Dave Preuhs and the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association: Build It and They Will Come
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in an issue of the:
Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine
Some dreams begin at a very early age and remain with us all of our lives. So it was for young Dave Preuhs. Dave, his sister Barb, and brothers Richard and Elroy grew up on their parents’ farm, the Clarence and Edna (Eichler) Preuhs farm, in Tyrone Township, LeSueur County, Minnesota. Ever since his earliest years, Dave had been fascinated by antiques. He turned an old brooder house on his parents’ farm into a “museum” of sorts by gathering together a grain cradle, butter churn, hand corn planter, and other small antique farm implements and displaying them in the brooder house. (This brooder house can be seen serving as a backdrop for a Hart-Parr Model 16-30 in the picture located on pages 42 & 43 of the book Oliver Tractors: History of Oliver, Hart-Parr, Cockshutt & Cletrac Tractors, by Robert N. Phipps and Andrew Morland.)
Some antique farm implements which interested young Dave were too large for his brooder house museum. He was also attracted to a large thresher on a neighboring farm. The 1913 thresher, a 36″ x 60″ Nichols and Shepard Red River Special with Carpenter double wings mounted on the feeder (Serial No. 23410), was owned by the Ziegenhagen brothers and had threshed the small grain crops on many of the neighborhood farms during the first few years following its purchase by the Ziegenhagens in 1913. Indeed, the Ziegenhagen thresher had been used to thresh grain on the Preuhs farm (then owned by Dave’s grandparents, Carl and Anna [Horrisberger] Preuhs) in the years prior to 1917.
The years following World War I brought about a flurry of road building projects across the nation, with the Ziegenhagen Brothers also becoming involved in the road construction business in LeSueur County, leaving precious little time for them to engage in custom threshing. As a consequence, the large double-wing Red River Special thresher was employed less and less until it was retired to the machine shed in 1942.
As noted in the Nichols and Shepard article Dave Preuhs wrote for the Fall 1995 issue of the Hart Parr/Oliver Collector, page 8, Dave obtained the Ziegenhagen Brothers’ double-wing Nichols and Shepard Red River Special 36″ x 60″ wooden thresher in 1980. This was the culmination of the dream that Dave had had ever since childhood. However, there is more to the story of the Ziegenhagen thresher and the dream of a young boy which began so long ago.
While resting in the machine shed on the Ziegenhagen farm, the thresher was visible from the road and attracted the early attention of young Dave Preuhs. On every trip to LeCenter, Dave would encourage his parents to take the route which would bring them by the Ziegenhagen farm, three miles east of the Preuhs farm, so that he could catch a glimpse of the large double-wing thresher. He also listened carefully to the stories the older generation of neighbors told about the large thresher. Wouldn’t it be fine if that big thresher could once again be put into action for everybody to see?
Although during his childhood on the farm Dave’s parents had used a combine for small grain harvesting, he did have early memories of a thresher in action. At the age of five, Dave’s parents took him to a local threshing show put on by “Steam Engine Joe” Rynda of Montgomery, Minnesota. The show was held each year in the 1940s and 1950s on the Rynda farm. (Readers may have seen this farm in modern days on the western edge of the City of Montgomery, Minnesota, where many old steam engines still sit out in the yard.) Dave has distinct memories of Joe Rynda feeding an old wooden hand-fed thresher. At the show, Dave remembers that two women dressed in old-fashioned long dresses stood on the platform, one on either side of Steam Engine Joe, and cut the bands on the bundles as he fed the loose bundles into the thresher.
These early memories of Steam Engine Joe Rynda further stimulated Dave’s thoughts of making the Ziegenhagen thresher the center of a “living museum.” From these early childhood fantasies would grow the present LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show located on its own grounds within eyesight of the Preuhs farm.
Although Dave could not have consciously foreseen all of the details of the future LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show at the age of ten, and although he would have other experiences with other threshers which would continue to mold his childhood dream, it is significant that he would use the term “museum,” indicating that the public would be invited to come see the exhibits in this museum. This childhood fantasy was clearly linked to the dream of seeing the Ziegenhagen thresher operating, just as he had seen the threshers operating at the Joe Rynda threshing show. Together, these ideas indicate that even in childhood the broad outlines of a public threshing show built around the Ziegenhagen thresher were already in his mind. Although young Dave may not have been totally cognizant of the event, the foundation of the future LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show had already been laid.
