Steam Thresher Reunion – A Labor Day Tradition

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Rollag, Minnesota

For years, I’ve known about the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (WMSTR). Since 1954, the public is welcome to spend the Labor Day weekend at a Renaissance Faire of sorts. It is a renaissance of a later time, a time during the Industrial Revolution when steam was king. In the opening photo, a pair of draft horses are hitched up and ready to go to work on the WMSTR farm, part of the 210 acres focusing on life in the first half of the 20th century and earlier.

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Harvesting grain was laborious work involving flailing grain by hand or animal hooves, beating the grain free of the stalk. In the mid-1800s, the process became mechanised. A threshing machine, one such type invented by a Scottish mechanical engineer, was powered by horses or mules until the late 1800s when someone coupled a steam engine to the machine. The steam engine powered the beaters that flailed the stalks separating the grain and funneling it to a waiting wagon. Eventually the steam engine gave way to the gasoline and diesel engine. In the image above, a large floor mounted steam engine operates noisily.

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In the 1940s, some threshermen decided to thresh with steam again, just because. Inviting family and friends, the small family of threshers would fire up a steam engine once a year to thresh with steam. In 1954, the reunion was opened to the public and today draws thousands of people to the little town of Rollag Minnesota, about 30 minutes east of Fargo, North Dakota. In the image above, a group of threshermen operate the thresher which happens to be powered by a team of ten horses (barely visible behind the green wagon in the background).

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Today, the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion honors steam engines of all types. A small steam train circles the property giving free rides to all who attend. Steam tractors, portable and fixed steam powered devices are on display throughout the grounds. Steam tractor pulls draw large crowds. No outside vendors are allowed on the grounds, all souvenir sales and food sales are tended by volunteers and all money earned goes back into making the next year reunion better. There is a single admission fee with events inside the gates included in that fee. Exhibitors are welcome but static displays are discouraged. The show board wants people to be able to see equipment in operation. You can read more about the event and its many varied attractions here. The gallery of images below provide only a microcosm of the attractions held at the 2015 reunion, this year featuring blacksmithing. Click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner


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