The Way We Were: The Western Minnesota Steam Threshers’ Reunion

Every Labor Day weekend since 1954, a group of dedicated volunteers has gathered on the outskirts of tiny Rollag, Minnesota. Their mission, their passion, is to keep steam power’s legacy alive. And it’s not only alive, it is thriving.

The machinery that you see, as the event title would tell you, is largely powered by steam although there’s early gas, kerosene and diesel power as well. From agricultural to industrial, every one of these machines has played a role in our history. The beauty of this event is that it’s not a display. These units are actually working. And their pilots are not just gray-haired old men. Working side by side are the wives, the sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters, keeping the flame – literally – lit and burning brightly: the flame that ignites the boilers and generators that provide the power; the flame that builds the steam that moves these massive iron horses that transported the people, that tilled the soil that grew the food that fed a nation. There’s another flame too, one that burns within the folks who come together from across the country to present this amazing spectacle.

You might see tractors and farm equipment spotlighted as a featured marque, or huge steam powered electrical generators, or any one of a number of stationary engines like the one that was originally used to move compressed gas through miles of pipelines (the flywheel alone is 18 feet tall and weighs around 24 tons!). Beyond that, there are lumber mills, blacksmith shops, machine shops, foundries, live threshing demonstrations, antique power parades:

I don’t believe you can see it all in one day. But what you see will be worth every minute. We hung around until a steam-powered locomotive that continuously pulls passenger cars on the railway circling the grounds, was finally put away for the day.

This was one of two steam locomotives that were in service, taking visitors on a leisurely ride past the shops and buildings and the small lake within the grounds, as long as they cared to ride, at no cost other than the general admission ticket. A volunteer working a group waiting to board the train was handing out tickets to the kids that were stamped “Train to Nowhere”. Good for a chuckle. But the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers’ Reunion is about as far from “nowhere” as you can get. It’s a destination, a rendezvous with history. Make it.

To learn more about the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers’ Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota you can check their website here.

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