As I anxiously await traveling to my hometown for Midwest Old Threshers this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to share a column I wrote 15 years ago (yikes, that make me sound old) when I was the managing editor of the Lakefield Standard in Lakefield, MN. The article was later published in the Threshers Chaff publication. I will let you read that article if you want and then I will have some additional comments below. By Amanda Walljasper, Managing Editor, Lakefield Standard, Sept. 9, 1999
Another great Old Threshers Reunion was held this weekend in Mt. Pleasant, IA. After some debate last week as to whether or not I was going to attend this event for the 23rd year in a row, I decided I could not miss it.
The Old Threshers Reunion is held every Labor Day weekend in Mt. Pleasant and over 100,000 people come to town to attend the event. Mt. Pleasant-population 9,000 becomes very busy. There are lines everywhere you go and traffic increases dramatically. People come from all over the world to attend the event. It is known as the largest steam engine show in the nation. However, it is a lot more than just steam engines. It seems as though each year there is something new. There is a log village, many work horses, over 400 antique tractors, hundreds of antique cars, museums, crafts and antiques for sale, a trolley, a train, lots of good food, musical entertainment throughout the day, nightly concerts and much, much more. This is only a small list of everything that goes on. I cannot possibly tell you everything but there are a few things I want to highlight.
You see, I started attending Old Threshers 23 years ago when I was just a baby and I have not missed a year since. Then 16 years ago, my Dad started participating in the O.T. Smokin’ Gunslingers as a deputy sheriff. This is a group of guys who re-enact gun fights, bank robberies and such from the past in the days Jesse James and outlaws roamed the Wild West. These guys work very hard to prepare for these shows and each year thousands of people watch them. After each show, the group signs autographs for children and adults. These shows are one of the things I enjoy about Old Threshers.
Another part of the Reunion that I enjoy is working in the church tent and helping out where I can. Many churches and organizations from Mt. Pleasant and the surrounding areas serve a wide variety of food during the five-day event. I had the chance to work in the church tent one day this year while I was visiting. It is important to realize that nearly everything that goes on during Old Threshers is done on a volunteer basis. Thousands of volunteers donate thousands of hours to help with this event.
Just a few years ago Old Threshers purchased a steam powered carousel. This carousel was built in 1894 and it is only one of six steam powered carousels that are operational and active in the United States today. Adults and children enjoy riding on the carousel during the Reunion.
Well, here it is, the number one reason I cannot miss Old Threshers – the square dancing. Each night beginning at 7 p.m. in a barn there is a band that plays old country music and people polka, waltz and two-step. And every so often a square dance is called. Now, I am not talking about modern square dances but ho-down square dances like my grandparents and great-grandparents used to do. I began square dancing when I was 10 years old. Some friends of ours who had been dancing at Old Threshers for 32 years introduced us to this and we’ve been doing it ever since. You see not only is the dancing really fun, but it’s the people. Nearly every year we meet new people and teach new people how to dance. Many of the friends we have at Old Threshers we only see once a year. But I cannot imagine missing this time of year. I know this sounds kind of crazy, but it’s a lot of fun. This year for the first time ever, I called a square dance. I still cannot believe I got up in front of over 600 people and chanted the words to a square dance in a microphone. I was visiting with a woman (Aunt Mae) who has called dances at Old Threshers for 26 years and telling her how I would like to try to call a square dance. I want to make sure that in the years to come we are able to keep square dancing. This is a tradition I do not want to end. She immediately was excited and told me she would help me get it started. She wants to make sure the tradition is carried on. Now, before next year I plan to practice calling some square dances so I can do better. I believe that Old Threshers is something different for everyone. Some people love to work with the steam engines, others volunteer to help the Reunion run smoothly, some people bring out their antique cars to show off and so on. Everyone likes Old Threshers for a different reason.
Maybe some of you readers have attended the Old Threshers Reunion. If so, please let me know. I would love to hear your stories about the event. If you want to know more or are thinking of attending next year’s event, feel free to ask me more questions. Next year, during 2000, Old Threshers will celebrate its 50th year anniversary. I hope not only square dancing but all of the Old Threshers traditions will be continued for many years to come.
As I typed this column the other day so I could publish it on my blog, I could not believe how true all of what I wrote is still today. For those of you who enjoy the North Village Gang Shows, this year some of the “old-timers” including my dad will be taking part in the 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. shows this Saturday in the North Village on the Old Threshers grounds. My dad retired in the early 2000s from this group, but it will be fun to see him and some of the other guys back in action.
And if you want to try square dancing, we would be happy to teach you. It happens each night at the dance barn starting at about 7 p.m. Check out the Keeping Square Dancing Alive Facebook page for more information and a schedule of the music at the barn.
What do you love most about Old Threshers? Whatever it is that keeps you coming back year after year enjoy it, as today marks the official first day of the 2014 event! And if you have never been to Old Threshers, I invite you to put in on your list of events to attend, it is a wonderful event that happens each year Labor Day weekend in my hometown—Mt. Pleasant, IA.
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