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A 'live museum' is what Rollag is referred to, as 99 percent of the displays there are rolling. FILE PHOTO

Steam Threshers Reunion coming up

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Soon they’ll be coming around the mountain (or hill) for the 61st annual Western Minnesota Steam Thresher Reunion, set for Aug. 29, through Sept. 1.

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The annual event is held every Labor Day weekend just outside of the tiny town of Rollag, south of Hawley.

“It’s a living museum,” said president of the Steam Threshers organization, Mark Kerkvliet. “If you’re looking for static displays, this isn’t the place because 99 percent of everything at Steam Threshers is rolling.”

Engines powered by steam, gas and even horses will be rolling around Rollag for the event that pulls in thousands of people throughout its four days.

Visitors looking for a weekend back in time will get exactly that as the feeling of yesteryears is created through hundreds of displays, exhibits, demonstrations and activities.

“Not too many are making quilts these days or weaving rugs or making soap, and if you go to Rollag you can see how it was done 80 years ago when they did it all the time,” said Kerkvliet, who says every year the Steam Threshers Reunion features a few new things at its event, and this year the big showcase will center around construction.

“We’re going to dedicate the new, big Marion Osgood steam shovel — it’s the largest operations steam shovel in the country,” said Kerkvliet. “At one time we thought it was the actual shovel that was used to dig the Panama Canal, but we can’t prove that, so we can’t make that claim, but it is the same kind that was used.”

The Steam Threshers are now roughly 8,000 members deep with about 1,500 of those members remaining active in the non-profit organization.

According to Kerkvliet, it takes about that many volunteers to keep the event “rolling” year after year.

Each volunteer is asked to put in at least four hours of work in one of the various jobs around the grounds, but getting people to pitch in isn’t a problem out there.

“A lot of the workers see each other only once year, and so it becomes a tradition for people and families to come to Rollag where they spend the weekend reminiscing and enjoying the ambiance of the simpler days.

“You get to play with big stuff and relive the past and do everything from how it was done 100 years ago,” said Kerkvliet, who says the most modern displays out there are in the 1950s.

“We’ve got three operating sawmills on the grounds that are all steam powered, and the lumber that we cut during the shows stays there to get used for building new buildings on the grounds, so we’re pretty self-sufficient,” Kerkvliet added.

An aspect of the event steam threshers are proud of is the fact that it remains unique and affordable.

The cost to get in is $12 for a daily pass (for adults) or $20 for the entire four days. Kids 14 and under are free with a paid adult. There are no dogs allowed, with the exception of service dogs.

“Once you get in the gate, the only thing you pay for is food or souvenirs — everything else is free,” said Kerkvliet. “Train rides, shuttle wagons… all the attractions are free, and you could honestly spend all day there and never do the same thing twice.”

One could actually spend the entire weekend there and not have to eat the same thing twice.

A variety of food stands will be set up, as well as different spreads by five area churches.

 “I think there’s a friendly competition there too between the Catholics and the Lutherans,” laughed Kerkvliet, who says the churches are able to use the event as a fundraising opportunity.

“It’s all really good, homemade food — nobody goes hungry around there.”

For those wanting to soak up that old-time living all weekend long, there are camping spots available.

“It’s primitive, but we’ve got a lot of room,” said Kerkvliet of the 210 acre grounds. “It’s $35 for the whole weekend, and we’ve got a beautiful shower building that’s free to use. We get a lot of campers there every year.”

For more information on the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher Reunion, log on to rollag.com.

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