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Itasca Pioneer Farmers make joyful noises

Dean Kittelson of Pelican Rapids cuts cords of firewood with an old-time saw. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)1 / 3
Josh Quayle forges a ‘Viking style’ knife. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)2 / 3
Deloris Nelson flips lefse on a griddle. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)3 / 3

A drizzly, dreary, windy weekend didn’t keep the crowds from visiting Itasca State Park last weekend.  After all, the pioneer farmers worked in these conditions, so the 40th Annual Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers (LIRPF) weekend went off without a hitch and with plenty of spectators.  

Sawmills sputtered, tractors belched and fiddlers fiddled at the site on the north end of the state park, as the past roared to life.  The band played the “Tennessee Waltz” to applause and nostalgic nodding of heads.  “Mother Nature’s gonna do what she does,” said LIRPF member Mike Zimmerman, who was helping park cars in the mist Saturday.  Rick Nelson was stocking an open fire grill with ears of corn on the cob that looked scorched on the outside but perfectly cooked on the inside.  “Our family’s done corn here for the past 15 years,” he said.  

Across the roadway, Mike Gartner and father Robert were tinkering with a display of water pumps and sawing machines. The Park Rapids duo are regulars here, hauling the heavy equipment up every year and back three days later, although some of it’s stored on site all winter.  Ethen Johannessohn, 6, was driving an old tractor up and down the grounds.  “I built it for my son when he was six years old and now his son is driving it,” grandfather Gary Johannessohn said.  “We work awful hard all year long for three days of fun.”  Many of the pioneer farmers haul the old equipment home for the winter to tinker on it.  “This is a fanning mill of some sort,” said a bystander to a reporter. “It’s thrashing beans,” he said to a quizzical look.  “It’s shucking beans,” he explained.

The machine ripped the husks off and navy and kidney beans magically rolled out a small door at the bottom. The husks filled a drawer on top of the machine.  At the blacksmith shop Josh Quayle was forging a “Viking-style” knife. Actually he was pounding it out, controlling the flames in the fireplace with an old-fashioned rotary-style turning device that added or deleted oxygen to the flames, making the embers hotter or cooler.  He smiled as a visitor noted he was an awfully young guy to be operating such an antique machine.  Jim and Maxine Sjostrand of Hallock were among the first-time visitors. They marveled at all the innovations on display.  “It took a lot of really smart people way back when to put these things together,” Jim Sjostrand said as his wife nodded in agreement.  

Now the year’s work starts again for the 41st annual gathering.