Once a year, when the green fades from the wheat in the fields, novices and experts alike travel miles to one place for one purpose: to celebrate the origins of modern day industry. Two-hundred-and-fifteen miles Northwest of the Twin cities, across an expanse of 210 acres, the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion takes place each Labor Day weekend.
What began in 1940 as a gathering for friends and families to thresh the fields, the old-fashioned way with steam engines, then transformed in 1954 to become WMSTR[i]. Today, WMSTR includes exhibitions dedicated to steam engines and equipment, gas engines and tractors, sawmills and watermills, threshing, horsepower, and pioneer ways of living.
WMSTR Boasts the Longest-Running Piece of Morgan Equipment
The WMSTR show exhibits one of the largest displays of steam-powered equipment in the United States. Among this display is a Morgan Steam Hammer, built in 1892. The steam hammer was first brought to WMSTR in 1971, just 17 years after WMSTR’s inception. It was later installed in 1975 and demonstrations began the following year.
The steam hammer’s original function was to forge metal for the Great Northern Railroad, but these days it produces commemorative aluminum plates that are sold to raise funds for WMSTR. To operate the 30,560 lb. steam hammer, steam is produced by a boiler next door and piped underground[ii]. The operator then places the aluminum plate between the dies and activates the lever to release the hammer to forge the plate. The team of volunteers that run the steam hammer each Labor Day weekend include: Duane and Nancy Nelson, Virgil and Vicky DeRung, and Cody and Cassidy Wangen. Duane and Nancy began working with the steam hammer 41 years ago, Virgil and Vicky started helping shortly after. Cody and Cassidy are more recent to working the steam hammer exhibit but have a great passion for WMSTR. Duane, Virgil, and Cody operate the steam hammer for the demonstrations while Nancy, Vicky, and Cassidy work the plate booth.
A Family Affair
Duane’s first passion at WMSTR was the gas engines, it wasn’t until 1982 when there was a vacancy that Duane Nelson began working the steam hammer. From then on, Duane and his wife would bring their kids with them to WMSTR each year. This is where the passion began to grow in their entire family and continues today. To this day, two of their sons are heavily involved at WMSTR, one of whom runs the Montana Boiler next door to the steam hammer. Their two granddaughters also run steam tractors throughout the WMSTR grounds.
WMSTR encourages the education of future steam enthusiasts with the University of Rollag Steam School, held every year over Father’s Day weekend[iii]. There are two days of classes in which enrollees will learn the key requirements for safely operating a steam engine as well as the history and basic functionality of the engines. The school is an approved training by the State of Minnesota.
WMSTR is a 501c(3) organization in which thousands of volunteers work year-round to prepare the exhibits and grounds for display. Each reunion weekend 30,000-40,000 visitors come through the gates to get a glimpse of the past and learn how and why things were done in a certain way[iiii]. People of all ages and distances attend.