As related in his article, Dave’s first opportunity to work on a threshing crew was in 1965. The thresher being used at that time was a 28″ x 46″ all-steel Red River Special (Serial No. 53290) owned by Paul and Ida Mae (Schultz) Bessel of Belle Plaine, Minnesota (maternal grandparents of Dave’s future wife, Carol [Madlo] Preuhs). According to the serial number index for Nichols and Shepard threshers in the back of C.H. Wendel’s book, Oliver/Hart Parr, page 295, the thresher is a 1946 model. In 1965, the Bessel thresher was powered by an Oliver 88 owned by Willy (Sonny) Bessel. This one experience of actually working around an operating thresher gave another strong boost to Dave’s lifelong interest in threshing. Unfortunately, 1965 was destined to be the last year that the Bessel thresher would be used in active threshing.
In 1968, Dave married Carol Madlo and together they settled on the Preuhs farm to take over the farming operations. After six years of talking about a threshing bee with his neighbors, Dave was successful in convincing some of them to help him host the project on his farm in August 1974. Being unable to obtain the Ziegenhagen thresher, Dave was able to obtain the Bessel 28″ x 46″ Red River Special. Antique farm machinery at this first threshing bee was rather limited, consisting of a 1926 John Deere D (spoker) owned by Eldon Braun, Dave’s 1928 John Deere D, and a 1929 Model A Ford truck owned by Al Easterlund. Total attendance at the threshing bee consisted of 22 people from the immediate neighborhood. However, a good time was had by all, and the neighbors agreed to have another threshing bee the next year.
The 1975 threshing bee was held on the Edwin Reddemann farm. (Readers of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collector magazine are familiar with the Ed Reddemann farm from the descriptions contained in the article on the Horn Manufacturing Company in the Winter 1995 issue, page 20.) This Show was advertised for the first time in local newspapers and by means of 8½” x 10″ xeroxed leaflets. (Copies of these leaflets and posters from subsequent years of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show have been lovingly preserved by Pioneer Power member, Mike Bluhm, in frames behind glass. These framed posters now hang on the north wall of the new Pancake House on the showgrounds of the Association. Visitors to the show pass by these cabinets as they wait in line for their pancake breakfast each day of the show.) Featured at this show for the first time was a 1927 Hart-Parr Model 18-36 tractor (Serial No. 27652) Dave had obtained in 1974. The engine was stuck on the little Hart-Parr when he bought it, but over the winter Dave had restored the tractor in time for it to be shown at the 1975 threshing bee. Dave’s Model 18-36 was a nice match for the Bessel thresher and produced more than enough horsepower needed to operate the Bessel 28 x 46 Red River Special. (A Model 18-36 tractor delivered 42.85 hp at the belt pulley as a maximum on kerosene at the Nebraska tests in 1926. See Test No. 128 on page 54 of Nebraska Tractor Tests by C.H. Wendel.) Furthermore, because the Hart-Parr and Nicols and Shepard companies were merged with the Oliver Chilled Plow Company on April 1, 1929, the Model 18-36 tractor was entirely appropriate to match with the Bessel all-steel Nichols and Shepard 28″ x 46″ thresher. In preparation for the 1975 threshing bee, some of the neighbors built a stack from bundles of oats. This was the first year that grain was threshed from a stack. The 40-60 persons in attendance saw stack threshing demonstrated with the fine running, but as yet unpainted, Model 18-36 powering the Bessel thresher. Exhibits at the show also included several stationary gas engines and a few other tractors.
