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Get ready for living history at Rollag

A blacksmith at work at Rollag. Part of the fun is people showing how work used to be done years ago. Submitted Photo

For nearly six decades now, the tiny community of Rollag has played host to the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion every Labor Day weekend -- which is why the event has come to be known simply as "Rollag" to its many fans.

The 59th incarnation of the WMSTR is set to begin this Friday, Aug. 31, continuing through Monday, Sept. 3.

Detroit Lakes resident Roger Engstrom recalls going to his first Rollag reunion in 1968, when he was just 23 years old.

He became fascinated by "all this old stuff" that was not only on display, but still functioning.

"The thing that's unique about Rollag is that it's a living museum," he explained. "The philosophy is that everything that's displayed there, should either be working, or (in the process of) being restored -- brought back to life.

"The reason why I got hooked is that one rainy, sloppy day at the end of August my brother and I were working in the shop and we had the radio on," Engstrom recalled. "Every 20 minutes they did a live remote from Rollag, and we decided we had to go see what this was all about.

"We went out there after church on a Sunday afternoon, and we were just amazed at all they had out there -- which was nothing compared to what they have now."

Though there are many, many antique tractors on display during the Rollag reunion, the event is about much more than old tractors.

There's a printing press, a blacksmith's forge, three sawmills, a horse-powered threshing machine -- and all of them are up and running for the celebration.

"They even print a daily newspaper out there," Engstrom said -- and there's a building set aside just for children's activities.

There are a plethora of homemaking activities going on throughout the weekend as well, from baking and sewing to rug-making, wool-spinning, lace tatting, soap making and a variety of other old fashioned arts and crafts.

A steam-powered locomotive known as "Old 353" that serves as the WMSTR's "people mover," transporting reunion attendees in a continuous loop around the show grounds.

"You can get from the east side to the west side by riding the rails," Engstrom said.

Each year, Rollag also features an expo showcasing a specific type of engine -- this year's expo is focused on International Harvester, which also includes McCormick, Farmall and Case IH engines.

Rollag even has its own version of a fireworks show -- the "Spark Show" that's held every evening at dusk, when sawdust is thrown into the firebox of a steam engine, causing a shower of sparks to shoot upwards into the sky.

Best of all, once you pay your admission fee -- daily pass $12, weekend pass $20, or free for kids age 14 and under -- you don't have to get out your wallet again until you're ready to eat, or buy a souvenir to take home.

"There's no charge for any of the activities once you get inside the gates," Engstrom said. "Your admission pays for everything except the food and souvenirs."

Parking is also free of charge -- though if you want to stay for the entire weekend, you can purchase a primitive camping spot on the show grounds for $35 -- primitive because it includes no electrical or sewage hookups, though there are showers and bathrooms available.