Mclouth The steam engines went to work Friday afternoon. They huffed and puffed and hissed, powering threshing machines that churned wheat through spiked teeth and blew out the grain during a demonstration at McLouth's 35th annual Steam Engine Show and Threshing Bee
Spectators trudged through muddy show grounds to witness the re-enactment of agricultural history, and engine operators attempted to explain their fascination with steam engines, often called "iron horses" because of the animal power they replaced.
Doug McQuitty is past president of the Heart of America Antique Steam Engine & Model Assn., which sponsors the annual show and threshing bee on a 52-acre tract of land the organization owns in southwest McLouth.
McQuitty said he took an apprenticeship in 1951 with the railroad, where he developed a strong interest in steam locomotives. By reading books and observing longtime engine operators, he learned the details of firing a boiler and operating a steam engine. He now owns several machines, including the 1992 "Engine of the Year," a 1914 Kelley Springfield Road Roller.
"WE LIKE TO show the young folks, whether they're rural or urban, what our forefathers had to work to provide bread," he said. "I'm a history buff. I love history. We're trying to preserve it."
McQuitty said his favorite part of the annual show is when youngsters ask him questions about the engines, and he enjoys explaining how the engines work burning wood or coal heats the water and steam passes through pipes to the engine, where it drives the piston back and forth, rotating a wheel that in turn rotates a series of gears to drive the machine.
"We like to hear how they run," he said. "They're very labor intensive compared to modern-day engines."
Harold Royer, another member of the Heart of America group, displayed a Twin City gas tractor at the first steam engine show in 1957 and has returned every year. He and his son, Gary, own a 1913 Rumley, which fellow engine enthusiasts fired up and demonstrated Friday.
"WE'RE SHOWING how it was done back in the old days, reliving history," he said. "A lot of older people come here. They like to see it because they used to do it that way. Other people come because they've never seen it. When I was a little kid growing up, that's all we had steam engines. It kind of got in my blood."
Royer, who will be 74 in September, said he's glad to see a younger crowd taking an interest in owning or operating the steam engines, and he tries to provide guidance to ensure they keep the history alive.
Bob Klinkenberg, who helps operate Royer's steam engine, said he remembers working the engines as a small boy on the family farm. "I started being around them when I was six or seven," he said. "Steam is a fascinating thing, and it's nostalgic. It's all on the outside so you can see everything run. The fire and the water is the only thing you don't see."
THE STEAM engine show will continue through Sunday in McLouth, located north of Lawrence in Jefferson County. Jefferson County Road 1045, also known as Midland Road, is closed, so people traveling to the show from the Lawrence area can take U.S. Highway 24-40 north to Tonganoxie and Kansas Highway 16 west to McLouth.
Engine operators will demonstrate steam threshing today after a 1:30 p.m. parade and twice on Sunday, at 10 a.m. and again after the 1:30 p.m parade.