I attended the show in rural Dundas on Friday. While most attendees focus on the field of tractors, the multiple ag-related demonstrations, the flea market and more, I also focus on creative details within the all of it. Like hand-lettered signage, handcrafted items, music, and, yes, even the couple dancing to bluegrass tunes performed by Steam Machine.
The arts, whether literary, visual or performing, enhance our lives, bringing joy, comfort, diversion, entertainment, introspection and much more.
I value the talents of those who create. I create with words and with my camera. Put a paintbrush or crochet hook in my hand and I would be hard-pressed to make anything worthy of notice. But, gosh, do I admire creatives like Kay Dudley of Faribault who brought her crocheted animals to the flea market. Likewise, I admire the skill of the woodworker who built the sturdy yard chairs for sale.
On the other end of the show grounds, I found more to appreciate in the 1912 farmhouse. Embroidered linens displayed in the kitchen caught my eye. I know how to embroider, although decades have passed since I picked up a needle, embroidery floss and a hoop to stitch a design into cloth. I really ought to resume that craft.
In another room of the farmhouse, a doll laid upon a quilt, reminding me of my paternal grandmother who stitched endless quilts for her family, me included. I was quite the seamstress as a teen, sewing many of my clothes and dresses for Grandma, too. She could quilt, but she couldn’t make her own clothes. I always found that interesting. I haven’t touched my sewing machine in years.
I was especially interested in the original painting of a rural schoolhouse scene propped on a table in the farmhouse. The vintage art, scored at a Goodwill store for $5, is exactly the type of art I collect.
In my collection is a North Dakota threshing scene painted by my father-in-law and among my most treasured pieces of original art. So when I saw a hand-carved threshing scene displayed in the music building at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I was reminded of Tom’s painting. I display it this time of year atop the entertainment center in my living room.
Original paintings and other original art, including signs, always draw my appreciation. There’s just something about a handcrafted sign that makes me pause, take notice, remember. From signage on tractors to signage on buildings to signage among the food vendors, I noticed the creativity.
Every piece of art I spotted added to my enjoyment of this southern Minnesota farm-themed show. Certainly I value the ag and history aspects of this event. But I value, too, the creativity.
GROWING UP ON A CROP and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, tractors are part of my history. I am familiar with the putt-putt-putt of an aged John Deere, the maneuverable size of a B Farmall, the necessity of a dependable tractor.
The tractor is the workhorse of the farm. That remains as true today as it did 50 years ago when I still lived in rural Redwood County.
So when I attended the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas on Friday, I began reminiscing. I expect many others did the same while meandering among the rows of vintage tractors or watching the daily high noon parade. This event is heavy on the tractors, threshing machines and farm equipment in general. And that holds appeal for those of us rooted in farms.
I am old enough to remember tractors without cabs, air conditioning, GPS or other technology. Instead, my dad’s tractors were shaded from the hot summer sun by an umbrella, protected from the winter cold by canvas and guided solely by the skill of hands on the steering wheel.
My most memorable tractor story is that of Dad driving my brother Doug and me the mile into Vesta on the open cab John Deere in the dead of winter so we could get to school. We were both in junior high then, attending school in the county seat some 20 miles to the east. It was a particularly snowy and brutal winter, so awful that buses couldn’t venture onto rural roads to pick up students. If we could get into town, we could catch the bus at the local cafe. From there, the bus took a state highway to the school in Redwood Falls.
Dad wasn’t partial to any tractor brand. He owned John Deere, International Harvester and Ford tractors. The B Farmall remains my favorite as I drove that small scale IH tractor in the farmyard, pulling the flatbed trailer up to the feed bunk to unload hay for the cows.
John Deere likewise will always hold a special spot in my heart. I remember once a year attending John Deere Days at the farm implement dealership in Redwood Falls. That included a free meal followed by a John Deere promotional movie at the local theater. To eat ice cream from a plastic cup with a little wooden “spoon” and to see a movie on a screen were treats, not to mention the door prizes. Like silver dollars. And bags of seed corn.
