Few farmers can recall the bygone era when horses or steam tractors operated a threshing machine, separating wheat or oats from the straw and chaff. Reunions of those veteran threshers and the next generations of old farm iron enthusiasts still gather across the country each year, to network with each other and to relive old-time technology on the farm.
While COVID-19 canceled several of these threshing shows this year, some still took place, including the 34th annual Menno Pioneer Power Show, held at Pioneer Acres in Menno, S.D. Like many threshing shows, the Menno gathering includes a flea market, family activities and a toy show. But the main feature is always the demonstrations, particularly steam powered threshing.
Menno also spotlights an antique tractor pull, as well as corn cutting, binding and chopping, corn shelling, old-time hay baling, a sawmill and steam engine plowing. The antique tractor parade is a daily highlight at Menno.
Generations, young and old, can learn a lot from attending a threshing reunion. Here are three takeaways:
1. Farmers have always worked hard. If you watch farmers feeding the firebox of a steam tractor with wood, or pitching wheat bundles into a threshing machine, you recognize the long, sweaty hours that were spent in the fields over the past century in agriculture.
Farmers have always been hard workers, and although they may have air-conditioned comfort in their cabs today, they still put in long hours in the field, and even longer hours managing their acres for efficiency and profit.
2. Technology is not new. Today, we talk about the high technological advances of drones, precision farming tools, autosteer and variable rate application, but just after the turn of the last century in 1900, agriculture experienced a technological revolution. This moved from real, oats-eating horsepower, to steam tractors, to gasoline and diesel by the middle of the 1900s.
These changes occurred within the lifetimes of many farmers living and working today. It is conceivable that a farmer in his 90s right now could have worked his land with horses in his youth, and today uses his smartphone to turn on his center pivot irrigation.
3. Steam tractors are special. When the first J.I. Case 150 steam tractor was tested, it weighed in at around 60,000 pounds, or 30 tons. A 1915 Case steam tractor with 65 belt horsepower and 40 drawbar horsepower had a maximum speed of 2.4 miles per hour, but the massive machine weighed 20,600 pounds, without the water.
Steam tractors over the years came in different shapes and sizes, but their extreme size for the day, the sounds they made in the field and the work they could accomplish, were memorable.
It is amazing to watch these old relics fire up at threshing bees. They serve as a tribute to those who have paved the way for agriculture advancement today, all while engaging a new generation of enthusiasts into the romanticism of the steam age on the farm.