By Melissa Conrad Rushville Republican
---- — Michele Keith Houston, one of the many who volunteer each year at the “Steam Show,” looks back fondly on her time there celebrating the past.
“Over the past 75 years, there’s been a hidden treasure in our county. Luther Caldwell, Henry McMann, Roy Mitchell, Lawrence Porter and Jack Maple were a few of the men instrumental in what we now call the Steam Engine Show (some don’t like ‘show’ and prefer calling it a ‘reunion.’) These gentlemen and countless others determined to preserve a priceless piece of our history. Because of the legacy they left behind, we continue to build lasting friendships across the entire United States,” says Houston.
“For 20 years now, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of this amazing treasure. I coordinate a group of people who work the admission gates for the weekend. Year after year, along with everyone else, I look forward to visiting and catching up with friends like the Moorman family and their brood of shoeless boys from St. Maurice, the Stahl family, Schranks, Hubbells, Coons and the Lamberts from Batesville. There are also people who I know by seeing their face, their steam engine, their children, etc. I may not know their names, but we speak as if we’re fast and furious friends the minute they reach my gate. When they pull into the driveway on the property they immediately begin waving,” she says.
“I have a porch that I sit on/stand at all weekend. Endless visiting happens among friends and family. A cool drink and a sweet or two might be exchanged as well. Over the years I’ve come to expect a visit from Keith the tire guy and his dogs on their morning walk. More recently, we’ve introduced a young lady by the name of Nicole Root. She has an incredible talent for glassblowing,” Houston said.
She and other volunteers will be participating in The Pioneer Engineers Club 65th Annual Reunion which kicks off Thursday and lasts through Sunday, Aug. 1 to 4. The reunion and show will be held at Caldwell Pioneer Acres, 3707 S 200 W, Rushville. The grounds are located 3 miles south of Rushville, Just off SR3. Follow the signs. Admission is just $10 for all four days or $5 for one day admission; children under 12 enter free.
Daily activities include: Parade, Working Line-Shaft Machine Shop, Entertainment, Sawmilling, Field events, Threshing, Corn shelling, Calliope, Horsepower test, Baling, Broom making and much more! A concert featuring the group Walker County will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday. Church Services are scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.
Recent additions such as the covered bridge, the tool shop, and the blacksmith mean that there’s something for everyone. The saw mill is always a busy hub of activity as well. To see this equipment still fully-functioning is quite an educational experience. It’s literally a working and active museum.
Saturday features a block race. To watch large machines competing for bragging rights brings tons of entertainment. Later on Saturday evening it’s also likely that a spark show will emerge. There aren’t words to describe this. Old-fashioned fireworks at their finest.
“A few years ago,” adds Houston, “ we actually had a chartered bus from Wisconsin come to Rushville specifically for the reunion. They stayed at the Comfort Inn all weekend. It was a group of 55 senior citizens who generated a significant amount of revenue for our community all because of interest in our hidden treasure. Yet there are people in Rush County who have never visited us.”
Another element that is often not realized is how the Pioneer Engineers help other community causes. The K of C spends the weekend providing a variety of food options. A local sorority is currently handling the responsibility of parking vehicles. It’s not always an easy task to get this many people in such a place.
“The group of people I coordinate handles the task of the admission gate. This ultimately benefits the Rush County Community Foundation. I spend approximately 15 to 16 hours per day at the show. I work the gate between the campgrounds and the rest of the property. I have other people who take turns working 4 to 6 hour shifts at two other gates on the south end and at the main walk-in gate from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It takes almost 300 man hours to staff the weekend requirements. Pioneer Engineers write a check to the RCCF for our work for the weekend. A large portion of it goes to the Michael Keith Memorial Scholarship Fund - he was my brother - and the remainder is shared between funds such as the RCCF administrative funds, the Kyle Henderson Fund, and the Alex Workman Fund. All of these benefit local individuals seeking assistance with education,” Houston said.
The steam engine reunion and show are also a family affair.
“Beth Douglass-Silcox recently authored a children’s’ book titled Little Rumely Man. She’s the granddaughter of Jack Maple, one of the original founders. This is a perfect example of how we try to continue this great experience for generations to come,” Houston said.
One of the newest features of the property includes benches for a few minutes of relaxation and rest. These benches have been personalized with the names of individuals who have been pivotal to the club and are thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.
You will also see wheat threshing of the crop on the grounds, rock crushing, tractor pulls, kiddy tractor pulls, plowing demonstrations, parades, and canon firings for opening ceremonies each day. Opening ceremonies are at 9 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday with their church service prior.
At the noon hour all whistles will blow and is an on-going tradition. Games and activities are scheduled for children young and old Friday and Saturday. Full details are available at www.pioneerengineers.
“In 20 years, I have yet to encounter anyone who leaves our show disappointed. The friendships I’ve gained have been priceless to me. It’s a wonderful weekend and an ever-changing experience. Just because you’ve come once before doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy a return visit. Step up on the back of a steam engine and witness for yourself the grandeur. These people take such great pride in maintaining the integrity of the reunion. Come see us! You’ll be surprised at what you find,” Houston said.
Are you interested in collecting and restoring old farm equipment like steam engines, tractors, or hit and miss gas engines? If so, the Pioneer Engineers Club is comprised of people like yourself who enjoy bringing their families and their machines to the reunion and other festivals around the nation to celebrate and appreciate bygone days on the farm.
The Pioneer Engineers Club is a family-oriented, non-profit organization based in Rushville that has been in existence for more than 60 years. Their goal is to build on the skills and talents of members so that they can educate and entertain the public as they preserve the heritage of rural life. The Pioneer Engineers Club is one of the oldest clubs of its kind in the nation.
Caldwell Pioneer Acres is named in honor of Luther Caldwell, who was pivotal in the genesis of the club. The property consists of 67 acres located about 4 miles southwest of Rushville. Their mailing address is Pioneer Engineers Club of IN, Inc., P.O. Box 536 Rushville, IN 46173. Members of the club come from many states across the U.S.A. and are nearly 700 strong.
The club has its roots in an association which once had a large measure of influence on issues affecting agriculture and rural life. Formed at the turn of the century, this organization was known as the Indiana Brotherhood of Threshermen and had chapters in every county of our state. The Brotherhood set the local custom threshing price and served to unify its members by lobbying for their common needs, such as improvements to roads and bridges so they could safely drive their equipment from one farm to another, as well as by operating an insurance company to provide coverage for its members against fire damage. Another service the Brotherhood provided was in educating farmers in methods to improve their grain productivity.
With advancements in agricultural technology and assembly-line production in the 1920s and ‘30s, membership in the Brotherhood fell. Farmers could now afford to buy their very own threshing rig, which now, for the most part, consisted of a tractor and a pull-type combine. This type of harvesting equipment was much less costly and easier to maintain than the traditional steam engine and thresher. And so the old tradition of the threshing ring fell to the wayside.
In Rush County each year, people from far and near come back to remember and be a part of the The Pioneer Engineers Club Annual Reunion.
The Pioneer Engineers Club 65th Annual Reunion Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 1 to 4 Caldwell Pioneer Acres, 3707 S 200 W, Rushville Located 3 miles south of Rushville, Just off SR3. Follow the signs. $10 for all four days or $5 for one day admission; children under 12 enter free. Daily Activities: Parade, Working Line-Shaft Machine Shop, Entertainment, Sawmilling, Field events, Threshing, Corn shelling, Calliope, Horsepower test, Baling, Broom making and much more! Concert featuring the group Walker County at 8 p.m. Saturday. Featuring Russell Engines and John Deere Equipment. Expecting 25+ Large Steam Engines, 300+ Tractors, Large Variety of Gas Engines, 100+ Flea Market vendors, and plenty of good food available! Church Services 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday. Camping info: B.J. Bischoff at 513.266.2128 MiniAdvance38@yahoo.com Reunion info: www.pioneerengineers