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Published: Friday, 6/28/2013

Coal-fired memories come alive this week

Antique farm machinery buffs gather

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Greg Bechtold of Lancaster, Pa., surveys steam engines at the National Threshers Association’s 69th reunion that runs through Sunday at the  Fulton County Fairgrounds near Wauseon. This year’s featured steam engine is the Keck Gonnerman. Few of those were made. Greg Bechtold of Lancaster, Pa., surveys steam engines at the National Threshers Association’s 69th reunion that runs through Sunday at the Fulton County Fairgrounds near Wauseon. This year’s featured steam engine is the Keck Gonnerman. Few of those were made.
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WAUSEON — More than 10,000 people are expected to flock to a four-day event at the Fulton County Fairgrounds north of Wauseon this week.

“It’s like a family reunion,” said Steve Lashaway of Bowling Green.

And what a reunion it is. Folks let off steam. Sparks fly. And after a potluck meal, some people saw logs — real logs.

As reunions go, this one is noisy with shrill whistles and sooty from smoke-belching behemoths. Portions of the fairgrounds’ infield are a muddy mess from recent rains. But be certain, nobody was minding a bit on Thursday, opening day of the 69th annual National Threshers Association reunion that runs through Sunday.

Not everyone at the reunion is related by blood, of course, but many attendees are bonded by a close-knit brotherhood.

Shortly before noon Thursday, Butch Biesecker of Bear, Del., shoveled coal into the fire box of his 1924 Keck Gonnerman steam engine. Signs on the monster-sized machine stated “Steam engine stories told here & some of them are true.” Another: “It's never too late to have a happy childhood!”

Mr. Biesecker, 67, who exhibits his steam engine at dozens of shows every year, was looking forward to the reunion’s nighttime spark shows, a light display like no other. Dazzling showers of sparks, he said, are generated by the steam engines as a result of a concoction of fuel: shingle-mill shavings, straw, sawdust, ground-up corn cobs.

Philip Zuver of the Bryan area works on his 1920 Port Huron steam traction engine during the threshers’ 69th reunion. Philip Zuver of the Bryan area works on his 1920 Port Huron steam traction engine during the threshers’ 69th reunion.
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Some women sported T-shirts with a message: “Silly Boys! Steam engines aren’t just for you!”

Barbara Brown, 67, who lives near Nashville, recalled how her late father James Coyle built from scratch a half-scale Keck Gonnerman, operated now by her son Travis Brown. About a dozen of their family members will attend the Fulton County event.

“It’s like a really, really big family reunion.There’s fellowship and you learn something new every day,” he said.

“Every one of these machines was built with unique features,” he said, adding that some had extra big wheels to work in sandy ground while others had smaller wheels to make tight turns.

Mrs. Brown said she was astonished to see the lineup of steam engines. “There were so many of them recycled during World War II. All these here, that’s remarkable.”

As noon approached, some people pushed neon pink plugs into their ears. Others shrugged off earplugs, wanting nothing to soften the sounds. “Three, two, one,” the announcer counted down. “Let’s hear it!”

Steam engine whistles blared. Youngsters, loving the loud chorus of high and low notes, pumped their fists in the air and jumped with exuberance. Cool beans, indeed.

David Pence of Bluffton, Ind., sits on a rise to watch the action. David Pence of Bluffton, Ind., sits on a rise to watch the action.
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“Each whistle has its own tone,” said Mr. Lashaway, association president. Back in the day, when the steam engines worked in fields, the whistle signaled “We need more water. Bring more grain. It’s the start, it’s the end of the day. Each whistle could be heard for a long distance,” he said.

David Schramm of Luckey, Ohio, an association trustee, said this year’s featured steam engine, the Keck Gonnerman, would draw people.

Not many of those machines were made, several owners said.

A vast array of antique farm machinery, from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s, is on display at the reunion, billed as the oldest of its type worldwide.

Each year, the show features about 50 steam engines — predecessors to modern-day farm tractors — in addition to hundreds of antique tractors and gas engines.

Daily demonstrations feature threshing and plowing and the sawmill and shingle mill. This year, the association is hosting the Ford-Fordson Collector’s Association national event.

One-day admission for the reunion is $5. Children 12 and under are admitted free with an adult admission. More information is at NationalThreshers.com.

Tennessee resident Ethan Brown, 10, tends to his steam engine. Tennessee resident Ethan Brown, 10, tends to his steam engine.
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Among the tractors on display is a 1954 Farmall Super MTA, restored by Rex Short, 74, of the Archbold area.

Mr. Short, as well as many others who attend the reunion, take along young people who could be part of the next generation of steam-engine fans. When asked if he helped restore the Farmall, Mr. Short’s grandson, 13-year-old Drew Herman, of the Edgerton, Ohio, area shook his head no. “I wasn’t born yet.”

Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, the National Threshers Women offer a variety of things to do.

“We promote activities to keep the women happy. These women go with their men from show to show to show. We make sure we have something for the women to do every day,” said Marlyn Stukey who lives near Swanton. She is vice president of the women’s group.

Tractor-themed items, including curtains, quilts, wall hangings, books, and dog bandanas, are for sale in a nearby building, close to the flea market area.

A sign near the fairgrounds’ entrance warns “No Dogs In Flea Market Area.” What? As if the dogs would try to drop some off?

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com or 419-724-6006.



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