Darin Edmonds, acting President of the Heart of America Steam Engine Association
McLouth Threshing Bee: Historical Farm Equipment on Parade
On a wide-open stretch of land situated in the small town of McLouth, Kansas people like to gather for what is known as the annual Threshing Bee. It is a time for celebrating farming as it was long ago and a time for bringing together the community for this summer celebration. It is a place where antique steam engines and gas-powered tractors bring a powerful presence to the countryside. Individuals and families gather with lawn chairs, blankets and an excitement about seeing these rare and majestic beasts.
Upon entering the fairgrounds visitors are greeted by the sound of an antique windmill still spinning in the wind and an awesome view of the well-recognized, McLouth Threshing Bee Water Tower. The dusty roadway brings visitors onto an open field where other cars are parked. This once barren landscape now welcomes hundreds of guests with the aroma of hot dogs, pies and other all-American menu selections. Activities for children abound and provide an array of choices for all ages. Once dinner selections are made and children have been entertained it’s on to the pit area that is surrounded by farm fencing. A parade of machines appear that were stored away awaiting this moment and the crowds delight in the sight of such treasurers.
Darin Edmonds is acting President of the Heart of America Steam Engine Association that works to put on the Threshing Bee every year. Darin describes the humble beginnings of this annual event as he remembers the story of how it began. “Slim Watson lived in the area in the 1950’s and he had an idea to invite people out to his home, serve them some food, and give a little demonstration on how his farm equipment worked. It was a really big hit and it has continued since that time to become what it is now.” Today, the Threshing Bee brings together collectors, hobbyists and enthusiasts for a similar experience. “It’s one of my hobbies; I grew up here in McLouth and my dad was involved prior to my becoming president,” said Darin. The fairgrounds are used and maintained by a lot of people, but the Threshing Bee is the major attraction for the community and has been going on for more than 50 years. According to Darin, “We are a non-profit organization and every penny goes back into the Association to make the show fun for the community.”
All of the old farm equipment delights and impresses collectors, historians, and hobbyist, myself included.
Those housed on the fairgrounds were available for viewing and I was thrilled to see them as Darin and I took a tour of the facility. The most majestic by far was the Advance Rumely Steam Engine built in 1920. This 50-horse powered mammoth has the appearance of a locomotive train and I can’t imagine using it to farm my land.
Standing nearby were the 1909 Case, 1922 Minneapolis Engine, 1915 Aultman Taylor gas powered tractor and the 1915Wood Brothers Threshing Machine. In the back of the large room stood the 1915 John Deere Wheat Thresher that looked as if it had just come off the farm. The most unusual steam engine is housed in a building of its own, the 1880’s Corliss Steam Engine. The city of Lawrence, Kansas donated the engine to McLouth after finding it in the basement of the old paper company. In its day, the engine had 8 inch line shaft attachments that were approximately one city block long with 300 belts that operated the entire factory. It is most certainly a magnificent representation of antique machinery.
Although the steam engines are exciting to see, the tractor pull is by far the most popular event at the Threshing Bee. Participants from surrounding areas bring their own equipment to the event and compete in this muddy, noisy, display. Antique tractors, hot rod tractors and other impressive machines enter to see who can pull the greatest weights for the longest distance. This is a time in the show when the noise level gets intense. The sound of large farm equipment pulling so hard that the front wheels leave the ground can be deafening.
I recommend visiting the McLouth Threshing Bee where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of this wonderful event. It’s a tradition that the community holds dear and visitors don’t soon forget. Once there you will meet with others from across Kansas, the Midwest and the country. Remember to bring your camera on the first weekend of August. It’s a time for reflecting on our history as Kansans and people of rural America.