Jul 14, 2013

Steam Threshers Reunion is about farming 100 years ago

YORK WOODS – “Things have been a little slow, although Friday morning was really good,” said Deanna Hess, secretary of the Darke County Steam Threshers Association.

Hess noted that over 500 people explored the offerings of the Reunion on Friday, and they had about 450 people on July 4. While a number of people noted how traffic seems to thin out when the rain starts falling, then swell in numbers when there’s a break in the moisture, Mark Corson noted that regardless of the weather, the “show” goes on.

“Farmers didn’t have rain days,” he said. “We don’t have rain dates.”

Corson has been traveling around the state photographing tractors and steam thresher events since 1989. He couldn’t remember how many events he’d shot over the years.

“I stopped counting at 12,” he said, grinning.

Dave Gibson, president of the Association, said the Reunion averages about 500 people a day, or 2,000 in the four-day weekend.

This was the 57th year for the Steam Threshers Reunion; the first was on the Ditler property on Hwy. 571 in 1957. In 1968 or 69 (no one could remember the exact year), having outgrown the 571 property, the Reunion moved to the Darke County Fairgrounds.

They moved to York Woods in 1999.

“We outgrew the fairgrounds, too,” said Ken Ullery. “Besides, look at these machines. They have steel wheels. They not only tear up the ground but they can’t run on concrete… you know how many concrete areas they have there.”

Ullery and Gary Shiverdecker talked about what they can offer at York Woods that they couldn’t before, including bigger and more field demonstrations.

“We grow our own wheat, barley, whatever we’ve a mind to,” said Shiverdecker.

“Our primary focus is education. Educating the general public how farming was done 100 years ago,” said Rick Brewer.

Ullery and Shiverdecker are the old timers of the Reunions. Shiverdecker has been to all 57 Reunions. Ullery has missed only two.

“That was courtesy of Uncle Sam,” he said. “He said I had something more important to do… wouldn’t let me come home for a show.”

Brewer is the Reunion’s announcer.

“My dad, Don Brewer, did the sound for the first show 57 years ago,” he said. The family does shows across the state. Brewer announces the Farm Power of the Past, the Miss Annie Oakley shooting contest and more.

Noting that he is just a “hired hand,” Brewer said his brother Scott is also an announcer, doing a show elsewhere at the time.

Demonstrations include the sawmill, threshing, plowing, harvesting wheat, even a hill climb when the ground isn’t too wet.

Gibson said there’s something for everyone… “they can plow, we have kids games, tractor pulls… we were giving kids a ride on one of the threshers yesterday.”

“We have our own fireworks every night,” said Ullery, noting that steam threshers running at night shoot off sparks with the smoke.

One interesting story took place around 1975…

“You see the smoke coming out of these things, don’t you?” asked Ullery. “One year, the smoke at the fairgrounds was so bad, the hospital called and asked us to shut down.”

“Did you?”

A shrug. “Well, yeah.”

Gibson suggested sticking around until about six.

“We’re going to cook a ham inside a steam engine,” he said. Others agreed… “you don’t want to miss it.”

Demonstrations that were going on at the time included milling lumber, checking horsepower of an engine and something called a Baker Fan.

A Baker Fan was used to test Baker’s engines prior to selling them… making sure they worked. A proxy brake is used to test the horsepower of an engine. The sawmill used a tractor and a belt attached to the circular saw.

And that’s just for starters…

Darke County Steam Threshers next Reunion will be July 3-6, 2014. They will have a Fall Harvest show at York Woods this year on Sept. 27, 28 and 29.

This engine was being tested for its horsepower using a “proxy brake.” The “brake” inside the wooden structure could be controlled to add or decrease the drag on an engine.

Break time for two Steam Thresher Association members. The 57th annual Reunion was held at York Woods July 4-7.


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