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Field Days exhibitors share memories

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Mark Lofgren lives near Grand Rapids and named this working scale model of a prairie tractor the "Mark 18" because he completed it in the spring of 2018. He enjoys attending shows to share his hobby and make new friends.2 / 5
Field Days brings back a rush of memories for Wilbur Norman, who was on a threshing crew at the age of 9 and helped on the family farm. He enjoys sharing stories with those who attend the show, as well as giving threshing demonstrations. 3 / 5
Starting his grandpa Jim Wright's tractor for the parade, Blake Sellin (front) will be a senior at Park Rapids Area High School. His buddy Kyle Piepkorn drove Wright's Farmcrest. Teenagers are encouraged to join the Antique Tractor and Engine Club to keep the farming traditions of the past alive.4 / 5
Baling straw at the Antique Tractor and Engine Club's Field Days Saturday using an International Harvester tractor, board member Justin Peterson (center of crew) had help from brother Ryan (left) and John Hoefs (right). Photos by Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.5 / 5

The Antique Tractor and Engine Club's 26th annual Field Days in Park Rapids brought exhibitors from many states eager to share the stories and history of their machines and memories of days gone by with those attending the show.

The field filled up with vehicles, including one with an Alaska license plate. The show featured a variety of demonstrations, a tractor parade and many exhibits of farming equipment from throughout the region.

Threshing since a child

Wilbur Norman lives southwest of Park Rapids and has been part of threshing demonstrations at Field Days since 2002. He has been a member of the club for almost 20 years.

His work with a threshing crew started at the age of 9 on his family's farm.

"I ran tractor to cut the grain for making bundles on my Dad Lyle's farm near Montevideo," he said. "He had around 50 acres."

Back in 1947, it would take a day or a day and a half to thresh grain at each farm.

Work would start around 8 a.m. after farmers finished their own chores. Using grain cut the day before, they would "tip" shocks to get them to dry, then load wagons after 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. when the dew was off the shocks.

Norman recalls the year nine farmers shared one separator and a threshing crew that went from farm to farm.

"Each one furnished their own wagon for loading grain," he said.

Oats, barley, wheat or flax were harvested, and the machine needed to be set for the type of grain harvested.

"The whole family helped," he said. "I drove tractor when they were loading up the bundles."

Norman said a bandana, which was called a "kerchief" in those days, kept grain dust from going down his neck or into his mouth. "Gloves saved a little hide, and a straw hat kept the sun off my face," he said. "Most of the farmers wore hats back in those days."

Harvesting began when the grain was ripe. "The farmers would all get together at every place they threshed," he said. "The women would bring in hot dishes and pies. It was like a big picnic with close to 20 people there to eat dinner. They usually had big tables inside and a big bench outside with tubs full of water so the men could wash up before going into the house."

Work ended by 6 p.m. so the farmers could go home for the night and do their chores.

"Combines saved time and meant the work could be done earlier than when they had to wait for the threshing machine to arrive," he said.

Norman said he continued threshing off and on until he was age 20. At that time his sister, mother and dad had taken over threshing for their farm. Working as a team, it took them a week to complete the job.

After threshing the grain, the straw went into a pile. Grain harvested was used to feed hogs and chickens.

He estimates the threshing machine at the show dates back to the 1930s.

"The show brings back memories of those days when I was threshing," he said. "You visit and talk with a lot of people who have done threshing or want to learn more about it."

Norman's familiarity with machinery was part of his job for 40 years, when his work on road construction took him to Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Prairie tractor replica

Mark Lofgren, who lives in the woods near Grand Rapids, dubbed the model of a prairie tractor he brought to the show the "Mark 18" because he started it in the fall of 2017 and finished it in the spring of 2018. It is about half the scale of a typical prairie tractor. Lofgren previously built two other scale model tractors..

He is a member of the North Central Minnesota Farm and Antique Association club in Grand Rapids and attends shows in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

"It is not meant to be a scale model of a specific brand, but is close to several," he said. "Many times going to the show in Rollag I saw the large prairie tractors. I find them fascinating. I would never be able to afford one of those, and they are so large they would be hard to move."

Lofgren explained that from 1900 to 1920 there was a transition from steam tractors to internal combustion engine tractors. Weighing up to 12 tons, they were capable of pulling large gang plows and covering many acres per day. As the need for more affordable tractors developed, they faded from the scene.

The "bones" of his tractor, which he said are "recycled junk," include a F-12 Farmall, an 18-hp Hercules power unit and the front axle from a Case threshing machine.

