Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
'Unless you see it you can't imagine what it is,' commented a California visitor at the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Reunion and he just about hit the nail on the head.
It was bigger, it was better, and it was different than it has been in the past. The difference was due to added room, added features and another big building.
The steam engines and old tractors were there - over a hundred of them, big and little, and the most of them in the Cavalcade of Power - the parade around the track before the big crowd.
Over a hundred antique cars were on display -many of them in the new 89' x 120' concrete and steel, clear span, two-story building completed just in time for the reunion. It was in the northwest section of the grounds to which over 4 more acres had been added this year.
Last year's visitor will recall the old cabbage stack locomotive that had just been reconditioned and ran on a short track. This year a passenger coach had been added and over ten thousand rode the line which now extends half way around the fair grounds. They were paying passengers, too, either in the nature of stockholders - it costs a $10 share to be a stockholder and one gets a lifetime pass on the train with this - or ticket purchasers at the depot. The The train was on the go, almost continuously except when taking on passengers, water or coal, and the passengers got a round trip ride with a stop-over at the engine house to inspect displays of other equipment.
A short wave radio station was set up in the depot and many visitors sent messages, among them the governor of Iowa, and a local resident to relatives in Alaska who carried on a clear telephone conversation.
A larger exhibit of old tractors and stationary gas engines was on the grounds. Many different machines of pioneer vintage were exhibited and some operated. There was the usual Prony brake testing and Baker fan operations by the large steam engines. The large sawmill that had been at previous reunions was again in operation and ran almost steadily. Threshing with the various old time separators was a daily occurrence. Pete Bucher did his steam engine balancing demonstration on the teeter-totter before the grandstand.
A locally produced pageant commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War with a cast of nearly seven hundred taking part was the outstanding evening feature. Over 5,000 viewed it the first showing which was to be the only performance but due to the demand a second evening was taken and over 4,000 attended. Many expressed the wish that a similar program- possibly with a pioneer theme would be presented at future reunions.
Although the attendance was large -the exact total unknown but thought to be equal to or somewhat over the total of last year, and exceeding the peak days - the added land made it possible to arrange engines and exhibits so that no place was ever crowded to excess. Visitors came from all but 4 of the states, with the majority as would be expected, from Iowa and the neighboring states -also the sources of the large engines. With the several large buildings on the grounds many engines stay here the year round, now.
A late 1800 or early 1900 vintage steam operated carousel - 'merry go round'- was new to the reunion and did a land office business in riders - both young and old. It was accompanied by calliope music. It came from Perry, Missouri, and had been on the road until the early 1930's.
There was something of interest for everyone. The ladies had programs of their own which included a musical comedy, a cooking demonstration, a flower demonstration and several barbershop choruses of contest fame.
Various exhibits and demonstrations in the buildings provided something of interest all day long. There were benches in the shade for resting and of course the churches again had their eating tents with 'old thresher meals 'which have been one of the main reasons for the success of the reunions. No one need be a stranger anywhere and new friendships were constantly being formed, and old ones begun at previous reunions renewed.
In addition to the old railroad depot, a one-room school was furnished and 'open' and also an old time barber shop. Interesting visitors were several Indian families from the Sac and Fox reservation at Tama, Iowa who were decked out in their beautiful feathered head dresses and buckskins. They had a booth of Indian items.
The usual exhibits of antiques in glassware, china, guns, and general items were on display and new ones were elaborate Indian relic collections, and coins. Exhibits of rocks, native and foreign, polished, mounted and in the rough; and gemstones mounted and in the rough, too, were attractive.
Itemizing some of the displays: there were 50 big steam engines, 20 model engines of parade size, and 30 others. There were 126 antique cars, 24 old tractors and 30 stationary gas engines. There were two mail buggies which have been displayed around the country and are now prized antiques. There were 2 corn shellers, 4 separators, large and miniature sawmills, a shingle mill, a corn shredder and a steam-driven rock crusher.
Those honored this year with the award of Old Thresher were Herman E. Elgar and Robert Willits, both of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and founders of, and early officers of the Midwest Old Settlers & Threshers Association.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hutchinson of nearby Lowell were designated Old Settlers of the year.
Plans are already under way for the 1962 Reunion. The board of directors is meeting regularly and Mt. Pleasant's civic-minded organizations are setting up work committees to make the next reunion even bigger and better. And the cost will still be just a dollar membership for adults which will let you in the grounds and exhibits and demonstrations any or all four days. These will be September 5, 6, 7 and 8, 1962.
Better plan to come !