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Steam Engine Days Celebrates Autumn Harvests

By Richard Wolfgramm, September 26, 2023

The 71st Mabel Steam Engine Days was held the second weekend in September. (Photo by Cristal Adkins)

Steam Engine Days Celebrates Autumn Harvests

 

MABEL – Up and down the Root River valley, across the fields, pastures, and bluffs of southeastern Minnesota, sounds of ‘the harvest’ have come to life. Nowhere is this sound of agriculture more evident—or celebrated—than in Mabel, just north of the Iowa border in southeastern Fillmore County.

Early September brought a new crop of tourists to what is billed as “The Oldest Steam Engine Show in Minnesota”.  2023 was the 71st annual Hesper-Mabel Steam Engine Days. It’s held in the kind of community you could very easily drive right by if you were to miss the sign on the highway at the edge of town.

Mabel is not a big place, but the population swells by several thousand every year with people celebrating the richness of their past, and the success of another year’s harvest yet to come. For many, this is bigger than the State Fair by a l-o-n-g shot. 

Hoping to blend in

I almost drove past the turnoff, but you can’t really miss this gathering because you can hear the thunder in the air and feel the earth trembling below you from at least a mile away. Storms? No. Two hundred and fifty steam engines and antique tractors are lining up for the noon-time parade. 

A parade wouldn’t be a parade without a horse drawn carriage. (Photo by Cristal Adkins)

You won’t be late. The only thing slower than a parade of steam engines and Farmall tractors would be the former Stand-Still Parades in Whalan – where onlookers actually walked around the parade units standing still in the street. But that’s another story.  

And even though there were no flag-waving marching bands or baton twirling majorettes, (and thank God, no politicians) the parade would have made Norman Rockwell stand up from his grave and come alive to do a cover for the Saturday Evening Post. What could be better?!?

Eight- and ten-year-olds driving tractors, looking like men, their fathers and grand-fathers guiding them. Suave and self-confident. Natural. Having fun.

And after the parade, food. Every Lutheran Church in Southeastern Minnesota and Northeastern Iowa has a tent or trailer with food. No Unitarians . . . .

Left, the Hesper-Mabel Steam Engine Days Little Miss Mabel candidates. Right, a young girl enjoying a horseback ride. (Photos by Cristal Adkins).

 

But the real attractions are the machines and the men and women who run them. You don’t have to travel to Europe or the Pacific Rim to see the world. It’s all here, right in Mabel.  

You meet old-timers who can still tell you about threshers and reapers. You learn to recognize a corn processor with a feeder—as opposed to one that doesn’t. 

You see young women tossing wood into the firebox of an engine. You see young men plowing a field with a team of four horses. 

You meet a younger man wearing a Thrivent T-shirt, operating a steam-powered corn processor or sawmill. He will tell you the difference between a job and having a weekend of fun.

Did I say food? Food for the soul! 

And pork sandwiches for every other appetite. 

PS: Save room for the mini donuts.

…………………

More about its founding can be found at Steam Engine Days.

 

Contributor

Richard Wolfgramm began journaling in 2006 shortly after he and his bride bought a house in Lanesboro. 

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Richard Wolfgramm began journalling in 2006 shortly after he and Louise bought a house in Lanesboro. Austen was our constant companion while exploring this new, very walkable, community.

richard@rootrivercurrent.org