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A walk back through time

Rollag is known from its "rolling" exhibits, as well as live demonstrations of various jobs done the "old-school way".1 / 2
Rollag is designed to take visitors back to a simpler time, when steam drove the engines of the machines people used and everything was made from scratch. The annual event happens every year Labor Day weekend.2 / 2

Step inside the grounds of the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion at Rollag, Minn., and you'll feel like you're taking a walk back through time, to an era where engines were powered by steam, when women wore long dresses and men wore bib overalls to work.

The gates on Steamer Hill open for WMSTR's 63rd year at 6 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, and will reopen daily at the same time through Monday, Sept. 5 (Labor Day).

There will be activities going on throughout the day and night, Friday through Sunday, leading up to the Spark Show, which takes place after dark (no evening activities are scheduled on Labor Day, however). Admission is $12 per day or $20 for a season pass, which includes admission to the Rollag grounds for all four days. Four-day camping passes (all sites are primitive, with no electric hookups) are available for $35 per person, which includes daily admission to the WMSTR grounds. Only service dogs are permitted on the grounds.

A traditional part of each year's WMSTR is the engine exposition, which puts the spotlight on a particular brand of gas or steam-powered engines and tractors. The expo site is located on the west end of the show grounds.

"This year we're featuring the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company and Minneapolis-Moline Company," says WMSTR Board President Peter Manke. "We'll be hauling probably 20 Minneapolis steam engines, and a lot of Minneapolis Moline tractors in here. There will be a pretty good turnout (for the expo) in addition to all our regular stuff we have every year."

Over the years, the Minneapolis and Minneapolis-Moline brand has included machines painted in many different shades of orange, as well as red, green and yellow. The changing shades are due to the company's colorful history, from its origins in the 1800s as the Fond Du Lac Threshing Machine Company to its final incarnation as the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company (a brief history of the tractors can be found at the WMSTR website,

But Minneapolis and Minneapolis-Moline aren't the only brand of engines that will be featured this year.

"We're also featuring Witte gas engines this year," said Manke, adding, "We will have some pretty rare engines... it's quite a display."

Also new this year is a roundhouse that was constructed for the Ortner model railroad, Manke added.

Besides the engine expo, other activities include daily tractor parades and demonstrations of old-fashioned crafts ranging from weaving, spinning, baking, cooking and soap making at the Ladies Activities Building to blacksmithing, log milling, wood crafts, tractor pulls and of course, steam threshing. Everything found at the mercantile and general store on Rollag's Main Street is hand crafted and homemade.

Also found on Main Street are the Downer Church, Baker Depot, Ladies Activities Building, and even a working post office where you can mail letters to be picked up by the U.S. Postal Service.

Music also fills the Rollag grounds throughout the four days, from the Nelson building to the TMB, gazebo, churches and sometimes just under a shady tree. Accordions, banjos, fiddles, harmonicas and maybe even spoons are used to entertain visitors with a wide variety of tunes, from morning to night.

In the model engine building, visitors will find dozens of scale model vehicles and engines, built either from kits or from scratch. They are powered by air, heat, motor and imagination. Inside this building, Jerry Swedberg and his volunteer assistants offer a kids' class where youth between the ages of 10-17 can safely learn how to perform some basic machining skills such as using a drill press and similar tools, all under the supervision of experienced WMSTR members. There is no cost for this event, but pre-registration is required. The class, which starts at 9 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday, Sept. 2-3, will run between two and three hours. To sign up, please call 218-937-5404 or contact Mr. Swedberg directly.

Daily activities include the tractor parades at both 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (no 10 a.m. parade on Sunday), a demonstration of four-legged horsepower at the farmstead site at 10 a.m., demonstrations of steam and gas threshing, lumber sawing and prony brake from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., ladies' activities (weaving, spinning, outdoor cooking, baking, soap making, etc.) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Main Street, and much more.

"A huge draw is our steam train," says Manke, noting that the engine will be making the loop around the festival grounds throughout WMSTR. "We also have our steam-powered carousel and the construction area, with its huge steam shovels — we probably have more operating steam shovels than anywhere else."

Rollag will even crown its very own Steam Queen at 7:30 p.m. Friday, inside the TMB Building.

"We have so many things going on," says Manke. "It probably takes between 1,500 and 2,000 volunteers to put on our show. We have members from all over the U.S. and Canada that show up to help us."

For more information, please visit the website at, or take a look at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion pages on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (links can be found on the website by clicking on the "Media" tab).

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454