Reprinted with permission from Senior Perspective, Vol. 6, No. 12, September 1999.
A threshing bee aren't atypical in this part of the country, but there are a couple of things that set the Rose City Threshing Bee in Miltona, Minn., apart. It's held on an antique farm, and it takes place on grass.
Most threshing bees are like county fairs...engaging but also exhausting, dusty and dirty. Rose City's bee, which has grown steadily over thirteen years and now hosts about 5,000 visitors, plays itself out in and among the well-kept buildings and tents of Harvey Danielson's family farm. Spacious but still comfortably contained and child-friendly, the farm features acres of cool green grass and bountiful shade trees. A visitor can play all day and never feel anything but rested and content.
Everything about the Rose City Threshing Bee is old-fashioned, from the Douglas County Sheriff's Posse deputies mounted on horseback to direct parking traffic in a huge field to the Danielson farmhouse, originally built in the early part of the century and largely un renovated since then. "The farmhouse still has a functioning cook stove," says Joe Stein Hagen, a steam engine operator from Forada. "One Thanksgiving, Emmelyn Danielson cooked dinner on it for a bunch of visiting relatives and invited Terry Stanley [the show's gardener and florist] and me to eat with them." The meal was delicious, but the farmhouse is one of the few areas on the farm that is for family use only.
The bee is a laid-back event. There's little pressure to stick to any kind of a schedule. Folks can amble about and do as they please. Not even threshing drives the day's schedule; on Saturday, the threshing was postponed until afternoon, Stein Hagen explains, because "the crew likes to watch the tractor pull and if I don't have help, I can't thresh."
The tractor pull follows the parade, another popular event featuring antique cars, gas and steam engines, and of course, tractors. They form a mechanized rainbow of green John Deeres, orange Allis Chalmers, yellow Minneapolis-Molines and red Farmalls. The rainbow is mostly green, though, as John Deere's seem to outnumber the other tractors five to one. Also proudly displayed, because they are "originals," are the racks onto which the bundles are loaded for threshing. If they seem small, it's because they were originally pulled by horses, not tractors.
The bee has had two steam engines to power the thresher and the sawmill for the past six years; besides Stein Hagen's engine, there's Norman Grant's 65 horsepower Case engine, run by Scott Hart. Occasionally the engineers filch a little of Danielson's winter wood supply to feed the steam engines that power the sawmill, Steinhagen admits.
"People donate logs to us. We cut them and then let them dry for a year. Eventually we're going to build our own buildings on the showground's." But steam engines weren't the driving force behind the creation of the show.
Harvey Danielson founded the Rose City Threshing Bee to display his gas engines, the little "putt-putts" used to pump water, saw wood and grind feed. "Harvey invited all the neighbors for a gas-up," Steinhagen recalls, "and pretty soon one of the neighbors asked, 'Why don't we do a little threshing at the same time?'" Now Danielson is assisted by the Spruce Hill Foundation, the association that runs the threshing show. "This is our main function and fundraiser," Steinhagen explains. He's referring to gate admissions, not the twenty acres of grain that the group harvests, even though they do intend to sell their crop. "We're gonna haul the grain to the elevator in Carlos or Garfield and then we're gonna get kicked in the pants because it's not worth anything."
Membership in the foundation currently numbers over 300 but newcomers are always welcome. Dues are only $10 and you don't have to be a farmer or steam engine operator to join.
"We've got all kinds of members. Furniture store owners, lawyers...but no doctors yet." Members work the land that the association rents from Danielson and also run and expand the show. '"he show has to keep growing or else it stagnates and people won't come. So we have something new every year."
This year's new attraction is the blacksmith shop. Work is currently under way on a couple of windmills to pump water. But the next big thing is a church. "We bought a church in Forada. The Presbyterian Church closed and the Missouri Synod took it over. After they closed they basically donated the church to us, lock, stock and barrel. We got the bibles, the candles, the pews, the whole deal. We're gonna save our money for three years and move that church here." It will cost about $3,000 to move it and $7,000 to "drop wires," or take down the power lines the building must travel under. The church building will be placed on the most picturesque spot on the farm and will serve both as a display area and a house of worship. There's just one small problem. "We have so many people coming now," says Steinhagen, "that it might be too small to hold them all during a church service."
The show has become so popular that RVs have staked out an area for camping. Danielson charges no fee for this, but of course there are no amenities either. But that's appropriate, because it seems to be the lure of self-sufficiency that attracts people to the threshing bee in the first place. Small children eagerly grind grain in crank mills while spectator after spectator mentions the allure of 'seeing how things go.'
"We come every year," explains Sherrie Pechan of Browerville. "My husband does this at home on a small scale. We have a few acres and he threshes it. He powers his two threshing machines with a belt and a tractor." Before Rose City, Steinhagen used to thresh at a bee in Forada. The show, completely unannounced, still drew spectators. "People were so fascinated they'd just stop and watch. There was a wedding supper taking place at Mike's Supper Club nearby. We had all these guys in tuxes standing along the highway watching us."
Folks interested in becoming involved with the Spruce Hill Foundation are welcome to contact Harvey Danielson at (218) 943-4423 whether they're doctors or not.