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The Indiana State Fair offers a chance to see a threshing ring reenacted.

Tom J. Bechman, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

August 11, 2023

2 Min Read
A steam engine prepared for a threshing demonstration connected to a trailer with a pile of wood
LINED UP AND READY: The belt on the steam engine is in position and ready to roll. Behind the steam engine, a load of wood to fire the boiler is in place, pulled by a John Deere 40 tractor. Volunteers dressed like members of an old-time threshing ring are ready to pitch bundles of oats into the thresher. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

The first time volunteers wearing bib overalls reenacted threshing in Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair in the 1960s, many in the crowd still had vivid memories of those days. After all, it had only been 20 to 25 years since threshing rings were replaced by combines. Today, some 80 years since that happened, watching a threshing demonstration is new for lots of folks.

The Pioneer Village volunteers set their threshing demonstration back further in time, to about the late 1920s. The Red River Special threshing machine is powered by a Keck-Gonnerman steam engine, fueled by wood. This particular steam engine was rated at 19 horsepower and was built in 1925. Keck-Gonnerman machines were built in Mount Vernon, Ind.

Ben Carter, a longtime volunteer at Pioneer Village, notes that the Red River Special grain thresher used in the state fair demonstration was originally built in 1910. Owned by Purdue Ag Alumni, it was completely refurbished by Amish craftsmen in Ohio before the 2019 Indiana State Fair. Refurbishing the machine meant a $30,000 investment to be able to demonstrate this long-forgotten farming practice well into the future.

“It runs very well now,” Carter said, watching it thresh oats during the first demonstration for the 2023 state fair on opening day. “It’s like a new machine.”

two men in period clothing pitch a bundle of oats into a thresher during a reenactment

Threshing is just one demonstration conducted daily, weather permitting, inside Pioneer Village. Using straw from threshing, the crew also demonstrates baling with a baler that requires a person to complete tying bales. There is also a timber handling and sawing demonstration, using authentic equipment from earlier days in farming.

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Indiana State Fair

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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