“The best Reunion we have had yet!”
Such was the enthusiastic comment of Rev. Elmer Ritzman, as he bade us good-bye after the 15th annual Reunion of the National Threshers Association, Inc., held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 25-27, 1959 at the beautiful Fairgrounds of Williams County, Montpelier, Ohio. A record number of fine engines, a record attendance, hot but fair weather, all combined to make this the outstanding event in the world of steam engine fan gatherings. (According to Elmer, this is not bragging, mere a plain statement of fact).
This was the “Year for the Port Huron” in the NTA program, just as next year will be the “Year of the Baker,” and so on, until we have honored all the makes of engines present at the Reunions. Of course the reason we designated this the Port Huron year was to feature the 19-63 Port Huron recently purchased by the Association and women’s auxiliary from, the estate of the late Louis David. Peter Bucher of Fairfield, Iowa, was in charge of the engine, and gave as his considered opinion, “She’s a pretty good little engine.” Coming from an expert like Pete, we felt this praise justified our pride in the engine.
In addition to the NTA engine, we had about a dozen other Port Hurons at the Reunion, and over 35 large engines in all. LeRoy Blaker had not only his rubber-tired 24-75 Port Huron but also the iron-wheeled 24-75 Longfellow that had not been out of his saw mill in 14 years. We also honored the old Port Huron Thresher Company workers who are still living, and presented Life Membership certificates and blue-and-gold lapel pins to ten former employees of the company. The Port Huron city manager, Mr. Richard Riley, came down for the event, and presented to the association two large framed lithographs of the Port Huron engine and separator from the City of Port Huron.
Again we staged two big parades, Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, with Amos Rixmann of Oklahoma City as chairman, assisted by Robert Smith of Payne, Ohio. Their accurate and colorful interpretation of the parade added much to the occasion.
Paul Groenweg, a man of about 30 years of age in 1932 takes a 32 inch Case separator and mounted it on an IHC truck chassis and a 110 HP Hollscott motor on top of the separator to furnish power for threshing and transportation. In one picture is Paul and his brother Walter. Paul used this unit seven seasons and averaged 20 threshing days per season, doing shock and stack threshing. By rigging it up like this made it a one man outfit and also rapid in moving from job to job.
In shock threshing they used eight bundle wagons and in stack they threshed off of two stacks at the same time. The motor was a six-cylinder gas motor and the radiator was from the truck.
Aside from the events taking place at the Fairgrounds, the most significant feature of this year’s Reunion was the unveiling on the Blaker farm Friday morning of the plaque presented by Merle Newkirk of Midland, Michigan, which marks that spot as the “Site of the first steam traction engine Reunion in the U.S.A. June 30, 1945, by LeRoy W. Blaker, and organization of the National Threshers Association, Inc., June 26, 1948.” Mr. Dan Zehr of Pontiac, Illinoisa charter member and prime mover in the organizing of the steam fans on that memorable day in June of 1948, acted as master of ceremonies, with Rev. Elmer Ritzman giving the dedicatory prayer. The bronze plaque is mounted on a ton-and-a-half Port Huron drive wheel presented by Wilford Bunyea of Plymouth, Michigan, and stands on the front lawn of the Blaker farm, one mile north and a mile-and-a-half west of Alvordton, Ohio. Another charter member who was present at the unveiling was Mr. L. K. Wood of Mendon, Utah, who came with Professor Devine of Utah State University to visit the Reunion where, in his words, ”I was present at its humble beginning.” When one counts the steam engine gatherings held now over the length and breadth of this land, the importance of the first one is seen in its true perspective. In this connection, it might be well to mention that the event which gave LeRoy Blaker the inspiration to hold that first small Reunion was the threshing of grain at Perry Hayden’s wheat-tihing project in which this very engine now owned by the Association was used to do the threshing. The film, “God Is My Landlord,” which shows both Mr. Wood’s small outfit which was at Tecumseh that year, and also the Port Huron owned by NTA and TNT., was shown Thursday and Friday nights of the Reunion.
Space prevents listing the many models of all sizes, some taking steam from the 16 Port Huron boiler.
Other events during the Reunion included the threshing of new winter barley by the 32×54 inch Minneapolis grain thresher owned by the Association. John Maxwell’s 14 HP Port Huron pulled his “Joy Wagon” carrying passengers around the grounds most of the time. Fred Paul’s newly made highway locomotive was thrilling sight and sound as it tore around the race track at high speed, giving passengers the ride of their lives. It was estimated the locomotive traveled more than 100 miles during the 3 days of the Reunion.
The three Baker fans were in almost constant use, and many engines tried their power on the Prony brake. Forrest Williamson’s red, white and blue 23-90 Baker engine turned the Baker fan at 600 R.P.M., and developed 103.12 HP on the Prony brake, originally owned by the A. D. Baker company. Percy Sherman and F. W. Bloom had a pulling contest and W. H. Knapp’s Kitten climbed the incline, along with many others.
For the ladies, a musical program was presented Thursday afternoon and the Cinderella Cotton Style Show drew a capacity audience Friday afternoon. Get-acquainted teas were held both Thursday and Friday afternoon, and as usual the Hobby Lobby was the center of attraction. The Williams County Historical Association had as their exhibit an old-fashioned bedroom, with a four-poster bed with two kittens sleeping on the coverlet, another cat and the traditional chamber under it. Last year the Society exhibited an old-fashioned kitchen, and already we are wondering what their exhibit will be in 1960, when we hope to see you all at Montpelier, June 23, 24, 25 at “The Reunion where Good Engineers Give Good Engines a Good Work-out.”