Adopting the name “Dresselville-Tyrone Threshers” for the first time, the 1976 threshing bee was moved back to the Preuhs farm located on the southern boundary of Tyrone township. Desselville was the name of an old community located southwest of the Preuhs farm. Although Dresselville was largely a memory by 1976, the unincorporated village had at one time consisted of a school, church, post office, and creamery. (The building that housed the Dresselville creamery was moved to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power showgrounds in 1980 where it became part of the permanent collection of exhibits. Indeed, prior to 1993, the Dresselville creamery was used each morning of the annual show to house the pancake breakfast.) The 1976 Dresselville-Tyrone threshing bee was advertised by means of a limited number of posters which were circulated locally. About 100 people attended the August 8, 1976 threshing bee. The crowd was treated to the first appearance of the 45-65 Avery tractor owned by the Budenski brothers of West Concord, Minnesota, and treated for the first time to field demonstrations of corn shredding and plowing. In addition, Orbe Reddemann of rural LeSueur, Minnesota, operated his Ottawa cross-cut log saw for the first time. In all, 15 tractors, 20 stationary gas engines, and 4 antique cars and trucks were exhibited. A donation box was used to collect contributions from those in attendance.
Finally, on March 1, 1977, seventeen neighbors interested in the Dresselville/Tyrone threshing bee met in the large farm shop on the Eldon Braun farm and decided to incorporate into a non-profit association. Upon the suggestion of Ivan Guertin, the association was called the “LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.” It was thought that the name would enlarge the appeal of the association beyond the immediate Dresselville/Tyrone area to all of LeSueur County. Little did the founders realize, but the Association would soon have national appeal. (There is an interesting interview captured on tape by Patti Lehner of LeSueur, Minnesota, of a man attending the 1988 show who was from Santa Marie, California. During the interview, the man stated that even though he was from California, he and his wife had attended the Pioneer Power Show in the years prior to 1988, noting for the camera that the 1988 show had “grown a lot” over the previous Pioneer Power Shows that he had attended.) At the founding meeting of the Association, Dave Preuhs was elected president; Eldon Braun, vice-president; Ivan Guertin, secretary; and Bill Thelemann, treasurer. Also elected as members of the Board were Frank Boehne, Ken Braun, John Pollack, Brian Guertin, Glendon Braun, and Wayne Schwartz. Other charter members at the first meeting were Monty Braun, Jim Schultz, LeRoy Thelemann, and Maurice Thelemann. All necessary papers were filed with the State of Minnesota for non-profit, tax-exempt status. The 1977 show was scheduled for the first full weekend in August, with advertising greatly expanded. Many large posters were printed and distributed over a much larger area than the year before and admission/advertising buttons were ordered and sold to the public for the first time. The 1977 show was advertised nationally in Gas Engine magazine, Engines and Engineers magazine, and Iron Man magazine. With that, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association was finally born. Membership grew at a steady rate. Monthly meetings of the Association were held at various places; sometimes even the granary on the picturesque Preuhs farm was employed for this purpose.
The enlarged two-day Show in 1977, now re-scheduled for the last weekend in August, was again held at the Dave Preuhs farm. An estimated crowd of 300 people attended. Among the 50 tractors exhibited at this show were both of Dave Preuhs’ Hart-Parrs–the Model 18-36 and the new Model 15-30 (Serial No. 17892) which Dave had purchased in December of 1976 as his second Hart-Parr restoration project. The 1977 show was the first to feature a sawmill demonstration with Mike Kovich (now deceased) of Jordan, Minnesota, bringing his portable sawmill. During the day he demonstrated the process of sawing logs for all those in attendance. Two steam engines were operated and paraded for the first time. In addition to the 50 tractors, 75 gas engines were exhibited in the grove on the Preuhs farm. (Many of the exhibits at the 1977 Show, including the Mike Kovich sawmill, can be seen in the movies contained in the second hour portion of Tape #2 of the International Harvester collection.)
By 1978, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show was rapidly becoming a fixture. Regularly scheduled each year on the last weekend of August, the Show competed for the public’s attention with the first weekend of the Minnesota State Fair. However, as the State Fair and its prime attraction “machinery hill” metamorphosed from a rural orientation of tractors and combines to a more suburban orientation of lawn mowers and snow blowers, the Pioneer Power Show represented an attractive alternative to many State Fair attendees. As a result, there was a boom in attendance and exhibits at the 1978 show. This large crowd was all the more remarkable considering the fact that four to five inches of rain fell on Saturday night, turning the Preuhs farm ground into a sea of mud for the second day of the show.
With the tremendous growth, it was clear that the show had outgrown the Preuhs farm. Accordingly, a 20-year lease agreement was made with Ervin Dahn, a local farmer, to rent his large wooded grove about two miles south of the Preuhs farm as the permanent site for the show. In preparation for the 1979 Show, the members constructed loading docks on the west side of the Dahn grove near the main entrance to the prospective show grounds. Additionally, a building with a kitchen was constructed on the property by Orbe Reddemann. This shop became known as Orbee’s Eat Shop, serving food to the public beginning in 1979. (This same building houses the kitchen which is currently operated by the LeSueur Lions Club.) The year 1979 was another year of large growth for the Pioneer Power Association. Although attendance remained at about the 500 figure, exhibits were 50% higher than they had been at the 1978 Show. Memberships in the Association rose by about 50%–from 55 to 75 dues-paying members.
Following the Show in 1979, Dave traded a Model T Ford truck for his third Hart-Parr–a 1929 Model 28-50 (Serial No. 71313). Still, as the Show grew from year to year, it became apparent that people were attracted by the opportunity to see big antique machinery at work. For Dave this meant a big thresher, and the thresher that he had in mind was the Ziegenhagen 36″ x 60″ wooden Red River Special thresher. He had attempted earlier to restore an all-steel 36″ x 60″ Red River Special thresher with Garden City double-wings on the feeder; however, this thresher was found to be too rusted for restoration. Thus, another all-steel 36″ x 60″ Red River Special thresher was found and brought to the Pioneer Power grounds. This thresher also had Garden City double-wings and was used in field demonstrations at the Pioneer Power Shows immediately preceding 1980. It threshed well; however, it was not as old as the wooden Ziegenhagen thresher and its history was not as related to the neighborhood around the Pioneer Power grounds as was the history of the Ziegenhagen thresher. Accordingly, Dave still sought the proper opportunity to purchase the Ziegenhagen thresher. This opportunity finally arose in the summer of 1980, when Dave was able to purchase the Ziegenhagen thresher.
After concluding a deal with Arnie Ziegenhagen, the day finally arrived when Dave would retrieve the big wooden thresher that had first caught his attention so many years before. With the help of his friend, neighbor, and fellow-founding member of the Pioneer Power Association John Pollack, Dave set out to get the large thresher from the machine shed where it had rested since 1942. As related in Dave’s article, he and John Pollack first had to cut down the tree that had grown up in front of the machine shed since the thresher had first been put there for storage. After that task was accomplished, the thresher was pulled out of the shed and secured for transfer down the road to the Preuhs farm.
Pulling up into the yard of the Preuhs farm, the grand old wooden thresher was once again on a farm it had left some 63 years before. As a result of the relatively low number of actual operational hours on the thresher and its storage indoors, the thresher remained in very good condition. Therefore, only a minimal amount of work needed to be performed on the thresher in the weeks before the 1980 Show.
At the 1980 Show, the large Ziegenhagen thresher took the primary role of doing the stack threshing during the field demonstrations. Standing on top of the Ziegenhagen thresher in front of the 500 people who attended, Dave must have felt that his childhood dream had come true in a way that exceeded any expectations.
The large Red River Special thresher continued to occupy a primary role at the Show until 1991, when it yielded that position to the 36″ x 58″ Case thresher with a double-wing feeder donated to the Association by the Baumgard Brothers of Good Thunder, Minnesota. The Baumgard thresher had been newly restored by LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association member, Doug Hager, of Good Thunder, Minnesota, in anticipation of the fact that the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association would be hosting the J.I. Case Collectors’ Summer Convention during the August 1991 Threshing Show.
At some future date when the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors come to LeSueur for their summer convention, they are sure to see the Ziegenhagen Red River Special occupying the center stage between the stacks on the Showgrounds. With the help of this article, readers may also understand the additional significance of the large thresher to the history of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association itself.