Pioneer Steam Engine Enthusiasts

Women put a new spin on steam engine show with "It's a Girl Thing."


| July 2005



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Left: The infamous pink balls. Dana Carl and one of her “Girl Thing” collaborators playing with a steam engine.

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.