threshing ring
EMBRACE THE PAST: You can see the old days of farming, including grain threshing, come alive every day at Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair.

A call for younger people to preserve the past

Who will step up and carry on traditions such as threshing demonstrations?

I was born a decade after the last threshing rings called it quits in favor of combines for harvesting wheat and oats. My first memories of watching someone throw bundles of oats off an old wagon into a big threshing machine date back to family visits to the Indiana State Fair in the late 1960s. Volunteers re-enact threshing, complete with the big noon meal for workers, every day during the fair at Pioneer Village. It’s been going on for 50 years and will happen again this August.

Many other shows around the state celebrate Indiana’s strong agricultural heritage with threshing days, plow days and festivals. But when Marshall Martin told me the 38th annual Tippecanoe Steam & Gas Power Show on July 28 would be the last, it caught my attention.

I’ve never attended the show, but it’s not because I haven’t hoped to get there. It just hasn’t fit into a busy schedule at that time of year. The show has drawn thousands of visitors through the years and features many things besides old-time threshing demonstrations with steam engines and authentic threshing machines. There are plenty of antique tractors on display and tons of things to do. Like many other ag shows and festivals around Indiana, it’s a great place to enjoy a family outing and acquaint the next generation with history at the same time.

Dying breed?
So why is this scheduled to be the last Tippecanoe Steam & Gas Power Show? “We just don’t have enough younger people to do the hard work it takes to put on the show and authentic demonstrations anymore,” Martin says. Part of the administration in the Purdue University College of Agriculture, Martin is still a farmer at heart, and has restored tractors, including one his father farmed with in the 1930s.

“We will pull off this show, but we had to face facts about the future,” he says. “Many of us who love the old equipment and enjoy these demonstrations are getting older and can’t do everything we once did. We don’t have a large group of younger people coming up who have the physical ability to carry on into the future.”

The fact is that many of the organizers heavily involved with several of Indiana’s outstanding antique ag shows, including the Indiana State Fair, are no longer spring chickens. I can say so because I’m not a spring chicken either. Hats off to the Wayne Dillmans and Dick Kruses and so many more who make Pioneer Village activities happen every year at the state fair.

Who will eventually take the place of these two and countless other volunteers who work the 17-day show at the fair? Fortunately, there are teenagers like Levi and Emma Spurgeon, Trafalgar, who caught the bug from their parents and who dress the part and help at the fair when they can.

Are there enough other young people like them to keep these grand old shows going for another 10, 20 even 50 years? Otherwise, who will be around to tell people generations removed from the farm how the art and science of farming progressed in Indiana? Who will remind people of the hard work ethic it took to make Indiana agriculture what it is today?

If you want to know more about the Tippecanoe Steam & Gas Power Show, visit

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