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Published September 14, 2009, 12:00 AM

Portraits: Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion

After the smoke, the thousands of visitors and the rhythmic thumping sounds of the massive century-old steam engines have vanished from the grounds of the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, two old friends sit down to ponder the future.

By: Dave Wallis, INFORUM

After the smoke, the thousands of visitors and the rhythmic thumping sounds of the massive century-old steam engines have vanished from the grounds of the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, two old friends sit down to ponder the future.

Gerry Stange, 86, of Moorhead wears his striped engineer hat and bib overalls while visiting with James Withers, 75, of Osakis, Minn., who sits in a recliner chair in the building that houses his vast collection of gas, diesel and kerosene-powered Otto engines.

The engines, some of which are one-of-a-kind and very sought after by collectors, were used at big farms or used in oil production. Many of them are over 100 years old. They range in power from 1.8 horsepower up to 60 horsepower and weigh up to 12 tons. “About the same as a big Case steam engine,” says Withers, who had to miss the event this year because of his health.

After collecting, restoring and trading the engines almost all of his life, Withers says it’s time to pass the care of them on to others, including his son Kevin. “I can act like the boss, but my boys get tired of that.”

“That’s the way this place is going to keep going on,” adds Stange, who says there are so many little jobs that someone has to do to keep the machines in good condition throughout the year for their showcasing in the annual Labor Day event.

“All these good people volunteer here, and they get the self-satisfaction of knowing that other people can come here and enjoy,” Stange points out. “If we don’t do this, history won’t be passed on.”

“It’s like making a cake.” Stange goes on to say. “You take all the different talents of many volunteers, mix them together, and the result is a beautiful cake.”

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