Those wishing to step back in time to an era when steam still powered the farm don’t have to travel far this weekend. Just a short drive down Interstate 70, Brady Showgrounds near Boonville will showcase early American farming equipment from a time when self-propelled steam engines pulled the plows and powered threshing machines.
The festivities began Thursday at the 41st annual “Back to the Farm Reunion” show put on by the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association.
Paul Lepage, an owner of two model steam engines, has been bringing his steam engine to the farm show for six years.
“It’s kind of dirty fun,” Lepage said as he cleaned the cinders out of his steam engine Thursday.
The engines are fueled by burning firewood to boil water. Valves on the engine admit a high-pressure steam from the boiling water and convert the linear motion of the piston to a rotary motion, driving the wheels.
Aside from the engines themselves, visitors can enjoy lumber-sawing, blacksmithing, molasses-making, cornhusking and other old-time attractions. The recently restored Brady House, which opened in 2000, is also available for tours. The farm show also offers a flea market with a variety of goods for sale. Sisters Chris and Barbara Roloff and their friend Sandy Ficken decided to bring crystals that they dug by hand in Arkansas to sell.
“This is just our recreational thing,” Ficken said.
The main attractions, however, are still the massive steam engines and tractors, whistling and blowing clouds of white steam, that line the show grounds. John Degraffenreid, a farmer from Brumley, bought his steam engine in 1967 for $2,500. It stays on the farm, but he brings his half-scale version — modeled after the original — back to Brady Showgrounds every year.
“After a couple of years, I decided I needed a little one, so I built one,” Degraffenreid said.
Although many people enjoy other hobbies, Lepage said he is happy with his choice.
“I don’t have big boats. I don’t have a lot of big fancy hunting rifles. I don’t play golf,” he said. “But I like steam engines.”
To reach the Brady Showgrounds, take I-70 west from Columbia to Exit 111, or Missouri 179 — the first exit after the Missouri River bridge. Go left at the top of the ramp, and the Brady Showgrounds is on the right.