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Annual Pioneer Farmers show returns machinists, onlookers to yesteryear

Hope Rybabowski of Holt was all smiles until she tried to squeeze washing dry. She learned it was hard work. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Pioneer Farmers show was a tinkerer's paradise.

If it whirred, sputtered, popped, fizzed, rotated or belched steam - or otherwise made noise - it was on display near Itasca State Park last weekend.

The 34th annual machinery show of the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers attracted hundreds of tinkerers, curious onlookers and kids anxious to step into the past.

Gadgets, tractors, antique appliances, engines and other marvels of early entrepreneurs were showcased, all beautifully restored and gleaming.

Mauri Talonen of Bovey showed off his collection of Stirling cycle hot air engines, pumps and gears, some homemade. His set of "wobble gears" that looked like intermeshing saw-toothed half-moons attracted lots of interest.

"I just built 'em to see if I could," he said. "They'll transmit power like any other gears."

When quizzed further by a curious spectator, Talonen admitted the gears, unlike any the crowd had ever seen, really worked.

"They'll sure slosh the oil around in there and lubricate it well if you put 'em in a crankcase," he said of his gears.

David Leinonen of Cokato showed off his collection of antique fans. "They were mostly for wealthy people," he said of the $20 price tag most fetched nearly 100 years ago. Powered by propane, kerosene or alcohol, Leinonen also displayed a 1917 ad that boasted, "Keep cool without electricity! Eight hours for a cent!"

Row upon row of John Deeres, Farmalls and other old tractors kept senior citizens entranced.

"This was used for mowing and swamp clearing," explained Chris Roller of Guthrie, pointing out the features of am Oliver Cletrac HG that looked part tractor, part tank.

"They were just as good as a John Deere?" asked his audience.

"No, no, nooooo," replied Roller, decked out in John Deere green and yellow from head to foot.

Mike Gartner and his dad, Bob, of Park Rapids, just finished restoring a shingle mill last winter. They held a demonstration making wood shingles for roofs. Curly wood shavings piled up on the ground nearby as the wooden shakes piled up alongside.

"That building over there has a roof made out of these," Mike pointed out.

Kids rode the scale model trains, Burlington Northern and Soo Line miniatures.

"My grandpa made this one," said "engineer" Katie Hills of Fargo, steering the green and white BN engine.

Nichole Arveson, 8, of Goodrich, grunted and groaned cranking a corn stripping machine that pulled the kernels from the husk.

"This is hard!" she said.

Hope and Faith Rybakowski, sisters from Holt, were discovering chores that entailed similar hard work, just down "Gasoline Alley," huffing and puffing over a hand-turned washing machine. The show is such a mainstay, it has named the various streets around the pioneer village.

Hundreds passed through the gates in appreciation of the innovation and tinkering that led to the machines they were admiring. Dozens of demonstrations illustrated how all the gadgets and machines worked.

Sponsors said it was among the most attended shows they've put on.