"I've been into tractors for most of my life and I'm almost 70 years old," he said. "I had most of this junk lying around and sourced out most of the stuff from the back yard. I did buy the engine from a tractor salvage yard."

New steel was used in the canopy and main frame.

He said he has worked with tractors all of his life and has a network of friends in the tractor hobby field. "Making friendships is an important part of the shows," he said.

It was an invitation from a friend that brought him to Park Rapids.

While he never farmed, Lofgren graduated from the farm mechanics program at Staples in 1970. "I always had a real interest in tractors and have owned a few," he said.

While his jobs were in construction and logging, he said he had a fascination with farming since he was a little boy.

As for his first tractor, it was a John Deere B. "I was 16 when I bought that for $200," he said. "It ran but I overhauled it, painted it, and put nicer tires on it. I used it to plow snow and haul firewood."

He said he was impressed with the Field Days show. "I appreciate the hard work the club puts in," he said.

Elevator engine

Stephan Shauer of Arthur, N.D., brought his 1921 McCormick-Deering Model M 10-horsepower engine. "That's the largest-size engine of the M-series," he said.

Shauer received the engine as an inheritance from a man named John. "He has family in the New Rockford area, and after his funeral service his oldest son flagged me down and told me that if I wanted the engine it was mine.That particular engine actually came out of a grain elevator. It ran the leg of the elevator and also the machine shop for the grain elevator in New Rockford. This is the first time this engine left the New Rockford area since it was new."

Shauer said he has been going to the Antique Tractor and Engine Club's field days for about 15 years.

He is in charge of the stationary engine exhibit at the New Rockford, N.D. show in September, when his machine will be on display in the town where it worked for so many years. "After that it's going to go back home and stay there for awhile," he said.

New generation involved

Justin Peterson of Park Rapids is one of the younger members of the club and on the board. He has been a member of the club for two years. He likes to tinker with tractors, hunt and fish. He works in construction and ran the tractor for Saturday's straw baling demonstration.

"My mom Sally's side grew up farming and I got my interest through that," he said. "When I was 8 or 9 years old, my grandparents took me to Rollag (where the annual Steam Threshers' Reunion is held each Labor Day weekend) and that's where I got my love for them. I got out of high school and bought my first tractor, and that sealed the deal for me."

Peterson restored a 1951 Farmall H and drove it in this year's parade.

He remembers going out in the combine with his grandpa north of Moorhead just before he retired. He ran the tractor at Saturday's straw baling demonstration.

"The reason I joined is this is a part of our past history and the way my family grew up," he said. "If young people don't get involved, it's going to die off and it will all be forgotten. I want to keep it alive."

He said he plans on taking his children to the show to pass on the tradition. "My oldest will be 4 in November, and if he could reach the clutch pedal he could probably drive as well as anybody," he said. "If they're not on the tractor, they're crying to get on."

He said his tractors "get worked," as he does food plots at his place and his folks' place, including planting winter wheat for the horses.

On with next year's show

Club members are still already looking ahead to the 2019 Field Days.

"I'm not sure if we had a new record for attendance this past weekend, but I'm sure we had at least as many as last year," club secretary Noel Allard said. "On Saturday the weather was threatening all day, but by noon it seemed like people realized it was going to be a decent day and came out in big numbers in the afternoon and all day Sunday."

Allard said most visitors are normally locals and resort people who come over because it's something to do on the weekend. "We see a lot of familiar faces," he said. "This year we had some people who came from quite a way just to see the Oliver tractors featured."

The club currently has 55 members on the roster. The cost is $10 for an annual membership.

"Blake (Sellin) and Johnny Hoefs are kind of junior members," he said. "They are next-generation people. We welcome teenagers to join and help out. Most of them can drive tractors."

Allard said he was a "city kid" with no farming in his background.

"Before we moved up here 14 years ago we came up and visited, and the people we came to see took us to Field Days," he said. "When we moved up here I started attending meetings and learning about farming." He has been a club member since 2006.

Allis Chalmers is next year's featured tractor. The 1940s model that will be given away at the 2019 Field Days is already parked at the showgrounds, and raffle tickets will be sold at this weekend's Legend and Logging Days event.

The club that started 26 years ago has added new attractions each year.

"Our mission is to show people what farming was like from the turn of the century up until about 1950," Allard said.

The Antique Tractor and Engine Club is a 501(c)(3) organization. Anyone interested in becoming a member may call Allard at 732-5100.