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Published September 04, 2009, 12:00 AM

Planting seeds of interest

Steam engine classes aim to boost youth participation
Rollag, Minn. - Steam threshers may be a thing of the past, but Jerry Swedberg is doing what he can to make sure young people carry knowledge of steam power into the future.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

Rollag, Minn. - Steam threshers may be a thing of the past, but Jerry Swedberg is doing what he can to make sure young people carry knowledge of steam power into the future.

For the second consecutive year, the retired machinist is hosting a hands-on steam engine session for youths during the annual Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag.

The reunion runs today through Monday.

Swedberg said he came up with the idea because the reunion’s machinery exhibits are too expensive for young people to afford.

The 77-year-old recalled that during his days as a science teacher, his school used to give small engines to prospective students in the machine shop. He still had one such engine.

“And then I thought, ‘Boy, we could make them,’ ” he said.

Swedberg taught three classes, each drawing eight or nine kids ages 11 to 17, during last year’s reunion.

The “students” drilled holes in aluminum pieces, installed brass bushings, filed off the burrs, polished the metal and assembled the prepared parts.

“To me, what we were doing was very simple,” he said. “But to them, it was quite a challenge. Most of them had probably never drilled a hole in their life.”

The 5-inch-tall engines, complete with flywheel and piston, were then supplied with 3 to 8 pounds of air pressure for a test run, which brought the greatest reward in Swedberg’s eyes.

“They would grin from ear to ear,” he said. “They were so happy that theirs would run. They had built it, and it was theirs to keep at no cost. The show pays for it as a method of trying to induce young people to become involved.”

This year’s classes today and Saturday are full. For those who want to watch, the classes are held in the model engine building.

Swedberg said he’s been approached about bringing the classes to steam engine and threshing shows in Dalton and Albany in Minnesota.

This year marks Swedberg’s 43rd consecutive Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion. The event has taken place every Labor Day weekend since 1954.

Swedberg may be too modest to bring it up, but his wife, Elaine Everson, pointed out that her husband has displayed tractors and engines, built buildings and served as a past president, secretary and board member for the event over the years.

He hopes the classes will plant a seed of interest that will grow into future participation in the show.

“Young people have so many activities now compared to when I was a kid that you have to try to attract them to come and exhibit or be a part of it,” he said. “And if everybody old like me quits or gets old and dies, who’s going to take care of the stuff?”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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