balls attracted plenty of
attention as the day got underway. Coe remained calm, but some of
the old timers didn’t take kindly to the innovation, and spent the
morning reblacking the brightly hued balls. The founding members of
“It’s a Girl Thing,” however, were undaunted.

Last year, forging ahead in true pioneer spirit, the young women
encouraged their peers to “think outside the box.” One morning
during the Mason steam show, folks awoke to see gleaming pink
governor balls on eight engines belonging to other people.
This abomination stoked some highly emotional responses, until it
was discovered that the balls had not been painted pink, but were
instead merely wrapped in bright pink aluminum foil. Tempers cooled
as the purists removed the foil.

Months later, on the surface, calm prevails. Still, as this
year’s Mason steam show approaches, many wonder … what will happen?
We will be watching – everyone will be – waiting to see the latest
installment of what has become “A Girl Thing.”

– For more information:
Cecil Darnell is a freelance writer and photographer living in
Michigan.

Michigan Steam Engine and Threshers Club 47th Annual
Reunion, featuring Keck-Gonnerman, July 29-31, Mason, Mich., 3
miles south on Highway 127, northeast corner of Barnes Road exit.
Contact: Carl Knoblauch, 308 Van Buren, Apt. B-402, Jackson, MI
49201; (517) 819-1471.

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