ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Perham recaptures history, new and old: The 51st Annual Pioneer Fest

Perham's Annual Pioneer Fest started in the early 1970s as a way to celebrate and preserve Perham's history. The festival, which takes place in the Pioneer Village, allows people from all over to tour historical buildings and take a glance at old machinery. Vendors sell their handmade creations, and a tractor pull draws in curious eyes.

IMG_6341.JPG
Katie Smith and Time Eickschen show off the sign outside the Pine to Prairie General Store at Perham's Pioneer Fest. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

When preserving history is lost to history itself, where do you go from there? Well, Perham's organization, Pine to Prairie Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Association, has the answer.

Perham's Annual Pioneer Fest started in the early 1970s as a way to celebrate and preserve Perham's history. The festival, which takes place in the Pioneer Village, allows people from all over to tour historical buildings and take a glance at old machinery. Vendors sell their handmade creations, and a tractor pull draws in curious eyes.

Perham's Tim Eickschen, Pine to Prairie's editor, had been coming to the Pioneer Fest since he was young. "I remember coming out here as a kid and seeing the steam engine run and buying lollipops out of the general store here," he recalled with a smile. "I have a lot of love for it from growing up."

IMG_6337.JPG
This steam engine, built in the 1870s, powered equipment in the Peter Schroeder Brewery from the 1870s to 1915. Now powered by an electric motor, it was on display at Perham's Pioneer Fest. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

ADVERTISEMENT

Unfortunately, when Eickschen was in his early teen years in the early 2000s, the festival shut down due to a lack of volunteers and a lack of advertisement. A celebration meant to preserve history was lost to history itself. That is, until the Janke brothers and friends stepped in during the 2010s.

Jeff Janke founded Pine to Prairie , which became an official nonprofit in 2020, determined to bring Pioneer Fest back to Perham.

"When I heard these people were starting to get it running again, I had to be involved," Eickschen said. "It was haunting me; I just had to do it." As anyone who's been around the Perham area in the past few years would know, this attempt was a success. This celebration of history lost to history itself made a return to the community a few years ago.

Over the weekend, on Saturday, Aug. 21, and Sunday, Aug. 22, the 51st Annual Pioneer Fest came to Pioneer Village. Despite having been open the past few years, some old attractions from previous Pioneer Fests are still making their first comebacks after years of being shut down. This includes the general store, now named the Pine to Prairie General store, which was run by Katie Smith this year.

IMG_6345.JPG
Katie Smith and Tim Eickschen smile outside of the Pine to Prairie General Store after successful days of sales at Perham's Pioneer Fest. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Smith and her family became members of Pine to Prairie in Feb. 2021, and she wasted no time with getting involved.

"In June, I asked if anyone is running the general store," Smith remembered with a laugh. "They said, 'No. Do you want to do it?' And I was like, 'OK!'"

ADVERTISEMENT

IMG_6347.JPG
The Pine to Prairie General Store at Perham's Pioneer Fest was selling everything from handmade towels to candy to beeswax candles. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Eickschen has fond memories of buying little souvenirs from the Pioneer Fest's general store when he was a kid, and he was happy to see it make a return. He enjoys taking something small home with him after going to an event, such as a t-shirt, and he believes others likely enjoy the same.

"People didn't know where to start (with running the general store) and where to jump in, so I jumped in, started it up and took it and ran," Smith said.

The Prairie to Pine General Store saw success throughout the weekend, with people of all ages walking in the doors with empty hands and out the doors with hands full of candy, soda and other small knickknacks.

IMG_6367.JPG
Vendors such as Wildfire Furs at the Perham Pioneer Fest sell many different items, including this bear made from real fur and homemade syrup. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

While this was the general store's first year back at the Pioneer Fest, other vendors, such as Wildfire Furs, had previously attended to sell their goods. Amber Pausch, the owner of Wildfire Furs, said this was their second year selling items at the festival.

ADVERTISEMENT

Her organization takes in tanned furs from foxes, beavers, otters, skunks, raccoons and more and sews them into items such as hats, mittens, slippers and even teddy bears.

IMG_6366.JPG
Amber Pausch of Pelican Rapids, the owner of Wildfire Furs, stands next to different items made from fur at Perham's Pioneer Fest. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

"(Pioneer Fest) is enjoyable," Pausch said. "It's a nice time to get out and be outside."

While purchasing items and taking part in the tractor pull are enjoyable activities for people who attend Pioneer Fest, the main goal is to preserve history by educating young people on Perham's past.

"You don't see this stuff anymore unless you come to shows like this," Eickschen said. "I don't want to say it's a dying thing. That's why we do this. We don't want to see it die. If you don't preserve this stuff or carry it on to young kids or other people who are interested, who else is going to do it?"

IMG_6354.JPG
Old machinery, such as this Allis Chalmers WD40 tractor, were on display at Perham's Pioneer Fest. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

The Pioneer Fest has old machinery on display, such as an Allis Chalmers WD40 tractor. Eickschen and Smith said that, nowadays, you drive down the road and see tractors that can plow a whole field in half a day with GPS, air conditioning and a radio.

Looking at old tractors, such as the Allis Chalmers WD40 that would take much longer to cut just a few rows of corn, you can see where it all started.

IMG_6334.JPG
An antique Maytag washing machine from the early 1900s was on display at Perham's Pioneer Fest. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Tractors aren't the only old machinery Perham's Pioneer Fest has on display. Old Maytag washing machines from the 1900s were also up and running, spinning laundry in bubbling soap.

"(You only used a washing machine) if you had money," Eickschen said. "Back in the day, you had a bucket and washboard, and you'd run your fingers raw scrubbing your shirts clean. We take a lot of stuff for granted nowadays. It's important to look back to where we came from and see how we ended up where we are now."

IMG_6372.JPG
The ballroom from Grandview Heights is one of many historical buildings people can find at the Pioneer Village. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Along with viewing machinery, attendees can also tour the historical buildings that are sitting in Pioneer Village, such as the ballroom from Grandview Heights, a resort that has been gone for many years.

The East Otter Tail Historical Society, a group that has also been gone for quite a few years, were able to get their hands on a lot of the old buildings that sit in Pioneer Village. They sit there to this day, preserved.

"It was either demolish (the buildings) and history or bring it somewhere else," Eickschen said. "Either it gets destroyed and is gone forever or someone saves it and saves the history."

The Pioneer Fest comes around every year to celebrate that preservation, however, they're only able to do so with the help of the many different members of Pine to Prairie. As membership grows, so do the different types of exhibits and activities the festival can offer.

Anyone of any age is welcome to join. An annual individual membership is $20, and an annual family membership is $40. If you or anyone you know is interested in joining, you can contact them on their Facebook page, Pine to Prairie Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Assoc . You can also email them at pinetoprairie@gmail.com.

"(Pioneer Fest) has always been a community event," Eickschen said. "It's always been here. That's why it's important to me to continue it."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
What To Read Next
All the latest happenings in and around perham
The annual Otter Tail Plunge will be back at the Otter Tail Lake public boat landing on Saturday, Feb. 4.
The Honor Flight will take about 90 veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars to Washington, D. C.
Crazy Days starts Thursday, Jan. 26, and will run until everything businesses want sold is gone. The liquidation sale will take place Feb. 9-10 from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Feb. 11 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.