1511 Iglehart Ave. St. Paul, Minnesota 55104
The twenty-ninth National Steam Threshing Bee was held Saturday
and Sunday, October 11th and 12th, 1969 Montgomery, Minnesota.
Montgomery, a thriving city with a population of twenty-five
hundred people is located on Highway thirteen about fifty miles
south of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Montgomery
was plotted in 1872 when the Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railroad
came through Le Seur County. The site laid out by Jane B. Martin
was in the midst of a dense forest of heavy timber.
It was founded by Czech, German and Irish immigrants when the
tracks of the railroad were first laid through the area. Polish,
Swedish and other nationalities also made up the population of both
the town and the rich farming area surrounding it.
Montgomery, named after one of the directors of the railroad,
had a population of 979 in 1900, and by 1910, it totaled 1267.
During the past twenty years, the community has experienced steady
continuous growth with new industrial buildings and additions, new
residences and improved, modern civic projects, to better serve its
Located in south central Minnesota, Montgomery is surrounded by
rich agricultural land of flat to gently rolling terrain. The
elevation is 1063 feet above sea level. A growing season of one
hundred and forty-three days is the average for this section of
Minnesota, allowing ample time for the farmers to grow corn and
soybeans along with a diversified agricultural system.
In accordance with the industrial and agricultural activity of
both the city and the surrounding community, Montgomery has a
modern school system.
It has one public elementary school, and a junior and senior
public high school.
All schools have modern equipment, including gymnasiums for both
the elementary and high schools. A modern public library is
available to students, as is also a $25,000 city athletic
Rural students are transported by twelve district-owned
Along with schools, a community must have churches. Two of these
spiritual congregations are located in Montgomery. Holy Redeemer
Roman Catholic parish has the largest congregation, with St. John
Evangelical Lutheran ranking second. Within a ten-mile radius of
the city, Methodist, Evangelical United Brethren, Church of Christ,
Episcopal and Baptist churches are available.
Montgomery has a medical clinic and a modern hospital.
The city has a second class post office housed in a fine
A modern housing project has added two new residential areas to
Minnesota Valley Natural Gas company serves Montgomery with
Electric power is furnished for Montgomery by Interstate Power
Company. The city has a complete street lighting system. Two wells,
each six-hundred feet deep, furnish the water supply.
The city has a large sewage disposal plant that serves the
Montgomery is located on a main line of the Chicago North
Western Railroad and is also served by the Chicago, Milwaukee St.
Paul and Pacific.
Passenger bus service is available to and from the city.
The city has no airport but the Minneapolis-St. Paul
International air port is but twenty-five miles away. However,
private plane facilities and air charter service are available at
nearby Faribault, Mankato and Flying Cloud airports.
There is a city park furnished with picnic benches and
fireplaces. There is also a completely equipped children’s
playground at the public school.
A tennis court and golf course are available and hotel-motel
accommodations are plentiful.
Montgomery has several industries. They include the Green Giant
Company where sweet corn and peas are processed, Mensingwear, Inc.
employing 300 to 400 women, the Polar Panel Company, Holland
Plastics and the Adolph Kiefer Company.
Take into consideration all of the business places of this city
that can well be compared with a city more than twice its size, and
well, you name it, Montgomery has it.
Montgomery is famous for two annual events.
Kolachy Day is an annual community celebration held each year in
late summer. The festival pays homage to the glorified fruit-filled
bun, the Kolachy, which is a native of Czechoslovakia. Because of
the popularity of the occasion, Montgomery has become associated
with the title, Kolachy Kapitol of the world, and is recognized
nation-wide as such. The event annually attracts from 35,000 to
50,000 people for its giant parade and various other
Montgomery also boasts the largest private collection of steam
traction engines in the world. The collection is owned by Joseph T.
Rynda, known as ‘Steam Engine Joe’. At the present time,
Joe has a collection of forty-five different models of which four
have no duplicates anywhere in the world.
Steam Engine Joe was the originator of the first steam threshing
bee in the world, and has conducted a threshing show every autumn
for twenty-nine consecutive years. This annual event has been known
to draw ten thousand people from a ten-state area, and is held on
the second Saturday and Sunday in October.
In the forenoon of October 11th, while at the threshing show
site, I discovered I needed a black and white camera film, so Pete
Pedersen, a friend of mine and I drove over to the business section
of town. We noticed a drug store on a corner so I parked the car
and we went inside.
We were greeted by Henry J. Tupa, owner of Tupa’s Rexall
Drug Store. ‘The best drug store in the country, we’ve been
right here on the corner for thirty-four years’. ‘We keep
people well’, he said. We met Mrs. Tupa, a trained nurse who
works at the hospital. She wrote some notes for me on Montgomery.
