Well, now I can say I’m been to a large steam show – The Midwest Old Thresher’s Reunion in Mt Pleasant, Iowa, over Labor Day weekend was a blast, even as it was overwhelming in the scope and number of old iron attractions to be seen.
I arrived in the middle of the wet – Hurricane Issac’s contribution to the weekend was a steady rain for much of Friday and Saturday, which meant that most collectors and exhibitors were keeping their engines, tractors and steam displays under tarps and tents, with few working demonstrations. But the rain wasn’t a complete dampener to the show festivities: There were a few collectors who braved the rain and were nice enough to tell me about their collections (thanks Brad!) – and the sporadic drizzle gave me a chance to explore the permanent displays during my forays from the Farm Collector tent.
Brad Churchill and his brother had a few engines on display despite the rain, including this Keller engine and pump setup (that's Brad in the background).
My first stop was the stationary steam power museum, which contains a great display of large-scale stationary steam at work. The two most arresting displays (set on either side of the door), are huge engines, with flywheels at least double my 5-1/2-foot height. The first is an Allis-Chalmers steam-powered water pump commissioned by the City of Marshaltown, Iowa, to pump filtered, treated water from a million-gallon reservoir into the city water main. Engine speed depended on the pressure in the water main and could vary from 8 rpm to 36-1/2 rpm in a single day, with a maximum capacity of 6-3/4 million gallons per day at 150 psi water pressure. The original cost is listed at $37,700 dollars (about 516,400 in 2012). It was donated to Midwest Old Threshers in 1970 and first operated at the club grounds in 1973.
The Allis-Chalmers steam water pump. Members of Midwest Old Threshers spent over two years creating a foundation and getting the engine into full working order.
The second engine is a Murray “Special” Corliss steam-powered generator manufactured for the Mt. Pleasant Mental Health Institute by Murray Iron Works, Burlington, Iowa, in 1920. The generator supplied all of the Institute’s electricity through World War II.
This steam engine powers a belt-driven Allis-Chalmers generator with a DC output of 125 volts.
I also got a chance to explore a few of the displays in the Heritage Museum, including an exhibit called “Women: Partners on the Land” and a display of gas engines as part of an exhibit about electricity on the farm. My boyfriend was particularly interested in the windmills display, and I got some hints about meat preservation techniques on early homesteads.
This Hercules engine is part of a display concerning the impact of gas engines on farm power.
Before pressure canners, meat was sometimes preserved by layering with lard.
By Sunday afternoon things were drying out enough that the Parade of Power started up again (I actually got caught on the wrong side of it after taking a tour of the printing hall and got to see some scale Gaar-Scott steam engines firing up), and I was lucky enough to catch a bit of the steam threshing demonstration while enjoying a lunch of classic fair food. (A turkey leg, homemade rootbeer and funnel cake was the order of the day.)
This display in the Printer's Hall shows a press designed for creating ruled paper like that found in spiral notebooks.
Part of the steam threshing demonstration.
On Monday the weather was sunny and hot, with fired-up steam engines whistling on the hour and hit-and-miss engines popping away the morning. I spent some time talking to Larry Raid who, in addition to having some very cool vertical gas engines on display, showed off his 3-1/2-by-4-1/2 Sigwald press and taught me to play a card game called Spit (no spitting involved, unless you accidently trip over your tongue in your haste to win).
Using Larry's press to create a card with my name on it.
As the morning warmed up I took some time to watch the steam train, try a dill pickle (pickle juice is a good, old fashioned electrolyte booster if you’re ever feeling dehydrated at a show – I don't know whether pickles themselves have similar uses, but it sure was delicious), and generally see more of the grounds. Our leave-taking snuck up too soon, but I suppose there’s always next year – maybe then I’ll actually manage to take a tour of the Tractorland display and wander around all the steam traction engines too!
So long, until next year!