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Rollag to celebrate women of WMSTR

At Rollag, Steam Threshers Reunion visitors can learn about how farming was done in the days when equipment was run by real horsepower -- the four-legged kind.

From Friday, Sept. 4 to Monday, Sept. 7, the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion will take over Rollag. All are invited to take several steps back and glimpse the steam-powered days of the past.

This year's dual focus is on harvest equipment and WMSTR women. In addition to antique snow engines, steam-operated sawmills, and railroads chugging along 210 acres of farmland, the reunion will highlight all that women do across the show's landscape.

The ladies of WMSTR have worked beside the guys since 1954 to keep the thousands who now attend yearly coming back.

From the first year, when the women exhausted the local store's food supply feeding the unexpected turnout, to the weekend when the ladies ordered 600 dozen sugar cookies to satisfy the crowds and ended up taking nearly as many home to their freezers, they have been vital in keeping visitors content.

Their duties, however, carry well beyond the food booths, although their lefse and old-fashioned donuts shouldn't be missed. Women have been spinning, quilting, and displaying their looms, natural dyes, and other wares since WMSTR's first weekend 55 years ago.

Eventually, the girls got their own building as WMSTR expanded, and their influence in the reunion's happenings began to do the same.

"They enjoyed each other, sharing a hobby with their husbands and bringing their children up in the tradition of Rollag," wrote Elaine Everson in this year's volume of Memories of Bygone Years, Rollag's annual commemorative book. Like many other members, Everson grew up attending the reunion with her father and hasn't strayed from the event since.

These days, women take more than a merely traditional part in the show. While some demonstrate how to make bobbin lace, buggy-wheel rugs, hardanger embroidery, lye soap and other crafts, many engineer the Ortner Railroad, operate the merry-go-round, pull tractors and drive power shovels.

WMSTR is raising another generation of women more than willing to work alongside the men in continuing what Rollag began years ago.

Last year's (2008) Steam Queen, Janet Morken, grew up helping her parents with their activities around the grounds. "WMSTR has always been an important part of my life and I enjoy sharing it with everyone," she wrote.

Morgan Aakre, daughter of WMSTR President Ellis Aakre, trades in her jeans for a hoop skirt every year to help out in the kitchen. As she wrote, "Life was very different back then. I think it is really important to keep this part of history alive."

Aakre's father echoes her wish for another enjoyable and educational year at Rollag.

"We'd like to invite everybody to come out to the show," he said, adding that they would "like to thank the folks in the 150-mile radius who come every year."

Hundreds of demonstrations, exhibits and performances will return, with the addition of more raffles, kids' crafts, a new cookbook and old-fashioned contests adding some fresh flavor to the lineup.

The show WMSTR's visitors have come to expect and adore will be at Rollag in all its timeless glory over Labor Day weekend, offering a perfect occasion to show the kids the way things used to be - and have fun at the same time.

Gates open at 6 a.m. everyday, with campsites available for $25 plus the cost of admittance. Full weekend passes are $20, or day passes can be purchased for $12 each. Children 14 and under are admitted freely.

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