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…