by Paul Rignell
With last weekend’s weather being common for mid-August, Nowthen Historical Power Association (NHPA) elders expected typical crowds for their 42nd annual threshing show.
That meant more than 10,000 guests came to the grounds at 7415 Old Viking Blvd. for the three-day show Aug. 17–19, many with trailers for overnight stay as well as their cars and trucks.
For gate fees of less than $10 per person, the guests were treated to entertainment and exhibits from antique gas and steam engine operators. Plus, NHPA volunteers and other exhibitors demonstrated farm skills and other facets of small-town living — much of it with equipment that is mostly otherwise from a bygone era.
Their productivity will go to good use in many ways. NHPA members Waldo Leistico of Nowthen and Bill Kasper of Coon Rapids were joined in threshing corn stalks by John Toth of Elk River, who stressed he is not a member yet he was working just the same. After being run through the thresher, the corn would be taken to silos for storage until colder months to come. “It ferments, just like sauerkraut and smells like licorice,” Leistico said. “You feed it to cows in the wintertime.”
The workers both raise and shock their grain on the grounds. Without having rosters to check when asked for total membership numbers, Leistico and Kasper estimated their group has grown to more than 300. “We’d like to have more younger people,” Leistico said. “You’ve got to have some people who are dependable, too. When you’re ready (or it’s time) to work, you’ve got to work.”
As much as the elders want to welcome new members, they respect set traditions and expect them to be followed. “We have these old-timers, they’ll let you know if you’re doing it wrong (the threshing),” said Leistico, age 79. “They really understand it.”
Many young parents are certainly doing their part to make sure there will be interest for generations to come in preserving this experience. Kari and Sean Arnett of Coon Rapids brought their son, Michael, 5, and daughter, Izzy, 3, on a second annual visit to the Nowthen grounds last week.
“We’re coming every year now,” said Kari. “It’s inspired a love of engineering in them (the kids), which is really cool. They’ll love it for the rest of their lives.” Kari and Sean don’t farm, but she shared years of family history including how her father worked in accounting to track hops, malt and barley coming from the Pabst family farms in Waukesha, Wis., where she was raised. Kari’s mother’s father plowed county roads with a tractor years earlier in Hanover, Wis. “Knowing the importance of this work, the history of it, you have to understand history to progress,” Kari said.
There are hundreds of tractors displayed at this show from several manufacturers. Wade Hollister of Zimmerman brought his dozen International Farmall models. One of his sons, Corey, drove one of the family Farmalls in the Saturday tractor parade.
“I grew up on a farm, driving tractors,” said Wade. “I enjoy working on them, fixing them, collecting them.”
He runs a commercial construction business with two sons, Corey and Cody. They have worked on hotels, apartment buildings and fertilizer storage units, Wade said, throughout the Midwest including North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Oklahoma. But they always schedule business around the Nowthen Threshing Show.
“We enjoy this just once a year,” said Wade. “We kind of feel like this is our home show, where we like to bring our collector tractors out.”
He said it would be hard to imagine displaying them elsewhere. “It’s all I can do to get them here,” he said, “all ready to go and cleaned up.”
Wade was joined last week, for the first time in many years, by his father, Bob Hollister, who spent years farming soybeans and corn around Cambridge and Isanti. Bob retired from the work about 10 years ago and has since moved to Hot Springs, S.D. “It’s mostly ranch country there, semi-arid, a lot different than here,” said Bob, who added it was good to be back in Nowthen. “Seeing the whole show, it’s a lot bigger than I thought it was,” he said. “I love seeing all these old tractors, kind of from my day, and before.”
Other exhibitors bring smaller engines to the show, displaying many models that can fit all on one or two tables together in one of the site’s buildings.
Arthur Oien of Minneapolis displayed a D-16 steam engine model that his father had bought for him as a Christmas gift from an annual Sears catalog. “I was about 8 or 9, maybe,” he said. “I played with that all the time until the boiler burned out.”
Oien added: “This is something (my father) wanted. He didn’t have that when he was a kid. My dad didn’t make much money, but he always gave us Christmas presents, and I was surprised to get that.” Oien said that parts of his D-16 had broken by the time he was in his mid-teens, around 1970, and cars and girls had diverted much of his attention anyway. It wasn’t until about 1985 when a coworker advised him that replacement parts were available for such models.
He restored the D-16, started to build a collection of engine models, and began traveling to show them in 1990. Sparks were needed to run the D-16 in its original state. Oien invites show visitors to touch his displays, which he runs now with compressed air. “Then, when kids touch them, they won’t get burned,” he said.
Every exhibitor in Nowthen seems to want the guests to go home with good memories.