Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Rural Dundas show prompts tractor memories September 4, 2022

John Deere tractors parked near the log cabin at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Rumely Oil Pull tractors were sold between 1910-1930. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

The Massey-Harris is the featured tractor at this year’s show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Guiding a vintage Allis Chalmers along the parade route on Friday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

John Deere tractors like the one I rode in winter to catch the bus to school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Not a B Farmall, but an IH tractor none-the-less. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

I found this toy John Deere tractor for sale from vendor Shippy’s Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Aged threshing machines, well before my time, on exhibit. There are threshing demonstrations during the show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Allis Chalmers tractors are among those displayed in the field of tractors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

A 1921 Titan International. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FYI: The Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show continues today (Sunday, September 4) with gates opening at 7 am and closing at 5:30 pm on the grounds south of Dundas along Minnesota State Highway 3. For more information, visit the club website and/or read my first post on this year’s event. This show is about much more than tractors and other farm equipment.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preserving yesterday at rural-themed show, rural Dundas September 2, 2022

Photo cut-outs just inside the entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

The model train carries all ages. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On a train car, a mini Massey-Harris the featured tractor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Riding the rails. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

When I disembarked, a preschooler sandwiched between two adults for his turn on the rails.

Photographed on a tractor, show stickers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Massey-Harris tractors all in a row. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Conversation while leaning on a John Deere. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A tractor made by Cockshutt and marketed by Gambles. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

The threshing crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Other farm machinery is also on-site, including a threshing machine, typically threshing oats, but under repair during my visit.

The blacksmith at work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

The 1912 farmhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Sorghum towers in a field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Delicious cookies made with sorghum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Pressing sorghum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Across the way, two men fed sorghum stalks into a press, liquid streaming into a bucket.

A massive stove defines the farmhouse kitchen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

The dining room table set for guests. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In the dining room, with fine china set upon a lace-covered table, the morning breeze billowed lace curtains.

Rounding the corn crib… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

My oddest find at this year’s flea market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

A burger basket from the Northfield Knights of Columbus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

One of three musicians in the band Steam Machine performs Friday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

A gigantic ear of corn made of milk jugs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Another music appreciator stepped off her golf cart to show me a photo on her phone—an image of an over-sized ear of corn crafted from 1,000 gallon milk jugs by her cousin in Wisconsin and gifted to her. He’s made six. The corn art will be displayed at the 22nd Annual Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days on September 24 and 25 in rural Lake City.

A poster promotes the 2023 Credit River show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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.

Teaching the younger generation about tractors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

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…

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FYI: Visit the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines website for more information. The show continues Saturday and Sunday from 7 am – 5:30 pm. Admission cost for the entire weekend is $10 with 12 and under admitted for free.

The club also hosts a Swap Meet and Flea Market on Memorial Day weekend and Minnesota Military Days in June.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Historic Winona drive-in hosts Farm Tractor Night & I was there September 4, 2014

A John Deere reaches

A John Deere rounds the corner onto the 600 block of East Sarnia Street where the drive-in is located.

TRACTORS RUMBLED INTO WINONA’S Lakeview Drive Inn parking lot on a perfect Minnesota evening in late August. Ideal temps. Sun edging behind the bluffs in this Mississippi River town of nearly 28,000.

Drive-in fare served in a paper lined basket.

Drive-in fare served in a paper lined basket.

Folks reminisced and downed burgers, onion rings and more served in red plastic baskets lined with checkered paper.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

Just like the old days. Root beer crafted on-site at the 1938 drive-in and served in frosty mugs by car hops.

Rows of tractors ringed Lakeview Drive Inn.

Rows of tractors ringed Lakeview Drive Inn.

My husband and I happened upon historic Lakeview’s annual Farm Tractor Night while returning from a vacation to Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. What a delight.

One view of Farm Tractor Night.

One view of Farm Tractor Night.

We were first introduced to Lakeview when our eldest daughter attended Winona State University, several blocks away, 10 years ago. I even wrote a magazine feature article on this vintage drive-in.

One can only imagine the conversation.

One can only imagine the conversation.

There’s something about a classic home-grown drive-in that speaks to summer and the past like no other place…

BONUS PHOTOS:

The oldest tractor, a 1937 John Deere A, at Lakeview.

The oldest tractor, a 1937 John Deere A, at Lakeview.

A sweet vintage Ford.

A sweet vintage Ford.

Even the Winona County dairy princesses showed up for Farm Tractor Night.

Even the Winona County dairy princesses showed up for Farm Tractor Night.

A lovely old Oliver parked on the edge of the parking lot across the street from a spacious city park.

A lovely old Oliver parked on the edge of the parking lot across the street from a spacious city park.

Loved the original art on this International tractor.

Loved the original art on this International tractor.

These two guys

Come as you are for Farm Tractor Night. So authentic.

Attendees could go on a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the park across the street.

Attendees could go on a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the park across the street.

Just arrived at the tractor show.

Just arrived at the tractor show.

FYI: The Lakeview Drive Inn closes for the season on September 14.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling