'Living agricultural history' on display in Boonville

Saturday, September 11, 2010 | 7:32 p.m. CDT; updated 3:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 13, 2010
Steam billows out of a model steam engine at the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association's 47th annual Back to Farm reunion on Saturday at Brady Showgrounds in Boonville.

BOONVILLE — A motorized picnic table on wheels, complete with a Confederate flag bearing the word 'Redneck' and a family of six sitting on its benches, wove through the traffic of custom-designed buggies and antique tractors on Saturday at the Brady Showgrounds.

The family used the picnic table to travel around at the 47th annual Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association Back to the Farm Reunion Show, which was in its third day on Saturday. 

Hundreds of antique agriculture mechanist enthusiasts were not deterred by grounds left muddy from Friday night rains.

Former association president Roy Koirtyohann has been a member for over two decades.  On Saturday, he operated the show’s sawmill, a job close to his heart. Koirtyohann’s father operated a mill outside of Washington, Mo., through the 1940s, he said.

“I was raised around a country saw mill and I got saw dust in my blood,” he said.

The tractor that Koirtyohann used Saturday to power the mill was the same tractor his father used half a century ago.

“This is living agricultural history,” he said. “We try to keep those traditions alive by holding an annual show where we actually work the old equipment and demonstrate the old techniques.”

Jefferson City plumber and association member Wilfrid Bernskoetter, 81, said he can remember the old steam engines in action.

“Years ago when I was a teenager we used to thresh and do things with the steam engines,” he said. “It brings back the good old days, you might say.”

Association president Jeff Pewitt had his 1920 steam engine out threshing at the show. Threshing means to separate the edible part of a grain from the chaff that surrounds it.

Pewitt said his engine was used as a thresher around the Truxton area from the late 1920s through 1940s, "which was way late for the steam era."

“But the original owner of it, who I met when I was a little boy, was a die-hard steam guy and he just thought that was the way it had to be," Pewitt said.

Despite the show being hosted by a steam engine association, the antique tractors heavily outnumbered the few steam engines on display.

“There aren’t that many old steam engines anymore. Many of them have gone to the scrap heap, especially during World War II,” Koirtyohann said. He said that, during the war, "it was the patriotic thing to do" to melt down a spent steam engine.

Jefferson City-area resident Eric Schulte said he thinks guests tended to have stronger cultural ties to tractors.

“I grew up playing with and knowing about tractors, and I started tractor pulling when I was 13-years-old,” he said.

Schulte’s 1930 McCormick-Deering 22-36 was given to him by his uncle only weeks ago but has been in his family for generations. It was purchased by his great-uncle in 1930 and restored by his uncle in 1995.

Schulte said he believed his great-uncle was in his early 20s when he bought the tractor, which he believed would have played a central role in the man’s livelihood up to the 1960s.

“They built a lot of terraces with it. They did sawmills with it and a lot of custom threshing too,” Schulte said.

Schulte said his uncle gave him the tractor as a way to carry on a family tradition.

“My uncle’s fighting cancer right now so that’s why he gave it to me because he wanted me to bring it up here to show," he said.

What was once an integral part of the family's livelihood has now become more of a family pastime.

"We’ll take it in the parade, and we’ll try to use it on the sawmill," Schulte said. "But other than that it will have an easy life from here on out.”

The show, which also includes flea markets, food stalls, crafts, rides and a petting zoo, continues through Sunday afternoon.

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