American Thresherman Assn. Steam, Gas and Threshing Show a Family Affair

Close-knit group of organizers makes ATA show a success


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Entering its 49th year, the American Thresherman Assn. Steam, Gas and Threshing Show in Pinckneyville, Ill., has become one of the country's biggest shows. Held at the Perry County Fairgrounds, the summer show takes place the week before the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Ind. The ATA also hosts a fall show in October that, while much smaller and more laid back than its big brother, offers plenty to see and do. With tractor pulls, sawmill demonstrations, harvest food, and many tractors and gas engines to look at, the ATA fall show is a great way to cap the summer show season.

Making it all possible is a close-knit group of organizers, many of whom are second- and even third-generation members of the ATA, according to board member Gary Bahre. These organizers know first hand that the future of the show, and the hobby in general, depends on making it accessible for everyone. "We run this show for people to have fun," says Gary.

Based on the continued growth of the show, the ATA has found the right approach. "When I started coming to this show 25 years ago, the gas engines used to be set up under one oak tree and you'd get 12 engines in a good year," says ATA gas engine chairman Tom Jansen. Eventually, the show grew in size and the gas engines moved to an elevated area aptly named Gas Engine Hill. "Now we get about 200-500 engines a show in the summer," says Tom.

One big reason for growth is the proactive way that organizers and regular attendees alike nurture beginners. Take Troy Davis of Watson, Ill., for instance. Troy started coming to the ATA shows as a regular attendee with a general interest in gas engines. Now, thanks to Tom, he's a collector himself and regular exhibitor. "I've known Tom for years and started talking to him about collecting," says Troy. "He's been really helpful. I can do most of the work, but it's good to know people who you can ask."

Troy started with a 1942 Fairbanks-Morse Style D and now has a collection of five engines, mostly of the FM variety. His favorite is a 1919 1-1/2 HP Z in a style that was only in production for six months. He's also helping his 10-year-old daughter get interested in the hobby by adding some fun implements to his collection, such as a corn sheller, a grinder and an ice cream freezer. "She loves it," says Troy.

And then there's 19-year-old Chris Phillips and 18-year-old Dave Pearson: the ATA's two steam apprentices. "My parents brought me to this show when I was 10 days old and I've been coming ever since," says Chris. Now, he and Dave are learning the ins-and-outs of steam thanks to the ATA. "Steam engines are great," says Chris. "They're old but they still work so well."

"They're being trained in every aspect on how to run and maintain this engine," says Gary. "They couldn't have bought or restored this engine themselves but (through ATA) they get to live with it."

Troy, Chris and David are perfect examples of what the ATA offers and what's needed to keep old iron alive. "The most important thing is that the people who know how to fix these things and make them tick, pass along that information to someone else," says Gary. "That's how we got into it."

The 49th Annual Steam, Gas and Threshing Show will take place Aug. 14-17 at the Perry County Fairgrounds in Pinckneyville, Ill., followed by the fall show Oct. 17-19. The summer show will feature Allis-Chalmers tractors and Fairbanks-Morse gas engines. Visit for more information.

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