Fields in harvest season have become home to some pretty big, fancy machines in the past 20 years. