The hearts of those who appreciate the old days skipped a beat when the Pioneer Village crew pulled a giant tarp off the Red River Special grain thresher on the opening day of the 2019 Indiana State Fair. Everyone’s eyes feasted on a threshing machine restored to like-new condition, looking just like when it left the factory in 1910.
The Nicholson-Shephard threshing machine was donated to the Purdue Ag Alumni Association many years ago, during the earlier days of Pioneer Village. It was used for decades in threshing demonstrations during the Indiana State Fair.
“It was pretty well worn-out, and we knew it needed refurbishing,” explains Wayne Dillman, Martinsville, Ind., a volunteer who helped announce the unveiling at Pioneer Village.
“It left for Millersburg, Ohio, the day after the 2018 Indiana State Fair, and came back [the week before the fair],” he says. “It was completely rebuilt inside and out by an Amish crew. It should serve our needs now for many years.”
Purdue Ag Alumni officially operates Pioneer Village and undertook the expensive task of paying to rebuild and restore the threshing machine. In fact, the association is still accepting donations to replenish funds needed to rebuild it, officials say.
The Red River Special was donated decades ago in its original condition by the Ray Kleinknecht family in Vanderburgh County. Ray passed away, but his son Paul still farms there today.
The late Mauri Williamson, legendary longtime executive secretary of Purdue Ag Alumni and the father of Pioneer Village, located the machine and went to southern Indiana to get it. Charlie Canary, Franklin, now a volunteer at Pioneer Village and once an intern for Williamson, went along to help load the threshing machine for its ride to Indianapolis.
“I still remember seeing it sitting in the shed,” Canary recalls. “It was on steel wheels, but we had to put rubber tires on it to move it. Then we discovered we had to put steel wheels back on it so we could haul it.”
The threshing machine sits on steel wheels today. On the day of the unveiling, once the steam engine was fired up and the belt engaged, it was ready for the first bundles to be thrown in for threshing. Ellsworth Christmas, retired secretary of Purdue Ag Alumni and still an active volunteer; Bob Cherry, state representative from Greenfield; and Terry Streuh, a longtime ag alumni associate, forked in the first ceremonial bundles. Pulleys turned, chains clanked, straw was blown out the spout, and grain dribbled into an antique wagon on wooden wheels parked by the threshing machine.
Later, for regular demonstrations during the fair, a stationary hay baler was moved in place, powered by a Co-op E3 turning a belt pulley, to bale straw produced during threshing.
The Red River Special was bigger than most threshing machines used in Indiana, Dillman notes. Threshers like this one were more typically found in the Plains states, where there were many more acres of wheat.
The Pioneer Village folks say they believe this one will thresh wheat during the fair for decades to come.
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