Steam engines well over a century old are chugging to life this afternoon in southeast Iowa as the annual Midwest Old Threshers Reunion gets underway in Mount Pleasant. Event spokesman Grant Davidson says the machines of yesterday that helped build Iowa into the farming giant it is today are all on display — and they’re still running strong.
“We’re not like a typical amusement park or anything like that. We are an agriculture heritage-based event out here,” Davidson says. “We have antique cars, tractors, vintage steam engines. We have gas engines. We have a narrow-gauge steam rail line and electric trolley lines.” The five-day event draws tens of thousands of visitors to see the dozens of steam-powered contraptions that were once the latest technology for performing important chores in the field.
“They’re these big, monstrous machines that heat up water and that’s what they start using to produce the power, and then they have threshing machines where you throw the wheat in there, and it separates the grain from the straw and all that,” Davidson says. “It’s amazing what these machines did and it’s crazy how much our agricultural heritage has changed over the last 100 years.”
As elderly farmers head out to pasture, he says new crops of operators need to be trained to use these machines in order to keep this era of Iowa’s agricultural history alive. “It’s our heritage. It’s where we came from. It’s what we’re showcasing, trying to keep that heritage alive of how it was in the olden days,” Davidson says. “We’re lucky enough that each summer we have a Steam School. They have class all day Saturday, learning about how to operate steam engines and pressurizing and all that stuff, and then Sunday, they go out and have a hands-on experience.”
Mount Pleasant is one of the few places where you can still hear the whistle blow on an original steam locomotive — and hop on to take a ride on the rails around McMillan Park.”We have our steam engines that come in, there’s about 90 to 100 of them that come in, and then we have the steam narrow-gauge rail line with the Midwest Central Railroad that runs around,” Davidson says. “Number Six is going to be out this year. She was built in 1891, so it’s cool seeing something from that century still in the 21st.”
The reunion runs through Monday. The daily admission ticket also buys admission to the nightly country music concerts. Tonight, Crystal Gayle will be on stage. Friday, it’s Easton Corbin. The headliner is Joe Nichols on Saturday night, and Sunday, it’s Dylan Scott. Davidson says the food can’t be beat, either, as it’s all essentially home-cooked by local civic and church groups.