We were introduced to the head clerk, Emma Zelenka. She was the
third Kolachy Queen. A queen is selected from the charming young
ladies of the community for the Kolachy
festivities each year. We also met Leatta Trnka, a clerk in the
drug store, who was the first Kolachy Queen.
Speaking of Montgomery industries, Emma Zelenka mentioned that
the Green-Giant plant in Montgomery was much larger than the
company’s plant at LeSuer, their headquarters.
‘They employ more people here’, she said.
‘They’ve got the chiefs but we’ve got the
Kolachy Day in 1969 was held on August 24th. The celebration
stages one of the best parades in the state, with a beautiful queen
riding in all of her splendor. Women in the parade dress in Czech
While in Montgomery I stopped in at the Franke Bakery where I
talked with Emil Franke, who retired from the bakery business which
is now being carried on by his son, Alvin.
Mr. Franke who was born in Vienna, Czechoslavakia, learned the
baker’s trade there. Migrating to this country, he settled in
Montgomery where he established his baking business, sixty years
ago. Taking me through the bake shop, he pointed out a bun machine
that came from Czechoslavakia, and the oven where ten thousand
Kolachy buns are baked at one time, or one hundred loaves of bread.
The bakery is famous for its Bohemian rye bread.
The Kolachy bun is baked with a fruit filling of either Prune or
Apricot, or poppy seed.
The Franke Bakery is the largest Kolachy bakery in
Mrs. Emil Franke told me 35,000 Kolachys were baked for the 1969
Kolachy Day, but the bakery at nearby Waterville helped out.
Ten thousand Kolachys a day is a common output.
Housewives of Montgomery and the surrounding area have
specialized in Kolachy baking over the years. Lately, however, this
angle of production has reduced from a commercial basis to the
individual family requirement.
At one time a neighboring community tried to take the Kolachy
World Title along with the Kolachy Day celebration away from
Montgomery. Through the efforts of a group of citizens led by Emil
Franke and Steam Engine Joe Rynda, a copyright was obtained and
recorded; thus the day was saved for the Montgomery community.
Two weeks before the 1969 Threshing Bee, I drove to Montgomery
and had a very pleasant interview with Joseph T. Rynda who prefers
to be known as Steam Engine Joe. I will try to relay to you the
information as he gave it to me. The first Original National Steam
Threshing Bee was held two miles east of Montgomery on the Richter
farm. The site of the threshing was near a lakeshore. Joe used a J.
I. Case 65 hp., serial number 3268, built May 4, 1915, and it was
shipped to George, Iowa, from Racine, Wisconsin. It was sold at one
time for ten dollars. The gear pump sold for five dollars. Later
Joe bought the engine for a hundred dollars. A Case separator was
used, that later was destroyed. Although the threshing Bee was held
each year, he did not mention all of them, but he did give me the
years that he thought were most worthy of mention. In 1947 and
1948, the Threshing Bee was held at New Ulm before the largest
crowds of people in the history of the event. Fifteen to twenty
thousand people saw Steam Engine Joe and his crew, most of whom
were women, dressed as they always have in Czech costumes.
In 1953, on the second Saturday and Sunday in October, they
threshed at New Prague. 1954 was a very wet year and the threshing
was held in Montgomery. It had rained so much that they had trouble
setting the machine. The ground was so soft that they had to use
horses to back the engine into the belt. A second setting of grain
was pitched over. It was too wet to re-set the machine.
In 1955, the threshing event was held on the Livestock Breeding
Farm at New Prague.
In 1956, the threshing was held at Heidelberg near Montgomery.
It was the one-hundredth anniversary of the church there.
In 1962, they threshed at Elysan, Minnesota, using an A. D.
Baker engine which was moved on the road for twenty-seven miles
drawing the Case Agitator separator and the tank wagon.
While at Elysan, Joe was giving a demonstration with The Baker
steam engine. Going up a steep hill in a stubble field, he would
cause the engine to jump the front trucks off the ground about six
inches. Suddenly a flue sprung a leak in front in the smoke box.
Joe pulled the fire and the steam went down. Next, he went to his
car and came back with a piece of two by four and an axe. He split
the two by four and made a wooden plug which he drove into the
flue. The leak was at the very end so the plug covered the
In a short time, he had enough steam to move the engine.
Gradually he climbed the hill to where he hitched the separator on
and pulled it between the grain stacks. Threshing proceeded as
Joe said, ‘I was showing off at the time. It doesn’t
Plowing was done both years at Elysan with an eight-bottom John
Deere platform plow.
Plowing with horses was demonstrated there also.
The 1964 Threshing Event was held at Vesely, Minnesota, thirteen
miles from Montgomery. The wood-wheeled Aultman and Taylor moved
all of the way up and back pulling the separator and water tank.
This engine was built in 1878 or 1879.
In 1965, Joe used a Case engine at Vesely. The serial number of
this one 33516. It pulled the separator and tank.
In 1966, they threshed at the Eilers Brothers farm at New
Prague. A 16 hp. Huber, serial number 3867, was used. It moved the
ten miles to the farm and return, pulling the Case Agitator
separator and tank wagon.
In 1967, they again threshed at Eiler Brothers using a 12 hp.
return flue Case engine with link motion return balanced steam
valve, with large steam chest. It was built September 29, 1890,
with serial number 4348. It is the only known large steam chest of
that type on earth. It pulled the separator and tank wagon to the
farm, ten miles away and returned. Wood as usual was used as
In 1967, Steam Engine Joe Rynda driving his 10 hp. wood-burning,
wood wheeled Aultman and Taylor, shaft-drive engine, was Grand
Marshall of the parade at Strum, Wisconsin. The occasion was the
annual Steam Engine Days event.
The 1968 threshing was held at Montgomery on the Holy Redeemer
Church parking lot. The wood-wheeled 10 hp. Aultman and Taylor
engine, burning wood, was used for power. The Case Agitator
hand-feed separator was used, as it has been each year since Steam
Engine Joe purchased it in 1947 from Mr. Heim of St. Stephen,
Minnesota for $200.00. In 1969, Joe purchased a De Smith Tally box,
used for measuring with a half bushel from Mr. Heim’s son for
On Saturday, October 11th, after having purchased the camera
film we returned to Holy Redeemer parking lot which was the site of
the 1969 show. We found the threshing underway to the extent that
two stacks of oats had been lowered by men on each side of the
machine, to where it was possible for two women to work on a stack
The stacks, two of which were threshed each day, were the work
of a skilled grain stacker. Although the stacks were small, they
The grain to be threshed was owned by the Eilers brothers of New
Prague, who hauled the threshed oats with a team of horses to a
truck parked in the background. The J. I. Case Agitator, size 32
inch 12 bar cylinder; and 46 inch rear, was used. It holds serial
number 8920, built in 1885. It is a hand-feed machine with a slat
straw carrier and a Kicker tailings elevator.
A 12 hp. Nichols and Shepard traction engine furnished the
Mr. Eilers hauled the water wagon with his team of horses.
Tom Zahratka, also known as Team Engine Tom, long associated
with Steam Engine Joe and the Montgomery Threshing Bee, was the
fireman. He used wood for fuel.
Other firemen who have worked with Steam Engine Joe are Frank
Sebritz of Algona, Iowa and Henry Sebek of New Prague,
Frank Smisek was the separator man. He also fed the machine. On
Sunday, he was relieved of feeding for a while when Congressman
Ancher Nelson fed the machine.
Joe Speikers Sr. was a helper and he ran Tom Zahratka’s
upright steam hobby engine giving rides. Another helper was Donald
Bicek. Father Robert Dobihal of the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
is a consistent cooperator with the Threshing Bee.
Women taking part in the 1969 threshing were dressed in
attractive Czech costumes. The ladies I saw working on Saturday
were not dressed in the floor length dresses of the 1890’s as
they usually have been, but they were about the length, popular
with, lets say, middle-aged women of today. Don’t get me wrong,
I’m not classing them into any particular age group, but they
were real neatly attired, which would imply that they must have
some up-to-date beauty shops in Montgomery.
Women taking part in the threshing during the two days were
Jennie Mack, Ann Lusk, Lillian Petrica, Mary Franke, Adeline Havel,
Mayme Schleis, Mary David and Helen Keohen, chairwoman.
Ever since the Original National Steam Threshing Bee was
organized, twentynine years ago, women have cut bands, pitched
bundles and on some occasions, stacked straw.
I watched them in their positions with one cutting bands on the
right of the feeder, and the other band cutter on his left. On the
right stack, one woman passed the oat bundles to another who laid
them on the ‘table’ for the band cutter. On the left, State
Representative Henry Morlock pitched alone from the stack.
The weather for the show was unfavorable. A mist fell Saturday
forenoon but it stopped about noon. It stayed cloudy but didn’t
rain in the afternoon. Sunday brought showers, but they managed to
Attendance at the show was low due to the weather. Lunches,
which of course included Kolachy’s were available. Fancy
needlework was sold by local women. Mickie Feschels of Waterloo,
Iowa, represented IRON MEN ALBUM and THE GAS MAGAZINE. She had
quite an interesting stock of antiques for sale.
Men in public office including high state officials, have taken
part in most of the Montgomery Threshing Bees over the years. When
Orville L. Freeman was Governor of Minnesota, he came to the show
and stacked straw. Governor Elmer L. Anderson helped feed the
machine on one occasion and Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolwaag, at
that time, helped sack grain.
The 29th National Steam Threshing Bee of October 11th and 12th
was the second appearance of the show in 1969, In August, they
staged a special threshing show in the evening under the lights at
the LeCenter, Minnesota Fair.
Other special appearances they have made are as follows: In
1950, they threshed at Redwood Falls, Minnesota. It was the
seventy-fifth anniversary of the town. In 1954, they threshed at
the Jordan, Minnesota County Fair. The one-hundredth anniversary of
the city of Jordan was being celebrated. At Morris-town, Minnesota,
they threshed at the one-hundredth anniversary of the town. They
threshed at the National Plowville at Waseca, Minnesota. Rain
hindered the operation.
Wood has been used as fuel through the years except for one year
when they burned straw. As I have stated, Steam Engine Joe Rynda is
the owner of forty-five steam traction engines, at least four of
these engines have no duplicates in the world. His first engine was
a present to him from his uncle, Albert Bradec.
As a boy, Joe had helped install flues in it. In 1925, his uncle
gave him the engine, a wood-wheeled Aultman-Taylor, 10 hp. A few
years later, Joe’s health failed him. In 1931, 1932 and 1933,
he ‘lived on milk and crackers’. He didn’t expect to
live. He offered to give the engine to the Ford Museum. They would
not accept the engine unless a complete history of the engine was
furnished them. By the time they received the history, they wanted
to buy it. Joe refused to sell it, but said they could have it
under one condition, that if the museum was ever closed or moved
out of the United States, the engine was to be returned to his
descendants. The Ford Museum accepted the engine.
Fortunately, Joe’s health came back, for which he thanks the
good Lord, and he began buying engines in 1938. He continued to buy
engines until 1966 when he purchased the last one. It is a 25 hp.
Northwest high wheel, flat spoke, wide gear plow engine, serial
number 5904, built about 1908. Joe says it may be the only one of
its type and size in the world. It was purchased from a woman, Mrs.
Kubas, who came to him to sell the engine. She began talking to him
in the Polish language which he recognized by the few words he
knew. Joe told me, ‘I said, Lady, I’m Bohemian, not
Polish’. ‘We finished talking English.’
He mentioned a traction engine, one of the few engines of this
type that were built. They were built by the C. Aultman Company of
Canton, Ohio and were named ‘Canton Monitor’. They were
built with an upright boiler and were known to be great hill
climbers. Joe recalls one occasion when a locally owned Monitor
climbed a steep hill. It was no contest, but the engine made the
hill with ease.
Steam Engine Joe Rynda who is known all over the world wherever
steam is turned on, was born February 12,1892 in Lexington
township, Le Seur County, Minnesota. At the age of twenty years and
four months, he became a chief engineer, being employed at New
Prague, Minnesota. He spent forty-two years as a chief engineer. In
1924, he worked in St. Paul, Minnesota as a turbine operator for
Northern States Power Company. He was superintendent of the New Ulm
Light Plant in 1947-48 and 1949. He flew his own airplane from 1945
to 1964. In 1915, he married Anna Cordes. They have two children,
Leonard, at home, and Delores, who lives nearby.
I visited with Steam Engine Joe Rynda at his home in Montgomery
and as the September afternoon had flown all too fast, the time
came for me to leave.
Joe said, ‘Stop over at the Printing office and see Helen
Keohen; she’s the chairwoman’. ‘I told her you were
At the Printing office, I met Mrs. Keohen who with her two sons,
Jerry and John, publish the city and community newspaper, the
‘Montgomery Messenger’. I greatly appreciate the effort she
made to supply me with information on the Threshing Bee as well as
You’re right! Instead of confining to what I was writing, an
account of a Threshing Bee, I wrote a lot about a town. But its a
famous town populated with fine people who are proud of their
heritage, their city and community. Yes, there are threshing shows
alright, all across the country today, but to kindly Steam Engine
Joe Rynda and the people of Montgomery, belongs the honor of
organizing the first one. Not only was it organized but
perseverance has carried it out.