The four days the orange gathered
By Fran Odyniec
There was no doubt that the Miami Valley Steam Threshers were in Plain City’s Pastime Park for their 63rd annual reunion last weekend.
One major indication was the threshers’ Grand Parade of Tractors that wound its way through the village’s downtown. With a caravan of Allis-Chalmers tractors leading the line of march, it took approximately two-and-a-half hours for the parade to pass in review down West Main Street as hundreds of folks jammed the sidewalks in a show of appreciation.
From opening day from Thursday, July 12, through Sunday, July 15, when things began to slow down, nearly 13,500 people had visited the reunion, which this year had the national designation as a “Gathering of the Orange.” The orange refers to the 479 Allis-Chalmers tractors that filled the northeastern corner of Pastime Park through the efforts of the Buckeye Allis Club.
And, about another 400 or so tractors including John Deeres, Olivers, Minneapolis Molines, Cases, McCormicks, International Harvesters, Farmalls, Cockshutts and even a handful of steam tractors with almost forgotten names like A.D. Baker and Aultman Taylor added to the festivities.
“This is a way to experience and relive the history of our country and how it was built on agriculture,” said Mark Thompson, president of the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Association, as he took a break from the hub-bub of opening day. He was standing next to his own 1918 U.S. Army truck in which he and Plain City Mayor Sandra Adkins would lead the Grand Parade of Tractors through downtown Plain City on Friday evening.
Just as in previous reunions, tractors and farm equipment were on display that virtually harvested more than 100 years of history from a horse-drawn thresher to steam tractors and gas-powered tractors to saw, shingle, and veneer mills. Those mills were powered by steam tractors, some as old as 99 years, doing their job just as they had back then.
According to its constitution, the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Association “believes that it has a solemn obligation to posterity in instructing and explaining the vital role that the steam engine played in making America agriculturally strong and vital.”
In deference to the gas-powered equipment, Thompson has some strong feelings about steam.
“Steam can never be replaced,” he said. “Steam is almost like a living soul inside an engine. Those smells and sounds can’t be replaced.”
They were in evidence all around Pastime Park.
Jim Stacey, of Wilmington, Ohio, came to the reunion with his 12-ton 1924 A.D. Baker 2175 steam tractor. Stacey and the Baker had the honor of helping with Saturday’s opening ceremonies.
“A.D. Baker was my grandfather’s favorite tractor,” he said. “I found this one in Bethel and bought it in 2000. I wish he were here to see it.”
Stacey claims that it was his grandfather, who was a farmer, stoked his ongoing love for steam by taking him to tractor shows in the ’60s. It was only a matter of time until it became a hobby for him.
“When I blow the whistle,” he admitted, “it brings a tear to my eye.”
His Baker 2175 can burn either wood or coal, and takes two-and-half hours to fire up. Its boiler holds 300 gallons of water. Stacey made the point that the boiler is “riveted, not welded.”
Kim Besecker, of Arcanum, Ohio, was also part of Saturday’s opening with his 1925 A.D. Baker 23-90 steam tractor.
Besecker bought the 23-90 in 1994. Since then he said with a broad smile that he works on it all the time.
Like Stacey, he credits his grandfather for instilling in him his love for steam.
“I’ve been going to these shows since I was three years old,” Besecker said. “My grandfather had a steam tractor, and I grew up with it.”
Stacey had guided the Baker 2175 over to the infield area where the tractor was to provide power for a thresher. Besecker had taken the 23-90 over to the saw mill to deliver the power to turn trees into lumber.
Meanwhile back in the Allis-Chalmers corner of the park, Dave Proeschel, 72, and his brother Robert, 82, both of Hamilton, Ohio, were making their way through the sea of Persian orange “just reminiscing.”
Their father, Otto Proeschel, had an Allis-Chalmers dealership back in 1937 in Hamilton.
“Going into World War II, Allis-Chalmers had the lead in farm equipment,” said Robert. “Then a nine-month strike ruined the company.”
Looking back on the hey day of Allis-Chalmers, Robert said that everybody wanted the WC model to fill their silos.
“They wanted it for the chopper to blow corn into the silo,” he said. “It had a snappy governor.”
Surveying the rows of A-Cs, Dave said of their visit to the reunion, “We came this year because A-C was featured in a national show.”
Bill Calhoun, 85, of Jackson, Ohio and a lifelong farmer, who was at the reunion with his 1950 C A-C, said of the A-C tractors, “We had them. At the time, they were the most power for the money.”
“An A-C was my second tractor,” Calhoun recalled. “I wouldn’t ride anything else.”
He praised the live power takeoff and hydraulics of an A-C.
“There was nothing better,” he said.
He said without a trace of doubt that his 1950 A-C could “go out and do anything today.”
There were a number of tractor owners who were out to prove that theory during the reunion’s tractor pulls.
Bill Keck, of Ryan, Ohio, was sitting in the hole up on his 1949 A-C WD waiting to be called for a pull.
“It holds its own,” Keck said of his A-C. “I haven’t touched the motor in eight years, but every fourth or fifth pull I change the oil.”
He had already taken a reading on the condition of the track.
“This track is so hard,” he said, “second gear should give you enough power.”
Phil Reynolds, of Orient, Ohio, was patiently waiting for his turn with his 1955 Farmall 400. He was raised on a farm where he spent hundred of hours as a kid on a WD 45 A-C.
“This is my first pull in 10 years,” Reynolds laughed. “It’s not rocket science. The main thing you want to do is not fall off.”
However, he did admit to being a little nervous which, he said, “Makes it fun.”
“Farmers love to pull,” Reynolds continued. “They get the old stuff out and see what they’ll do.”
Bill Keck saw what his 1949 A-C WD could do: He finished with a full pull (300 feet).
“The track was dry and hard with a powder top,” he explained. “With such a hard base, your front end could come up or you could spin out. It wasn’t a real biting track.”
His winning strategy was simple enough.
“I stayed in first gear so I wouldn’t have to change gears and lose momentum.”
And then some truth came out, courtesy of Bill’s wife Karen.
“We weren’t even going to come to the pull,” she said. “We came here for the show, but I entered him.”
Commenting on the scope of the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Reunion, Mark Thompson called it an experience.
“People see how their country was made and who provided the food,” he said. “They see how farmers threshed grain to get to the mill, how people sawed logs and shingles for their houses and how it was done with tractors.”
Bill Stacey offered a similar take on the reunion.
“I’m trying to preserve history,” he said. “You got to know where you’ve been before you move forward.”