Aging has a way of making us view the past through a nostalgic lens. Yet the reality of life on the farm in the 1960s and 1970s is one of hard work and challenges. Uncontrollable factors—weather, prices and more—have always made farming a gamble. Yet, for those of us who grew up on the land, there’s an undeniable sense of hardiness within us, even decades removed from the farm.
When I attend an event like the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I reconnect to my past. Remembering. Appreciating. Thankful for the land and hard work that shaped me personally and professionally. I expect that’s true for many who walk the show grounds at this rural-rooted annual event in southern Minnesota.
BARELY INSIDE THE GATES of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show mid Friday morning, I boarded a train. It was an unexpected ride, this double loop around the tracks while straddling a slightly swaying model train car. I thought these free train rides were only for kids. Not so, the crew assured me.
When I disembarked, a preschooler sandwiched between two adults for his turn on the rails.
What a fun way to begin my four hours at the show, which continues through Sunday at the event grounds south of Dundas, which is south of Northfield. This 47th annual gathering is about “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” And that’s exactly what you will find here. Old. Aged. Vintage. Snapshots into the past. Farming as it was done back in the day. Agriculture/farming/rural life center the show.
Vintage tractors are the focus with a field of tractors on display. This year’s featured brand is Massey-Harris. But brands ranging from the well-known John Deere, Allis Chalmers, International Harvester…to the rare Gambles line the grassy grounds.
Other farm machinery is also on-site, including a threshing machine, typically threshing oats, but under repair during my visit.
There’s simply so much to see here, so much equipment to take in, so many demonstrations to watch. I observed blacksmithing and sorghum pressing. There’s also syrup making, corn shelling, flour milling, lumber sawing… Not all were up and running yet Friday morning.
While demonstrations are a major draw, so are the aged farm buildings moved onto the grounds. Inside the 1912 Drentlaw farmhouse, my friend Ruth served cookies made with sorghum.
Across the way, two men fed sorghum stalks into a press, liquid streaming into a bucket.
As I walked upon the wood floors of the farmhouse, I felt immersed in the past. A wood-burning stove anchors the small kitchen where a water dipper rests in an enamelware bowl in the sink. Embroidered dish towels drape a drying rack.
In the dining room, with fine china set upon a lace-covered table, the morning breeze billowed lace curtains.
Outside the main house sits a summer kitchen with a corn crib and granary nearby. Replicating a farm site of yesteryear seems a goal. As a farm girl, I appreciate these efforts to preserve a bit of yesterday. Our Minnesota agrarian history needs to be shared at events like this which connect all ages to a way of life that is quickly vanishing.
Even the flea market connects attendees to the past where old stuff mixes with crafts and an assortment of other merchandise. Every time here, I challenge myself to find oddities, weird whatever that makes me do a double take. This year’s vendors did not disappoint me.
Nor did the food. Vendors offer an assortment of tasty food and beverages ranging from burgers and fries to Mexican food, milkshakes, lemonade, kettle corn, mini donuts and more. It’s all about food and conversation and watching the daily tractor parade at noon while seated at a picnic table in the Food Pavilion.
Over in the poleshed style music building, I listened to the bluegrass band Steam Machine. A couple danced across the cement floor, nearby hay racks piled with oats bundles. I photographed, then attempted to cool down after too much time in the heat and humidity.
I love how so many people care about our agricultural history. That includes the guys from the Credit River Antique Tractor Club who were selling raffle tickets for a 1952 Ford 8N tractor. Their annual show is set for July 14-16, 2023, in rural New Prague.
The Rice County folks will be back, too, in 2023, “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” There will be a tractor parade, a Kids Pedal Pull, demonstrations, tractors galore and, oh, so much more at the Labor Day weekend show. Even train rides…
AN EVENT FOCUSING on farming of bygone years might be the last place you would expect to experience the arts. But the biannual Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show always showcases the arts through music, hands-on demos, flea market vendors and more. At least from my perspective.
The Czech Area Concertina Club performs.
This year I watched and listened as seasoned musicians eased concertinas in and out, in and out. A trio of kids twirled on the gravel floor of the music barn next to a John Deere tractor in an impromptu dance recital.
At the flea market, jars of golden honey showcased the culinary arts, beeswax candles the visual arts.
