Thoughts of Kansas in July always revolve around one subject Wheat Harvest! This yearly occurrence in the Great Plains would normally culminate in a community event The threshing bee. Everyone brought their newly harvested shocks of wheat to a central site for threshing. The powerful steam engine would be attached to the threshing machine the men supplied the labor; the women the wonderful home-cooked food; and the children the fun and games!
Five years ago the Jewell County Historical Society, headquartered in Mankato, Kansas, decided to recreate this unique event from our past as a means of preserving our pioneer heritage.
So, complete with steam engines and threshing machines, home-cooked food and fun and games, a unique event has evolved the Jewell County Threshing Bee and Antique Machine Show.
Since the first threshing bee five years ago, over 3500 visitors and 250 exhibitors from Pennsylvania, California, Texas and all regions in between have participated. A special participant was Trevor Sprigg, from western Australia, who, during a visit to the United States, spent over thirty days in Mankato helping to prepare for the threshing bee.
The threshing bee offers something for everyone. The two-day event is held in a shady ten-acre plot belonging to the Jewell County Historical Society, Dr. William Schlotter back and the City of Mankato. Home cooked meals, lemonade, ice cream, funnel cakes and other delights can be enjoyed in the shade on the many benches supplied for spectators. Antiques, flea markets and crafts booths provide hours of browsing. Actual demonstrations of such age-old crafts as wheat weaving, blacksmithing, quilt making, rope making, limestone fence post construction and babbit pouring offer an interesting interlude to the main events.
The action begins on Saturday morning at 8:00 AM. The crowd gathers early to watch the steam engines build up steam and the antique tractors warm up as the stationary engines begin to pop and smoke in preparation for the events of the day. By 11:00 AM the steam engines are belted up and the first of many threshing demonstrations begin. The steam engines are given no rest, as on to the parade they move! Along with the antique tractors, cars, fire engines, horse and buggies and teams of work horses, they parade through downtown Mankato and the threshing bee grounds, much to the delight of the 3500 spectators in attendance.
The end of the Grand Parade is only the beginning of the day's activities. The steam engines or antique tractors are soon belted up or prepared for the afternoon contests and demonstrations. These include fast and slow races, a unique teeter-totter contest, saw mill demonstrations, straw baling, and many other events. All afternoon the saw mill buzzes, teams of work horses plow the ground and dozens of other events take place in a recreation of the way of life of our pioneer forefathers decades ago.
Since the site for the threshing bee covers a large area, rides from one site to another are available. Visitors may take their choice of horse-drawn buggies or wagons or tractor-drawn trailers. A special addition for this year is an antique beer wagon pulled by a team of six Percherons.
The action continues until sundown. The Old Timers Fiddlers, complete with player piano accompaniment, entertain from morning until night. Old time dancing is not forgotten. Square and round dance demonstrations highlight the evening hours.
Sunday begins with the arrival of the 'Circuit Preacher' riding in on horseback for morning services at 9:00 AM, and a schedule of events follows similar to the preceding day.
The Jewell County Museum, located in downtown Mankato, is one stop that should not be overlooked. A special exhibit is prepared each year to highlight the threshing bee. This year's exhibit, called 'Come to the Fair,' is on loan from the Kansas Historical Society and the Kansas Committee for the Humanities.
Planning for the next year's events begins only a few hours after the final haunting blast of a steam whistle signals the end of the threshing bee. Jim Decker, Chairman, his committees and their many volunteers begin discussions of any problems, changes or additions which should be considered for the following year.
The steam engines which play a large role in each threshing bee have been supplied by the following individuals: Emil Kudlicek, David City, Nebraska, who has loaned his unique reverse flue Huber for the past three years, enjoys operating the engine and visiting with the crowds of enthusiasts; Don Blecha, Wichita, Kansas, who brings his restored 20-70 Nichols and Shepard engine which was originally owned by his grandfather; Bud Heffner, Concordia, Kansas, with his magnificent Russell steam engine; and John Strattman, Wilcox, Nebraska, who has loaned his Minneapolis steam engine.
The 5th Annual Jewell County Threshing Bee was held in Mankato on July 17 and 18, 1982.