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Reliving the ‘good old days’ in tracy

Volunteers at the annual Tractor and Threshing show at Tracy’s Box Car Days demonstrate how farmwork was really like back in the day

September 4, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - There is a sign outside the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum that says, "A peek at the past, memories that last." This past weekend, for the 85th annual Box Car Days celebration, countless people did just that, taking the opportunity to step back in time, whether it was to relive some experiences or learn about history for the first time.

While watching the periodic threshing demonstrations at the 2012 Tractor and Threshing Show Saturday, observers definitely got a hint of how labor-intensive farming used to be in "the good old days."

"We do these demonstrations to keep history alive," event organizer Ray Randall said. "We have to teach these young kids what labor is. All they know is pushing buttons."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Virgil Laleman, left, and Don Gregoire loaded oat bundles onto a threshing machine during a demonstration at the 2012 Wheels Across the Prairie Museum’s Tractor and Threshing Show Saturday in Tracy.

Despite the physically-demanding work involved, volunteers Don Gregoire and Virgil Laleman, both of Tracy, made threshing the oats look somewhat easy.

"It was good," Gregoire said after unloading an entire rack of grain shocks into the threshing machine. "It was no problem since there was a nice breeze."

Like many area farmers of his generation, Gregoire knows what it means to work hard. Although he spent 30 years working at an automotive parts store in Tracy, Gregoire said he used to farm.

"When I was 11, I was a spike pitcher out in the field," he said. "I'd help load racks all day long. When I was 5 years old, I was driving a tractor already."

People watching one of the threshing demonstrations for the first time had the opportunity to learn about the rugged process, both by observing it and through conversations with older generations of farmers who vividly remember every detail.

"You always have to put the head in first," one farmer said. "That's the end with the grain on it. You can set how many pounds you want it to trip at. I usually did one-half bushel, or 16 pounds."

Threshing machines separate the grain from the straw, with the grain headed toward a wagon and the straw blasting out the back, making an enormous heap.

"Most farmers sold the grain," another farmer said. "Most of the straw was kept for feeding or bedding the livestock."

Many recalled the past, when farmers starting using combines in place of threshing machines. While the original combine was invented in 1838 by Hiram Moore, it took much longer to spread across the country. By the early to mid-1960s, though, most farms had made the transition to combines.

"The new combines weren't much better," Swede Campbell said. "The dust flew everywhere."

Besides having no cab, the original combines had to be powered by horses, sometimes by more than 16 of them, and later, pulled by a steam engine. They were far from the luxurious combines of today, a number of area farmers said.

"They used to have a two-row corn head and a 12-foot bean head, and would go about 2 miles an hour," Gregoire said. "Now combines get going 6, 7 or 8 miles per hour, have 12-row corn heads and 35-40-foot bean heads."

Later in the day, Don Hanson helped Gregoire and Laleman bale up the loose straw. Using a 1942 ZTU tractor and a Minneapolis Moline Huskor, Randall picked some corn on-site to use for corn shelling.

"You can't even find the single row ones anymore," said Francis Stassen of Amiret. "They're too antique. They were good, though. They don't leave any corn."

Combining corn has come a long way, the farmers said.

Along with watching silage cutting displays, people also had the opportunity to walk up and down the many rows of tractors on display. Four-year-old Matt Cauwels of Marshall seemed to consider the tractor show his personal playground, inspecting and comparing all of them.

"I like tractors," Cauwels said. "They're my favorite."

Anita Cauwels said her son could sit there and watch all day long.

Matt Cauwels, whose father collects Oliver tractors, was more than happy to point out his favorite tractor on display - a blue Ford 9600, which just happened to be the largest one in the lot. He was also fond of the John Deere D, with its distinctive mufflers.

In addition to checking out all the tractors and watching the demonstrations, Matt Cauwels and his mother toured the museum, to see what the Tracy area has been about for the past 85 years.

"He loves this kind of stuff," Anita Cauwels said. "Most kids this generation aren't exposed to these kinds of things, so this was a good opportunity to do that.

There was much to do for people of all ages, including a mule-drawn wagon ride, courtesy of River View Farms owners Mike and Darles Lamfers.

"People like the show," Randall said. "I get a lot of positive comments."

Randall estimated that this was the 10th year for the show, the sixth at the current location adjacent to the Wheels museum

"It's really neat stuff, with all these guys thrashing and shelling all over the place," Stassen said. "And the show is getting better every year."

Stassen has attended the show every year, so he's seen it grow more and more popular.

"There's no other place you can find this many old machines," Stassen said. "It's the best tractor show in Minnesota. They have the most antiques."

This year, Stassen decided to display one of his three burr mills, which is an old type of grinder.

"They're over 100 years old," he said. "A lot of things here are from 100 years ago. That's older than I am."

Also on display was old horse-powered equipment. Years ago, a single horse would be connected to a tumble rod and would walk round and round, helping to grind corn, power a grain elevator or whatever was needed on the farm. Later, equipment was ground-driven until power take-offs were invented.

"It's a whole different world now," Tracy resident Norma Campbell said.

The Campbell's grandchildren, Sam and Keith Harner, not only took in some Farming 101 tips, they also took third place in the first-ever Old Fashioned Kids Day kiddie parade at Wheels Across the Prairie Museum.



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