This is a term you are not likely to ever hear in California. Threshermen. It sounds imposing and serious. It conjures up a fraternity of like minded fellows, engaged in a pursuit of the grain. Something like the Knights Templar of the Prairies.
But then, you really know you’re in Minnesota territory when the first page of the local paper notifies the opening of dove, rail and snipe hunting on September 1st, to be followed by sandhill crane and early goose, and then in succession – small game and archery deer, pheasant, duck, prairie chicken, firearms deer, ending with Take a Kid Hunting Weekend. We’re learning and adjusting every day.
Growing up in Southern California, long before the advent of Disneyland, we had our Knott’s Berry Farm which started as a berry stand by the side of the road and evolved into a full scale fried chicken and berry pie restaurant with an Old West Ghost Town as the main attraction. Today, I’m sorry to say, Knott’s has become a full blown thrill ride destination, out to compete with Uncle Walt’s kingdom and Magic Mountain and no longer the quaint, if recreated, old western town I loved. I’m sure the steam railroad cars are long gone and no longer chugging around the park. The great thrill on the ride was to anticipate the actors who, cap guns blazing, always arrived on horseback and held up the train. And just in time to exit and enter the Calico Saloon for a sasparilla and watch the flashy dancing girls, or poke about the dusty graveyard, peek into the jailhouse at poor, sorry Deadwood Dan and finger the dry goods at the General Store and pretend you were on a town trip from your own little house on the prairie.
I thought of that innocent time this weekend when we went to Dalton, Minnesota for the 58th annual Lake Region Pioneer Threshermen’s exhibit and fair, which is held in and around a site of real historic buildings – a saw mill and train depot, a blacksmith shop, Lavern’s general store, the little red schoolhouse and Bountiful Harvest Church, along with three fully furnished log houses, belonging to the Brandvold-Sagene’s, the Spitsberg’s and the Nelson’s, and much, much more. It honestly outdid the Knott’s Berry Farm of my youth. I want to go back and see it all again and imagine I’m just in from my little house on the prairie.
The first Threshermen’s event began in Dalton almost 60 years ago when brothers George and Ralph Melby and their nephew Kenneth Bratvold decided to harvest some of their grain the old fashioned way, by threshing. That first year they used a 25 horse power single cylinder Gaar Scott and a 75 horse power Case for the engines with a 36” Minneapolis thresher. With no advertising, 500 people showed up and an annual event was born. We arrived this Sunday, just as the Parade of Giants was beginning, followed by tractors of every shape, size and color as far as the eye could see. There was chainsaw carving and blacksmithing and tractor pulls and yes, a steam railroad giving rides “when the boiler is hot and continuing until the steam runs out”, and all manner of exhibits and food and fun.
Threshing is simply a process of loosening the chaff from the grain, and it has been done through the centuries by simply beating the heck out of a stalk by hand, or with the big old fashioned equipment on display at Dalton, and finally in the modern world of farming, by a combine, which simply means a very expensive machine that both harvests and separates at the same time. In any event, threshing has served as metaphor, Biblically and elsewhere, for the absolute necessity to separate things of value from those of no value so that we may feed upon the good part and grow and thrive. There’s a lesson to take to heart. I say Hail to the Threshermen.