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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window - Edgar Steam Show

Issue Date: August 29, 2018

By Jane Thibodeau Martin



Last Saturday, my husband and I spent a few fascinating hours at the Edgar Steam Show near Edgar. This little community is not far from Wausau, with a normal population of just under 1500. However, last year during the steam show 16,000 visitors arrived at the hamlet's doorstep to take in a three-day spectacle of machinery history. Although this is not an activity that normally interests me, it was tailor-made for my ex-farm boy husband, and I'm really glad I tagged along.

The event is held annually and this was the 45th iteration. Every year, the event has gotten bigger " through the efforts of a swarm of volunteers coordinated by the North Central Wisconsin Antique Steam and Gas Engine Club.

There are custom-made buildings re-creating a blacksmith shop, Wisconsin settler's cabin, one-room school house and a general store, among others. There is music, and a large craft show. You could spend an entire afternoon perusing the swap meet booths " some featuring the normal type of "junk" you see at any swap meet, but with a special emphasis on antique farm equipment, tools and machinery parts. And of course, it being Wisconsin, there are beer tents.

But the food offerings were astonishing " numerous FFA and church group stands along with a daily pancake breakfast. Most attractive to me were several stands run by either Amish or Mennonite families. I was reluctant to try and carry around a pie and homemade bread while we walked around the large show, but the variety, obvious quality and extreme quantity of choices was almost irresistible. I am not really a sweets eater, but the raspberry fried pie I devoured was excellent.

There were literally acres of antique tractors tightly parked side by side " some polished and immaculate "show queens," some in rough original condition, and some that look like they had been pulling a plow the day before they arrived. Each was labeled so I could look at a 1929 example of a typical farm tractor and understand its context. There was no tractor pull associated with this event " and when I puzzled as to why not, given the popularity of those events around here, my husband correctly pointed out having all these tractors pull would probably take at least a week.

At any given time a dozen or so of these old workhorses would be busy pulling around "shuttle wagons" of show attendees, ferrying them to the various parking lots. Mike did a quick calculation of the lot where our truck was, and estimated 3,000 vehicles in that lot (a mowed farm field) alone " not counting those in other lots, the "boondocking" camping area crowded with RV's, and the participant vehicles on the showgrounds itself. There were also antique garden tractors buzzing around or on display. At one point we watched an immaculate small tractor and matching manure spreader, whizz by us with merry children riding in the spreader. This was a family event, with tiny babies in strollers and lots of senior citizens " and a quick look at license plates and t-shirts told me that many of the attendees had traveled a long way for this celebration of rural Midwest early history.

But there is no doubt what the stars of this show were " about 50 ancient steam-powered tractors.

These massive beasts look a bit like train steam engines with big boilers on the front end and stacks belching black or grey smoke. The noise from the steam and huge metal wheels is overwhelming, since rubber tires were not available when these engines were made. When one passed by us, I felt the urge to run and hide. The boilers give off heat you can feel from yards away, and the engineers pulling the levers and turning the chain-drive steering wheels sweated freely. Many engines had large flywheels for belts to run threshers, saw mills and other old equipment " massive whirling unguarded flywheels and saw blades, a sight to cause this retired safety professional a near heart attack. The owners and friends of these behemoths have expressions of utter concentration and intense pride as they run the equipment to remind us what our grandparents or great-grandparents did to make a living in the fields and forests of this land.

I enjoyed watching the rapt expressions on the faces of the little kids watching the steam engines " the metal versions of dinosaurs walking the fields. It seemed like everyone was taking pictures. We walked by dozens of people exclaiming over a piece of equipment that was "just like Grandpa's," with entire families posing in front of these reminders of family history.

But one of the true "BGO" (blinding glimpse of the obvious) that I had is the people who truly love old steam engines and tractors share the same kind of love and appreciation for these steel-hearted beasts that I have for animals. It's something that I never really understood until I walked around here and watched the people instead of the machines.

If you like to go junking, or eating great food, this event would have a lot to recommend it. But if you have a soft spot in your heart for old farm equipment, you owe it to yourself to visit the 2019 Edgar Steam Show. () You may end up like me " I tagged along to watch my husband enjoy himself; and ended up a big fan. The club runs a well-organized show on remarkably clean showgrounds, and even if you are not a fan of antique farm muscle machines, my guess is you will leave planning to return again the next year.

Like my father, another ex-prisoner of war, my politics are very different than those of Sen. John McCain. Nonetheless, my father and I shared deep respect for this brave servant of the citizens of the United States. Godspeed to Sen. McCain, a true hero, and my deepest sympathies to his family.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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