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Steam Threshers Reunion now in 60th year

Simon and Murphy Osten kept a watchful eye on their dad Andrew's 1/3-scale Case steam engine during the Aug. 10 Looney Daze festivities in Vergas; the engine was used to power the custom-built hot dog maker of Darrell Dey (at top of photo). Both Osten and Dey will be part of this weekend's Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, which runs Friday through Monday in Rollag. VICKI GERDES/DL NEWSPAPERS

This year, the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion at Rollag will honor Gaar Scott equipment, a brand that’s not common in this area — but one that helped launch the reunion in the first place.

It all started in 1940 when local thresher men, the Nelson boys, fired up their family’s Gaar Scott engine, which has been in the Nelson family since 1926, to thresh with steam again for old time sake.

Friends, family and a few spectators were attracted to the scene.

The Nelson family continued the event once a year until 1954, when Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion met formally for the first time and invited the public.

Since then, the show has grown to include hundreds of demonstrations and exhibits that spread over 210 acres. The show attracts thousands of spectators and volunteers every Labor Day weekend.

The Nelson Gaar Scott has been operated every year since 1926, with the exception of a few years before and during World War II. It leads each parade and does the whistle signals prior to each parade.

The 60th Annual Reunion of the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher’s Reunion will be held Friday through Monday.

There will be an excellent set of Gaar Scott exhibits, including three which are the only existing units.

The Mark Pederson Gaar Scott gas tractor, 40/80 horsepower, is the only one existing, as is the Ruble Gaar Scott 40 horsepower, which is one of two known remaining.

There will also be some one-of-a-kind items from the Gaar Foundation, including an 1870 10 horsepower portable engine, and the whistle from the administrative building in Richmond, Indiana.

Jon and Lori Jury will be bringing a very rare Gaar Scott threshing machine. In all, 10 Gaar Scotts will travel to the reunion.

Entertainment will be available every day — including music, parades, camping, hundreds of different types of machinery on display, with tractors, steam, gas, and horse powered contraptions, a pioneer village, and train rides.

Camping is on a first come first serve basis; this includes a one-time $35 camping fee.

There is also a gate fee. This can be covered in various ways. There is a season pass that covers all four days that costs $20 or the cost is $12 per day. Children 14 and under are free with a paid adult.      

Crowds will be entertained at the horse farm, the sawmills, and the Sand Box.

People will be able to enjoy all of the stationary gas and steam engines varying from tiny to huge, and the steam trains of Rollag will provide free rides all day long.

Don’t miss Main Street and the crafts show, the food prepared by lots of church women, twice daily parades, and the music — which is nice during the day but can become great in the evening.

Plan on spending at least one full day—including the evening music and spark show, but it actually takes two or three days to experience all of WMSTR.

Organizers haven’t turned their backs on the steam engines and threshing machines that started the reunion 60 years ago.

They still “steam up” for the parades and provide the power for grain separators and saw mills. There is even fun with slow races and pole contests.

A Gaar Scott birthday party is planned for early Saturday evening, prior to honoring the Rollag volunteers and the Queen Contest.

All the Gaar Scott engines will be kept as busy as possible during the entire reunion — threshing, steam engine games, sawmills, spark show, horse power testing, and so on.

The Gaar Scotts will also lead the parades, with the scale models on trailers, flying the U.S., Canadian, and Minnesota flags. Each Gaar Scott will have “signs” identifying the history of the machine, and current status.

The Gaar Scott Company was not a major distributor in this region; however it was one of the major U.S. farm equipment manufacturers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Abram Gaar founded the company in 1849 in Richmond, Indiana. The firm specialized in steam engines and threshers, but also manufactured clover hullers, and saw mills.

By 1882, the firm had 18 buildings, boasting 126,840 square feet of floor space, not counting offices, with a work force of 400 men.

In 1899, Gaar Scott held the world’s record for sales of threshing machinery and employed 600 men.

By 1911, the company was doing business through 20 branch offices in 18 states plus offices in Canada, Russia and Argentina. This included offices in Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., and Minneapolis.

At the height of its production, in 1911, the company was bought by M. Rumley Co. of La Porte, Indiana. By 1915, Rumley Company was in severe financial distress due to rapid expansion and high debt.

It sold off the assets of Gaar Scott for a small fraction of the purchase price.