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It takes a village: Rollag steam threshers reunion employs thousands of volunteers each year

Gas and steam engines of every description can be found being driven around the grounds at Rollag each year. This year's show featured homemade farm equipment and Galloway gas engines. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 7
Ol' 353 — the full-sized Alco steam locomotive that once served as a railroad switching engine — is WMSTR's main 'people mover,' taking Rollag visitors around the grounds in a continuous loop throughout Labor Day weekend. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 7
This golf cart being driven by an exhibitor outside the Prairie Rose Boutique on Rollag's Main Street clearly illustrates the mixture of old and new that can be found at the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)3 / 7
All steam engine operators at WMSTR must be licensed by the state of Minnesota, so Rollag holds a Steam School each year to help train them. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)4 / 7
This gentleman proudly wears a hat festooned with ribbons proclaiming him as an active WMSTR member, licensed steam engine operator and volunteer for the annual festival, which concluded Monday at Rollag. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)5 / 7
Slow and steady is the rule for the engines taking part in the WMSTR parade, which is held twice a day on the Rollag grounds during Labor Day weekend. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)6 / 7
This pair of steam engine operators waits their turn to start making their way along the parade route on Monday afternoon at Rollag. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)7 / 7

It takes a staff of over 2,000 volunteers to keep the crowds entertained at the annual Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minn. — but they're always looking for more.

"We can always use more helpers," says WMSTR President Pete Mandt, who is wrapping up his third year in charge of the annual event.

And even though this year's show concluded on Labor Day, anyone who's interested can sign up to be a member, at any time, by emailing the WMSTR secretary at

"It's never too late to get involved," Mandt said, noting that the planning has already begun for next year's show. "There's a variety of things that need to be done... something for every skill set. Just sign up and we can find a place for you somewhere."

In fact, the planning committee is currently working on setting up a series of mini-classes, similar to Rollag's annual Steam School, for learning how to do the various activities that take place at WMSTR each year.

"We have an education committee," Mandt said. "It's (education) part of our mission. We're planning sessions on blacksmithing, threshing and running gas engines for next year, though that's probably going to change from year to year. It's a new thing we're trying out."

As for the aforementioned Steam School, well... all 75 slots are already filled for the 2019 event, which will take place over Father's Day weekend.

"We do have a waiting list," Mandt said.

Held every Father's Day weekend at Rollag's Steamer Hill, the University of Rollag Steam School is a two-day course designed to provide the fundamental training — both hands on, and classroom — to prepare new (or not so new) steam enthusiasts to be safe operators, and provide important information to aid them in preparation for their Minnesota Hobby Boilers Exam.

"All steam engineers are required to be licensed (by the State of Minnesota)," Mandt said.

The WMSTR Steam School is the only training course approved by the State of Minnesota that's not provided by a state-run entity, he added. Anyone who's interested in being put on the waiting list, or signing up for the 2020 class, should contact Tom Hall by sending a letter to: Tom Hall, P.O. Box 999, Moorhead MN 56561.

Steam engines, gas engines and horse-drawn vehicles of every size and description could be found running around the grounds at Rollag this past Friday through Monday, Aug. 31-Sept. 3 — including some pretty unusual ones, as the 65th annual WMSTR showcased homemade farm equipment and Galloway gas engines.

Crowds were strong and steady throughout the four-day event, in part due to the good weather that dominated the holiday weekend.

"We had a pretty good show, with lots of nice weather," Mandt said. "There was a little rain on Sunday morning, but it turned out to be a great day... not too hot, not too cold."

Saturday's turnout was particularly strong, he added, judging by the number of vehicles parked in the large open field adjacent to the grounds.

"We don't really keep track (of attendance)," he added, noting that the combination of selling both single-day and full-weekend passes makes it difficult to judge the exact number of people on the grounds on any given day.

"It was another good year," Mandt said. "It's amazing how many people show up to support us. I've met people from all over the country out here, and they're amazed at how we're able to pull it all together. It doesn't happen like that anywhere else."

The 2019 WMSTR is set to take place Aug. 30-Sept. 2, and will feature Case-IH machines.

"It's always been on Labor Day weekend, at least as long as I've been involved with it," said Mandt. "Next year we're going to have an expo featuring the Case line of farm equipment, which is usually a real big show. Case in the past has been a really popular one, and there'll be a few things people probably haven't seen before."

For more information about the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion at Rollag, visit the website at

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454