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Maureen McMullen, Published August 30 2013

Heat no deterrent for steam engine enthusiasts in Rollag

ROLLAG, Minn. – Bill Nelson is no stranger to steam. In the sweltering final days of August, the heat is no deterrent for him and thousands of others who attend the annual Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion here.

“For the Nelson clan, this has always been a gathering time,” said Nelson, whose family hosted the first formal reunion in 1954.

The annual Labor Day weekend event in Rollag offers a venue for steam engine experts and enthusiasts to showcase an impressive variety of machines, including steam and gas engines, tractors and sawmills.

The event also hosts a roster of events including parades, music and demonstrations.

In celebration of its 60th anniversary this year, the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion features a collection of Gaar Scott tractors, which are significant in the event’s history.

The Nelson family’s 25 horsepower, double cylinder Gaar Scott engine attracted a crowd when it was fired up in 1940 after sitting idle for 14 years. It has been a presence at every reunion since then.

“In my perspective, that engine is a work of art,” Nelson said. “Not just the look of it, but the sound. It’s like a heartbeat.”

Gaar Scott engines are a rarity because production ended in 1912.

One of the restored Gaar Scott engines is owned by Kory Anderson, who has attended steam thresher reunions since he was 5 days old.

“I was, basically, raised around steam engines,” said Anderson, 30 of Fargo.

Anderson’s father purchased the Gaar Scott at an auction. After he became interested in the engine, Anderson decided to restore it.

“Pretty much everything had to be welded, machined or just repaired,” he said of the restoration process. “Everything was worn out real bad, so I spent a lot of time repairing the parts and putting everything back together.

“I put Humpty Dumpty back together again; it took probably five years just working weekends and nights.”

While the engines and demonstrations attract new visitors each year, steam threshers reunion veterans value the people just as much as the attractions.

“Everyone enjoys the hobby and seeing all the equipment and everything,” Anderson said, “but more so it’s about the people. You get to see people you only see once or twice a year.”