RR 13, Box 209 Brazil, Indiana 47834
12 HP Birdsall engine owned by Everett Johnson of Pelican Falls,
MN. Birdsall traction engines were all equipped with an automotive
type front steering, instead of usual slow responding chain
Many of the larger steam shows in the United States are set on
the same date Labor Day weekend, so you must choose between several
shows to decide which to attend. Over the years, my friend Joe
Graziana and I had attended all of the shows in the Midwest held on
Labor Day weekend. We decided that in 1996 we would journey up to
Minnesota to see what the Rollag Show was about.
We started the trip with a small amount of trepidation as we had
a 900 mile drive before us and we had heard mixed reviews on the
show from some of our steam friends. We decided to attend the show
with an open mind and to enjoy ourselves which we did. As we were
driving in western Minnesota there was no doubt that we were in
wheat country, as many of the high hills along the Interstate had a
rusting threshing machine sitting on the highest peak. These
‘silent sentinels’ had their feeders unfolded and reminded
us of times past, when they, along with steam engines and tractors,
were the masters of these wheat fields.
The town of Rollag is certainly a small town, as a church, a few
houses, and the Western Minnesota Thresherman’s Reunion show
grounds comprise the entire town. The Rollag show grounds are very
large and have two sawmills, a full size railroad and depots, a
large pond, numerous buildings (which store equipment, large
stationary engines and other displays), a historic village with
many homesteads and businesses, a farmstead, two campgrounds; one
for visitors, one for show workers.
Joe Graziana of Woodriver, IL in front of a 1907 45 HP
Minneapolis tandem compound steam engine serial #5761. Owned by
Norm Pross of Luverne, ND. Only seven engines of this type were
built by Minneapolis.
Rollag certainly lived up to its reputation as a ‘big’
steam show as several large steam engines were present: a 45 HP
Minneapolis tandem compound, 110 Case, 120 HP M Rumley, 40 HP Avery
under-mount, 35 HP Buffalo-Pitts and a 28 HP American Abell.
Several other smaller engine makes were also represented such as
Case, Minneapolis, Gaar Scott and Advance Rumely. Some of the small
engines were a 16 HP straw/burner Advance, a 13 HP Nichols &
Shepard and a 12 HP Birdsall. The show also has numerous model
steam engines and a miniature sawmill up on ‘Steamer
25 HP Reeves double simple serial #4044 operated by Mark
Danielson of Rothsay, MN. This engine still has the original canvas
roof which was put on at the factory. My friend Lyle Hoffmaster
will be pleased to that Reeves is represented by such a good engine
The ‘Montana Boiler’ was built by Brodrick Boiler Co. of
Muncie, Indiana, who also built boilers for different manufacturers
who built traction engines such as Keck-Gonnerman. This boiler has
an eight foot long fireboxit would be the ‘Daddy’ of all
road locomotives if it were a traction engine.
Smokebox end of the ‘Montana Boiler’ at Rollag, MN. The
boiler has 100 three inch flues and is hand fed fuelno stoker
One of the first people we met was Harlan Thompson of Grand
Forks, North Dakota, who has built some very ornate chimneys for
the buildings on the grounds. Harlan is a fireman on the
‘Montana Boiler.’ The ‘Montana Boiler’ is named
such because it came from Lodge Grass, Montana, to Rollag in
The boiler was built by Brodrick Boiler Company at Muncie,
Indiana, and has 100 three-inch flues, an eight foot firebox and
both induced and forced draft fans. While many shows use a modern
oil fired or gas fired automatic boiler to generate steam, the
‘Montana Boiler’ is hand fed, and the Western Minnesota
Thresherman’s Reunion Association should be praised for
powering their engines with an authentic boiler.
The boiler powers two large stationary engines, a smaller
stationary engine and a forging hammer which produces aluminum show
plates. The Montana firemen are kept especially busy feeding coal
when the hammer is operating, and they are very diligent to keep
the boiler pressure at 150 lbs. This boiler has helped many younger
generations of ‘engineers’ to learn the basics of boiler
operation as a fireman on the Montana boiler crew.
1911 120 HP Rumely double simple plowing at the Rollag, MN show.
This engine is owned by the Western Minnesota Steam
On the second day of the show I came down with the dreaded
‘Rollag Disease,’ which consists of sore legs and tired
feet. There are adequate shuttles on the show grounds, but the
reason I contracted this malady was that I went to the steam
plowing demonstration and it was at least a quarter-mile walk each
way, as no shuttles went to the plow area. I was able to see a 110
Case and a 120 HP 1M Rumely roll the Minnesota sod.
Many engines were pulled on the prony brake and one of the most
notable I saw was Mark Danielson on his 25 HP Reeves double
Two sawmills are run during the show with the larger mill being
pulled by a 110 HP Case steam engine. The big mill has a
‘jammer,’ which pulls saw logs from the pond and sets them
on a cart, which is then pulled into the mill with steam power.
This ‘jammer’ has a 65 foot spar and a 50 foot boom and is
typical of equipment used in sawmill operations around the 1880s.
Logs are stored on the pond at Rollag for two reasons: to wash off
dirt and grit, and wet logs saw easier than dry ones.
Joe Graziana looking in the smokebox of a 13 HP Nichols &
Shepard serial #5473, owned by Daniel Anderson at Rollag, MN.
A show the size of Rollag needs a small army of workers to make
it run smoothly and it is interesting to know that the workers pay
the same gate fee as a visitor. The workers are able to purchase a
meal ticket, which allows them to buy their meals at a discounted
Rollag is also unique in that it does not have a flea market on
the grounds, and sells only reunion related items at their show
souvenir booths. Unless you plan to camp at the show, overnight
accommodations are about a half-hour drive away in Moorhead, Fargo,
Detroit Lakes or Fergus Falls. Plan to spend at least two days at
the show to be able to enjoy all of the equipment and the
buildings. The Rollag Show has some steam engines that you will not
see anywhere else that will make your visit to the Western
Minnesota Steam Thresherman’s Reunion a memorable visit.