At the booth of Larry and Nicholas Ahrens, I found a gallery of garden art crafted from gas cans, shovels, railroad spikes, horseshoes, golf clubs and more. I admire the ingenuity of artists who can sculpt such art from what some might consider junk. This pair does it well.
Likewise handcrafted embroidered greeting cards from Boho Boutique and Gifts, New Prague, drew my interest for their uniqueness.
Often I see art in flea market merchandise displays—a cluster of angled rolling pins, a collage of toy farm wagons, three pieces of vintage 70s Sarah Coventry jewelry, a solo woodcarving and more.
On the back of a t-shirt.
As an appreciator of the graphic arts, I am drawn to letters and words in advertising, in comic books, machinery manuals and even on license plates.
To my surprise, I discovered the literary arts on a tree mural memorial in the words of Psalm 96:12. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.
Beyond those words, outside on the grassy field punctuated by shade trees, I saw art, too, in the curves of tractor bodies, the spokes of a steering wheel, the jagged treads of a tire. This ag-focused event celebrates the arts with a decidedly rural twist.
Please check back for one more post in this five-part series.
Rows and rows of vintage tractors are a main attraction at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.
WHEN I’M OUT and about with my camera whether at an event or simply exploring a small town or other setting, I often seek out the off-the-wall, the unusual, the humorous. The Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas offers all three. I appreciate the creativity and humor displayed there. In these troubling and difficult times, we need diversions. We need laughter.
So I targeted seven scenes that grabbed my photographic attention in the categories of odd, funny, weird and, most certainly, creative. Take a look.
At the flea market, I noticed a fake bloody hand positioned next to vintage saws. Randy suggested we buy the appendage to gift to my sister at her annual Halloween-themed autumn soup party. The hand, the vendor said, was not for sale. His sister staged it next to the saws as a marketing gimmick. I’d like to meet his sister and introduce her to mine.
Then there’s Mike, who brought his 1930 Model A to the show. Typically one expects shiny restored cars showcased by proud owners. The Northfield man’s vintage Ford, though, is riddled with bullet holes. On purpose. After paying $800 for the car, Mike was advised that the decrepit Ford was not worth the $30K he would spend to properly refurbish it. Not to be discouraged, Mike and a friend shot up the Model A then created a story about Jesse James III killing two bank tellers while robbing a southern Missouri bank in 1932. The car was his get-away vehicle. Now the bullet-riddled Ford and the accompanying legend garner more interest than if Mike had spent all that money restoring his car.
Parked next to the Model A was yet another original—a customized Ford Courier pick-up transformed into a double-headed car by the crafty Andy’s Auto Body of Webster. That turned a few heads, including mine. And made me laugh.
Not everyone was laughing at the toy John Deere tractor George Pinc placed inside a jar atop his Farmall tractor. He got a less than courteous comment from a show attendee. George didn’t care. He’s not a loyal-to-one-brand type of guy. But he assuredly is a man with a sense of humor.
I don’t know the story behind the horns clamped to the top of another tractor. But the add-on caused me to smile.
And then, as I walked between rows of tractors, I noticed a boy (I think Mike’s son) on a banana seat bike towing a cooler. Again, I just had to smile at the ingenuity. Got a problem? Solve it.
Finally, there’s the water bottle. By itself, tucked in the crook of a tree, it means nothing. But there’s a story. I watched a guy stretch and place the bottle in the vee. Before he entered a porta potty. How smart is that? Got a problem? Solve it.
Sometimes in life you have to think and act beyond the expected and laugh. Just laugh.
A steam engine tractor plows a field. The men standing on the plow guide the blades to the proper plowing depth via levers.
AS SEASONS SHIFT from the growing days of summer to the harvest days of autumn here in Minnesota, aged tractors, threshing machines and other vintage agricultural equipment roll out of storage for annual threshing and steam and gas engine shows.
The engineers at the helm of the steam engine tractor concentrate on guiding it along the field.
On display under plexiglass: a replica 1920s threshing scene crafted by David Terry.
It’s a common scene this clustering of folks around vintage tractors.
