Old time family fun

Drake Threshing Show celebrates ag history for 50 years

A volunteer crew feeds a thresher operating during the 2015 Drake Threshing Show.

DRAKE – For two days every year, agriculture’s past comes alive west of Drake.

Folks will be starting up the steam engines and pulling out the blacksmith tools once more to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Drake Threshing Show Sept. 8 and 9. The show offers something for every ag history buff and engine enthusiast.

“We tried to bring back the history of the threshing. The shows had shown a little bit of decline in attendance because that’s all we concentrated on – until we brought in the truck and tractor pulls,” said Dean Lemer, 22-year board member of the Drake Threshing Association. “We really do have a good turnout for that.”

This year’s feature is four-wheel drive tractors, and there will be a full-size tractor pull and pickup pull Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

New activities introduced over the years have kept the show fresh for visitors. New this year are the pony brake and Sunday performances by Daryl’s Racing Pigs.

Steam-powered and gas-powered tractor threshing remains a main feature both days of the event. Other events include vendor shows each day until 5 p.m. and daily parades at 12:30 p.m. There also will be plowing demonstrations, a shingle mill and working blacksmith. Breakfast is served both days from 7 to 11 a.m., and bingo for all ages will be played at 3 p.m.

Events on Saturday include a consignment auction at 10 a.m.; bounce houses from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; kids’ games and binding/antique combining at 2 p.m.; and adult games at 2:30 p.m. The musical group Country Cousins will be performing.

Sunday events include a church service at 10:30 a.m. and kiddie pedal tractor pull at 1:30 pm.

Admission buttons, good for both days, are $10 at the gate or $8 in advance from local business in Drake, Butte and Anamoose. Children ages 8 and younger are free.

In observing the anniversary, Lemer said, the association will be honoring charter members, now deceased, during the church service. Plaques are being prepared in their memories that will be on display during the show.

The history of the show dates to the late 1960s, when discussions of old-time threshing days led to a “trial run” on the farm of Bob Alme, a few miles west of Drake, with the aid of Albert and Eddie Bossert, according to information in the Drake Threshers Album, compiled by Cleo Cantlon in 1979.

The unadvertised affair attracted more than 250 visitors, encouraging promoters to plan a larger harvest festival the following year.

The next threshing bee was held in September 1969, with a dance Saturday night at the Drake City Hall. Several old threshing machines were put into running order, along with some Rumely, Waterloo Boys and John Deere tractors. Other antiques were on display and lunch was served. About 2,500 spectators enjoyed the show.

Many area residents had good horses during those early years of the shows, and horses became a major attraction to pull the binders, haul bundles, pull grain wagons and give free rides.

The first committee for the threshing association, organized in 1971, consisted of Lyle Bakken, president; Bob Alme, vice president; Ruben Michelson, secretary; Pete Ziegler, treasurer; and directors Albert Bossert, Eddie Bossert, Herbert Blumhagen, Oliver Kronberg, Christ Baier, Wendelin Koble, Joe Schell, Alden Bethke and W.O. Krumwiede. There were 160 charter members.

In 1971, the group bought a steam engine and separator and built a machine shed. The Soo Line Railroad donated the Balfour depot, a 24- by 28-foot structure built after Balfour’s first depot burned in 1908. It was moved to the five-acre site near Drake. The platform, which ran eight feet wide on two sides of the depot, was restored after the move.

There was so much rain in late September in 1971 that the association was forced to postpone twice the second day of threshing. They didn’t finish until Oct. 10, with 3,000 visitors on hand.

During the 1970s, the threshing association invited different attractions, including Fort Totten Wagon Trail Train and a 7th Cavalry re-enactment. In 1972, the association had to find a band to fill in for the threshers dance when the well-known Canadian band that was scheduled failed to apply for permits to cross the border.

History recalls the weather was so cold in 1974 that threshing was done in parkas and snowmobile suits. In 1976, the show was a divided event, with threshing at a bee in Voltaire on Saturday and in Drake on Sunday.

Rain again postponed the show in 1977, from the end of September to Oct. 8 and 9, minus the annual dance. Visitors enjoyed a display of model airplanes that year and again the following year.

In 1978, the association paid off the last of the $10,000 borrowed to get started 10 years earlier.

To keep people coming, the association has continued to add new events.

Lemer said a binding demonstration has been a huge hit since first offered a couple of years ago. Since 2016, a demonstration with a pull-type combine from the 1940s also has drawn crowds.

In 2015, the first annual consignment auction saw about 11 tractors consigned. Those numbers grew to 56 tractors, mostly antiques, as well as grain trucks, vintage vehicles, antique swathers, augers and anything farm-related. Buyers come from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana and the Dakotas.

The association acquired two quonsets for storing equipment and started a pioneer village with an equipped country schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop. A former granary recently was added, which will be converted to a general store setting in the future. Lemer said the association has a sawmill it hopes to rebuild and get into operation.

In the meantime, association members have labored to maintain their depot and other buildings as well as put on a big show every fall.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work. There’s a lot of volunteer manhours that are not even recognized,” Lemer said.

The association has involved school organizations in helping with the show’s games and parking, seeking to get young people on the grounds and spark their interest in continuing the threshing tradition.

“The interest of young people to want to run the steam engines has really picked up,” Lemer said. “What I am seeing now is agricultural families, the young people, are wanting to learn about their ancestors – how they had to work back in the day.”