Posted 7/21/15 (Tue)
By Nicky Ouellet
It’s a weekend when the put-put-putting of a tractor motor could be mistaken for the booming bass drum of a marching band.
It’s the weekend of the 46th Annual Divide County Threshing Bee, and for Crosby natives and far flung collectors alike, it’s a weekend when the past is brought to life right before their eyes.
For Keith Fernsler of Dickinson, the parade that slowly snakes its way down Pioneer Village’s Main Street is a rare chance to see some one-of-a-kind tractors and restored vintage cars.
“This is quite a production,” he says. “I don’t think you can see this anywhere else.”
He hops up off a bench to snap pictures of the engines built in Indiana and some choice cars for friends at home, who may never see a collection quite so vast and varied.
Each time he pops up, Carol Kaufmann, standing in a shaded doorway behind him, lowers her iPad, which she’s using to photograph the parade.
Her eyes widen with each steam engine that chugs past.
Kaufmann drove with her son from Oshkosh, Wisc., with all the collectibles they could fit in the back of the pickup truck. As representatives of the Pickett Steam and Gas Engine Club, she displays wooden washing machines and her son shows a collection of antique wrenches.
“We’re lucky if we have one steam engine,” she says of Wisconsin shows. “This is beyond words.”
This year the parade showcased an exceptional collection of Avery Company machinery, all beautifully restored and running smoothly.
Organizers even tentatively boasted that the display at the Bee may be the largest display of working Avery models ever presented at a modern show.
In the fields behind the promenade after the parade, Mark Pederson of Lvverne looks on as a team of men swarm around his 1913 40-horsepower steam traction engine. It’s the largest model Avery made, and it’s one of only four machines left that still run.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into rebuilding one of these,” Pederson says, a smile of pride tugging at his mouth.
Pederson’s model came to him in pieces from Mount Pleasant, Iowa. He worked with friends during downtimes on his farm over the next eight years to rebuild the boiler and backend.
The Avery’s robust showing at the Bee, where it threshes, mills and plows, is the restored machine’s debut showing.
The large engine’s cough to life may have drowned out other motors, but it in no way diminishes their unique appeal.
Gene Eggen of Minot spends part of the afternoon kneeling over his Brownall Engine. It’s an uncommon gas engine from a company based in Michigan.
Stripped wires are strewn around the lifeless motor.
“My wife thinks I’m nuts for doing it,” says Eggen, who later manages to coax his machine back to a steady purr.
Mixed with the pops, spurts, puts and rumbles of the engines are the squeals of children. For the first time, Santa has decided to vacation in North Dakota.
His summer attire includes a Hawaiian shirt and his traditional hat in a floral print.
In his wake he leaves a flurry of candy canes and little cards that warn, “Keep being good.”
Between the posed family photos and a snowball fight of water balloons, he admires the tractors and engines.
“The number of old steam engines that they have here is a credit to the Historical Society and the collectors,” he says.
For them, he notes, it’s a year round thing.
Just like Santa.
(Nicky Ouellet is a summer intern at the Tioga Tribune.)