Antique threshers and tractors appeal to young and old alike
The sun was in and out of the clouds over Labor Day weekend and the temperature never rose above 80 degrees. All in all a perfect scene for the 65th annual Rock River Thresheree.
Thousands of people made their way to the old farm field along US 51 just south of Edgerton. They were there to relive the past or gaze in wonder at the machines that tilled the land, powered factories, and ran homes before computers, cell phones, television, radio, and even electricity.
It all started in 1955 when Rock County farmer John Horton invited a few friends to his farm for an “old school” threshing machine. About a hundred people showed up. Horton was busy farming in 1956 and didn’t have time for a drummer reunion, but in 1957 and every year since, the Rock River Thresheree has taken place. In 1959 the event was moved to Legion Park in Edgerton and in 1961 the current site between Edgerton and Janesville was purchased.
Before these things we call combine
Yes, the grain is still threshed with the old threshers every year at Thresheree – a wonderful sight for the young people watching and for most of the adults who are too young to remember the days of threshing crews that ended in the early 1950s. Yes, I remember the community thresher owned by neighbor John Diedrich stopping in our yard, parking by the barn and getting ready for work the next day. I guess about a dozen farms were in the threshing ring, each providing a man with a cogwheel wagon or three prong fork to mount the oat bales on the wagons.
Thresheree viewers enjoy watching the bales of grain enter one end of the machine and exit the other in the form of straw and grain. But, they will never stand the hard work, heat, dust and chaff of actual threshing time. Today, grain threshing is only seen in antique farm equipment shows where it is considered a novelty.
The same goes for the black, imposing and smoke-producing steam engines, powered by straw, wood and charcoal, which are always a center of attraction during exhibitions of old agricultural equipment. It’s hard to imagine that these behemoths pulled the plows that broke the soils of the Midwest that became the “breadbasket” of the world and are now the corn and soybean farms we see every day.
Interestingly, while the last of the steam friction motors were built over a hundred years ago, some still operate under the loving care of 90-year-old men and 9-year-old boys who take pride in their ability to transform a key, feed charcoal, and collect a layer of black charcoal dust on their faces and suits.
Hundreds of historic tractors
The Thresheree features hundreds of lovingly restored farm tractors belonging to this strange group of people with ‘Tractor Collector’s Disease’. Collecting old rusty relics, rebuilding them, refurbishing them and transporting them across the country for display at such events is hard work but keeps history alive.
Once again this year, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Rock River Thresheree reunion, thousands of spectators and exhibitors relived the era of the steam engines, Olivers, Minneapolis Molines, Allis Chalmers and the dozens of tractors that have long since disappeared from the farming scene and had been out of service for a long time and have never been seen working in a field by the current owner.
From May to October, dozens of vintage tractor and farm equipment shows are held across the Midwest, but the Rock River Thresheree is certainly one of the biggest and oldest and its holiday weekend dates. du Travail make it practical for lovers of agricultural history. You can see how farming and living was done in the days before the advent of social and industrial technology. A harder life, but just as much fun and happiness.
Contact John F. Oncken at 608-837-7406, or email him at [email protected]