Rollag, Steam Threshers Reunion, Steamers Hill, WMSTR. Take your pick how you prefer to identify the Labor Day weekend gathering with makes no difference. But the point is to go. Seriously. You might say I’m a bit biased, but for to long I chose not to attend, and I’ve regretted ever doubting the draw of steam, soot, sweat and dust to my settlers roots. Even to this day I can’t fully appreciate what lies a cup of coffee south east of Moorhead, Minnesota.
In the fall of 1998 after moving to West Fargo from Bottineau I won two tickets to attend the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, and gave them away. I’d seen my share of fall festivals and threshing bee’s which are about as common as ducks on the prairie in September. I didn’t really see how this event would be much different. Kind of like a hamburger in Ross, ND, compared to a burger in Bufflalo, ND. Sure they might have their own signature, but it comes down to meat and a bun, and those aren’t much different. So I gave away a free pass to a first hand experience of what my forefathers endured long ago so in 2009 we could ride down in the comfort of air conditioned white Taurus. In fact to the credit of our tie’s to the blood and sweat which settled the prairie similar September events continue from Makoti to Ft. Ransom and Fullerton as well. I’ll give every individual and family credit for paying the respect our ancestors deserve. But for the better part of a decade living in West Fargo I passed on the Labor Day opportunity to take a step back.
As our oldest turned four I finally decided to take the family. In my mind it was like going out for dinner at a ‘new’ Apple Bee’s, expecting nothing different than most other events with some old tractors, alot of dirt and an ice cream cone to cool off. Have a mentioned I was wrong? Yep, I was…very wrong.
This year we’ll take in the fourth in a row and plan to never miss a weekend again. We’ll try to arrive on the grounds around 6:30 or 7AM, get a nice pancake breakfast and begin trolling the grounds. There’s a real working steam train to ferry you from one end of Steamers Hill to the other, realistically probably 3 miles, but riding in an old box car (with seats) feels more like 100 miles and years ago.
My son could hang out in the Giant Sandbox, with working steam shovels, dozers, cranes and backhoes working the dirt like ma kneads bread, working the old iron with a masters touch. The combination of dirt, steam, wind, sun, sweat, dirt,…is a recipe of pure appreciation to the foundation of towns we now complain about stop lights which take to long to turn. It puts my mind into a blessed state of content with the now, by realizing what was then.
Across the lake float huge tree’s, into the sawmill where Little House on the Prairie type saw mill whittles down the raw wood into a piece of lath as my son’s toothless smile erupts from his heart and he appreciates the gesture of the men in the pit tossing a piece over to him. Little House on the Prairie is a pretty accurate visual. Think of it was almost Walnut Grove come to life, it’s not far from it.
From blacksmith to steam tractors I can’t begin to explain the draw of Rollag to our young family. Being first hand educators for our children it’s an amazing teachable weekend. Where else can a student watch a horse drawn swather knock down wheat and follow the harvest into flour? You can’t. Not round these parts. Not in this day. But then again I’ve been wrong a few times. Get out and enjoy!