1026 Kearney, Manhattan, Kansas 66502
The last Thursday of July once again found Bird City, Kansas bustling with the clatter of gears, the hissing of steam, and the flapping of belts amid the billows of coal smoke rising in the morning sun. It's all fun and excitement between the sunflower and grain fields of downtown Kansas, as the Tri-State Antique Engine and Threshers Association Show begins its four day festival.
One thing you can count on at Bird City is there's always a steam engine to ride on. These engines are always kept clean so a visitor won't get his duds all sooted up. An engineer licensed in Kansas is required on the engine at all times while it's under pressure, but if you're tall enough to reach the throttle you can get a chance at driving. Some of the shows don't seem to have enough time or room for such things, but at Bird City there's always a ride.
The members of the Tri-State Antique Auto Club were at the show as usual. Their museum is full of polished up vintage autos and their parade of cars, trucks and other assorted vehicles is more impressive than most I've seen in large cities.
The indoor antique exhibit of life on the high plains got a brand new building this year but, as the show grew, it took no time at all to fill. The collections and exhibits pertaining to indoor life during the Pioneering Days just seem to get bigger and more interesting each year as more people participate. If a person wants to know how something was done or what it was done with, it's all here. Almost every trade or professional skill is represented along with items of household chores, leisure and entertainment.
Well it seems every year I sleep a little later, and some of the guys wonder if I'll get the Russell warmed up in time for the morning races. Well, I'll tell you one thing, that Russell is one easy engine to fire and I may be the last to light a match in the morning, but I haven't been late for the morning races yet! The afternoon parade, however, is another story. When the kitchen is open, you can count on old Ralph being in the dining hall firing his personal boiler with that world famous home baked Bird City pie. The only kind of pie I don't eat is magpie, and the ladies don't serve it anyway! It seems the parade is well underway when I hear a whistle and I go off toward the firing line with a slice of pie in each hand.
The tractor pull this year went on without the pleasure of young children helping out on the sled.
It seems the insurance people disallowed the participation of children under 18. Some years back an insurance man was bragging to me that insurance companies were going to raise rates and lower coverage to where they would extract whatever profit they wished without fear of competition. It seems to me that antique engine people have a far better safety record than amusement parks or state fair carnivals and it just doesn't seem right to me that this type of price fixing and big company manipulating should be allowed to control old fashioned safe fun.
Frank & Rita Benkofske of Lake wood, CO have helped out at the show for 3 years. They're pictured with Maynard Wright's 1/3 scale Case 65 HP.
In January this year we lost one great engineer, helper and friend when Wesley Pitman passed away. Wes was a guiding hand and inspiration to us all. We'll miss Wes, but we can be sure his spirit will be with us wherever wheels are turning.
Allen 'Bus' Wurm of Oberlin, Kansas told a little about the early days of Bird City's Huber. It seems that around 1929 Bus's family lived near Trenton, Nebraska where a threshing crew had abandoned the Huber in a field and no one seemed to want her. Bus's father fired her up with corn cobs and drove her home where it was used for a few years to thresh wheat.
Bus says that when he was in the sixth grade (1932) he hid some cigarettes and a cigar in the fire box. He'd go out there at night, stick his head in the fire box and light up. Then one night he and his cousin were puffing it up, but his cousin couldn't keep a secret and his dad found out and soon Bus lost his smokes. The engine stayed a while in the yard with kids playing on and around it.
The stationary engine yard continues to pop, hiss, and whirl. It sure amazes me how smooth these engines run. I don't know much about gas engines, but it sure seems to me that those car makers could learn a little about quality by strolling through the exhibit. Some of these engines have driven machinery or well pumps for over fifty years while I worry if my car will make it home from the show.
It's half past April when I'm writing this and the show's leaders have most of the '90 show planned already. Come on out to Bird City in downtown Kansas where it's always 'sunny skies and continuing mild.' Here in the sunflower state, there's something for everyone at the Tri-State Show, when once again the ground will shake and the earth will move under the awesome display of horsepower.