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Published September 03, 2010, 12:00 AM

A chance to let off steam

Rollag event marks 57 years
ROLLAG, Minn. – The machines may be old, but the spirit is young at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion.

ROLLAG, Minn. – The machines may be old, but the spirit is young at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion.

In the last few years, organizers have added activities meant to attract young gear heads to the annual event. And so young people can learn how to drive a tractor, check out an antique toy display and take part in a miniature steam engine-building class for ages 12 through 16 today and Saturday. (To register for a class, call instructor Jerry Swedberg at 218-937-5404.)

Organizers also are working to add an apprenticeship program, which would allow young people to team up with seasoned steam-engine machinists who participate in the annual Labor Day weekend event.

“We need young people to get involved with it. Otherwise, it’s not going to be able to keep going,” says 26-year-old Crystal Aakre, a marketing assistant and volunteer whose great-uncles started the event in 1940.

Her uncles were the Nelson boys who first fired up an old Garr-Scott engine to thresh with steam again for old time’s sake. That yearly ritual continued until 1954, when the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion met formally for the first time and began inviting the public.

Today, the show has grown to include hundreds of demonstrations and exhibits spread over 210 acres.

An average of 75,000 people descend on the town of Rollag (population: 532) each year to watch steam-threshing demonstrations, listen to music, dine on “threshermen’s home-style meals” and ride the steam locomotives. There are also parades, tractor pulls, pony rides, plowing demonstrations, a vintage style show, a sawmill and kids’ games and rides.

Other new activities on tap:

- After-dark spark shows, in which sawdust is poured in the firebox of steam engines, creating a flurry of sparks;

- Steam-engine games, which will be “kind of like the Olympics for steam engines,” Aakre says.

- An Allis-Chalmers Expo, featuring the popular, Persian-orange equipment in almost every type and vintage.

- The first-ever swap meet for agricultural equipment and tractor parts.

Regardless of age, machine enthusiasts will be able to check out engines of every size and vintage. There will be working steam shovels, steam-traction engines and stationary steam or gas engines.

“One cool thing about our show is we have so many different engines that are really rare and still working,” Aakre says.

If you go

- What: 57th annual Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion

- When: Today through Monday

- Where: Rollag, Minn.

- Info: Daily pass: $12; season pass: $20; kids 14 and under: free; (701) 212-2034;

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525