Something old can be very new
By BILL GRAY
Mt. Pleasant News
How can something about old stuff be so new every year?
Think about the founding of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in 1949-1950: Some older gentlemen — Clark Everts, W.E. (Ted) Detrick, Ray H. Ernst and Herman E. Elgar, according to the Threshers’ Web site — were returning from a similar event and decided there was enough old-time threshing equipment remaining in Henry County to spark a similar event. This stuff was “old” in 1950, people!
It had been moved aside by the advent of combines and better-performing combustion engines, I would imagine. But I gotta admit, even a greybeard like me wasn’t even a twinkle in his father’s eye when threshing machines were roaming the fields of Iowa.
Yet here we are, 62 years after the first reunion, to celebrate an already-bypassed technology. Some say as many as 80,000 (Mother Nature, please don’t bring back that July weather and we’ll be comfortable for any-sized throng!) will visit during the five-plus days of celebration.
As anyone who’s been by McMillan Park knows, describing this as a five-day event – the official line of the Threshers organization – is overlooking the fact that hundreds of volunteer enthusiasts start arriving and creating an RV city more than one month before the official opening. If you stop out at the campground today, you’re going to be knee deep in folks and camper vehicles.
Of course, as any Threshers veteran knows, it’s not just about the celebration of harvest equipment. There is the narrow gauge Midwest Central Railroad, twice an artifact in that the narrow tracks are found today only sparingly in the world, and more obvious to the naked eye are the steam engines we’ll never see pulling any Amtrak cars on the BNSF line through Mt. Pleasant; there’s the electric trolley with a similar near-antique status; there’s the Theatre Museum, which deservedly got national attention this summer for its preservation of a bygone era of its own; and even the Printers Museum, which DOES date this writer in that I used to use presses and machines like those on display to make business cards, auction fliers and newspapers about three decades back.
There’s so much more, of course, that really provides the secret of the Threshers Reunion’s ongoing popularity. It’s about more than the equipment; it’s about an era, a culture that we tend to romanticize. OK, some of you lived it, but most of us only can imagine what it means to attend a one-room school, or work a harvest with threshing machines.
(From what my Dad told me about actually working a harvest using threshers, I’d take the Combine Era any time. Sometimes our nostalgia for a bygone era glosses over the facts of how doggone hard life could be!) Maybe in great part, the popularity of Old Threshers signifies a renewal of the feelings we enjoy about this era. At the same time, the event is enhanced annually by the creativity of Threshers’ top two guys, Lennis Moore and Terry Mcwilliams, the hundreds of volunteers they help coordinate – and wash, rinse, repeat about the Midwest Central Railroad, the trolley, the print museum, et al.
It’s time for a new Old Threshers, and I hope to see you there!