2722 Glen Drive, Merrill, Wisconsin 54452
At 3:30 on Sunday, Mrs. Lorraine Martyn said, 'We ordered 10,000 entrance buttons and ran out two hours ago.'
The Kurt Umnus Farm, three miles southeast of Edgar, a small central Wisconsin town with a population of 1,354, hosted the 25th North Central Wisconsin Steam and Gas Engine Show August 28 - 30, 1998.
Family groups from young children to great-grandparents, babies riding in strollers, young children being pulled in coaster wagons, a train pulled by a small tractor giving rides to school age children sitting in cut open, blue, plastic barrels with hands turning play steering wheels, teenagers laughing and pointing, people moving in electric wheel chairs or using canes, and horse and tractor drawn wagons with benches offering rides, roam the grounds.
Polka and waltz tunes played by an 'old time' band float from a machine shed where half of the building is used for dancing. Music plays Friday evening, Saturday 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., and Sunday afternoon. The Ray Konkel, Riverside Sounds, Golden Aces, Ernie Strmpf, and Dan Gruetzmacher bands are scheduled.
Pop, beer, and food stands line the other half of the machine shed with booths and chairs for seating in the middle.
Outside, crowds hover around other food stands where homemade cookies, kettle popcorn, raw and deep fried cheese curds, cotton candy, snow cones, corn dogs, melted cheese over nachos, and caramel apple slices are sold.
East of the machine shed, the rows of picnic tables that sit under a shade canopy are filled with people eating and visiting.
Each morning the aroma of frying pancakes fills the air. Later, hamburgers and bratwurst are offered. Enormous bowls of chocolate, maple nut, strawberry cheese cake, and vanilla ice cream are sold by a church youth group.
Campers, exhibitors, and visitors are invited to attend a Polka Church Service at 9:00 Sunday morning.
Eight long rows with over 125 vendors fill the flea market offering a variety of merchandise from homemade crafts to maple syrup, Dalmatian puppies to Beanie Babies, antique toys to machine parts, glistening glassware to blue canning jars, lightning rods to milk bottles, and much more. The vendors are ready to explain the 'unknowns' such as a two row, hand corn planter or long jeweled hat pins.
Another area boasts of lines of antique tractors, trucks, Caterpillars, and machinery waiting for inspection.
Dark gray smoke belches from the stack of a huge, hissing steam engine as its belted flywheel powers a sawmill emitting the essence of fresh pine as logs become lumber.
When another steam engine is approached, the mist from the spitting of the steam exhaust is felt. Chaff and wood smoke fill the air where the mighty engine provides power for a 1903 threshing machine.
Along the edge of a field, a crowd gathers to watch as a team of draft horses pulls a half-cylinder-shaped water wagon up to a waiting steam engine. The driver leaves his seat at the front of the wagon, walks to the center, and pumps a handle to transfer water through a hose into the boiler of the steam engine. When he is finished, he slaps the reins and drives his team away, as the loud, low pitched engine whistle blows. The engine starts, seemingly without effort, to pull the six-bottom plow that turns over the sod. Some of the crowd run ahead, then stop and snap pictures.
Back beyond the food area, the pop, pop, pop, of smaller gas engines is heard. Steam escapes from the engine's water hopper cooling system, which is positioned over the cylinder, as the flywheels turn. Water is pumped, buckwheat ground, and lath is sawed with the power from these engines. The exhibitors, proud of their restorations with the original colors of red, green, brown, or blue polished to a shining glow, stand near to answer questions. A man wearing a blue and white striped 'pay-day cap,' like the ones worn by railroad engineers of yesterday, and holding a long nozzled oil can, squirts oil into the small, glass cylinder-device on top of his engine known as the drip oiler. The drip oiler oils the piston. A member explained the difference between a throttle governed and a hit and miss engine. 'Listen,' he said, as he cranked the flywheel to start the engine. 'The throttle-governed engine has a magneto so it fires continually 'pop, pop, pop.. .'Now watch and listen to the hit and miss engine. It has a battery and coil ignition. After it fires once, the flywheels provide momentum until they slow enough to allow the flyball governor to let the machine ignite another fuel charge 'pop.' Let's count the times the flywheel turns. 1, 2,. . .8. The flywheels on this machine turned eight revolutions between 'pops.' Hear the difference?'
The show area is estimated to be 60-acres with free parking for about 500 cars across the road and with other parking on the grounds.
Mrs. Martyn says that the North Central Wisconsin Steam and Gas Engine Club has a membership of over 200. This show has over 50 exhibitors. She tends the information counter in the former cloak hall of the red, one-room schoolhouse located to the southwest of the first machine shed. Photographs of the club's history line the entrance hall, and a large circular saw blade painted with the names of the past presidents and the years they served is also displayed. The school-room is furnished like a first through eighth grade, one teacher, rural school.
The Annual Steam and Gas Engine Show offers a bit of history for the young and many memories for the mature.