These events mark a celebration of the past, a preservation of history, the remembering of a way of life, a focus on the labor intensive efforts of long ago farming. Here retired farmers lean against tractor wheels, men guide massive steam engines, kids learn and an honoring of times past prevails.
After finishing a plowing pass in the field, the steam engine tractor heads back to the other end.
Sunday afternoon I embraced Minnesota’s agricultural history at the annual Labor Day weekend Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas. I didn’t view every aspect of the event, but enough to once again feel a deep appreciation and respect for my rural heritage.
John Deeres were the featured tractor this year.
I love meeting friendly and photogenic vendors who are willing to be photographed.
Flea market vendors offer merchandise ranging from glassware to tools to clothing and lots more, including many agricultural related items.
With camera in hand, I roamed part of the grounds looking for photo ops that would present a personal and unique perspective of the show. From the flea market to the music shed to the rows of tractors and the vintage playground, I found my photos. There is so much heart and soul here and an obvious love of all things related to farming of bygone decades.
These girls rode their vintage banana seat bikes from Northfield. And, yes, there parents were at the show.
Carefree dancing and twirling as only kids will do.
Even the playground equipment is vintage.
I’m especially delighted that so many kids attend. Kids pedaling banana seat bikes. Kids twirling to the old-time music of the Czech Area Concertina Club. Kids steering tractors. Kids swinging on heavy horse swings now banned from most playgrounds.
Some families, like the Pinc family, bring multiple tractors in multiple brands.
Generations spanning infants to elders come to this show ground along Minnesota State Highway 3 under a sky that holds the haze of autumn, of a sun that still blazes heat in the afternoon, of a land that yields its bounty to the harvesters. Here on these acres, memories rise like a prayer of thanksgiving as summer eases into autumn.
TELL ME: Do you attend these types of historic farming shows? If yes, I’d like to hear more.
PLEASE CHECK back for additional photo rich posts as I continue my series from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.
The sheer size of a vintage steam engine tractor always impresses me. As do those who operate these monstrosities. Just look at the difference in scale between man and mammoth machine, this one at last year’s Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show. You better know what you’re doing when you run one of these machines.
The steam engine tractor will rumble around again this weekend at the show grounds along Minnesota State Highway 3 three miles south of Northfield.
If you appreciate vintage tractors, flea markets, farm work demonstrations (like threshing, corn shelling, plowing, sawing, etc.) and more, then you must attend the Friday – Sunday event. Click here to see the complete line-up of activities. Don’t miss the Parade of Tractors at noon daily.
I promise, you will enjoy this event. I especially like its comfortable size—big enough to offer plenty to see and do, but not too large as to overwhelm. I always see people I know here and that’s part of the fun. Visiting. Oh, and the food, is pretty darned good, too.
Minnesota Faces is a series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.
I love how natural light from an open doorway provided the perfect lighting for this portrait of Juanita. This was an impromptu photo snapped in a blacksmith shop at the 2012 Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, rural Dundas. To this day, it remains one of my favorite portraits.
I love the image not only because of its great lighting and composition, but because it truly captures the spirit of Juanita. Look at how her eyes sparkle, how her genuine smile dimples her cheeks, creases the corners of her eyes and spreads across her freckled face. I’ve always found Juanita, whom I met some five years ago at her dad’s Allis Chalmers tractor auction at his North Morristown farm, a people-person.
She’s also very much her own woman, one who unabashedly wears orange (here around her hat and neck) to honor her love of the Allis Chalmers brand. Juanita dresses practically and sensibly, usually with a rural fashion touch of orange.
This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.
WHEN YOU THINK ART, you likely think of a studio artist creating a work of art via paint or ink or some other media.
Dan and Pam Larson of Rice, Minnesota, (their home in the warm months) craft these gigantic crayons from poplar wood and three crayons per crayon. For the past six years, the couple has traveled to flea markets around the country peddling their popular crayons. Last weekend they were at a flea market in rural Dundas. They make 20,000 – 25,000 of these crayons annually. I consider their rustic crayons to be works of art as much as tools of art.
But I think beyond the expected.
I also see art in other places, like on the front end of a tractor. Emblems, while identifying a tractor brand, are also art. Rural art.
Here’s some rural art I photographed at the recent Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas, Minnesota: