On a Sunday afternoon in 1957, Herman "Slim" Watson thought it would be a good idea to invite a few people to his farm to watch a threshing demonstration.
It was the start of a 50-year tradition that continues this weekend as thousands of people visit McLouth for the annual McLouth Threshing Bee. They still come to see antique farm steam engines and threshing machines, but the event now includes many other activities such as tractor and truck pulls and displays of antique tractors and cars.
"He had no idea," Mary Hinds said of Watson, her late father. "He was just trying to have fun and have some friends and neighbors over."
The first event was such a success it became a daylong affair the following year. It later expanded to two days and then to its current three-day extravaganza.
"My dad was excited that everybody enjoyed it as much as he did," Hinds said.
Hinds still lives on the farm where it all began east of McLouth in Leavenworth County. The threshing bee continued on the farm for several years, into the 1960s, until it was moved to its current 40-acre site in McLouth.
"It got to be too much for the farm to handle," Hinds said.
Hinds still owns her father's threshing machine, but she sold the 1919 Advance-Rumley steam engine to B.J. Robinson, of McLouth. The machines and others will be on display during this year's threshing bee Friday through Sunday.
"It's quite a machine for its day," Robinson said of the old steam engine. "It takes a lot of time to operate it."
The Advance-Rumley is actually the second steam engine Watson owned. He gave the first away to the government to help the war effort in World War II, Hinds said.
Robinson is a member of the Heart of America Antique Steam Engine Association, which has five steam engines. Steam engines were replaced by tractors in the 1930s and 1940s on most farms. Threshing machines were pulled first by steam engines and then by tractors until they were replaced by combines.
Hinds' father, with help from her mother, Myrta, also brought in antique cars for display. Watson invited the McLouth Kiwanis Club to serve sandwiches and soft drinks to visitors. They worked out of an open shed Watson built. The Kiwanis continued to serve the refreshments up until this year.
Other attractions in the early years included a small train Watson and a friend set up after buying it from a carnival. American Indians from the Horton area were invited to bake and sell bread, Hinds said.
This year's threshing bee kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday with the antique and classic tractor pull. A live band and dance follow, from 8 p.m. to midnight. The cost for the three-day event is $10. Children 12 and under get in free. There will be children's activities such as pony rides and inflatable slides. Beer and food will be sold. Those attending are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.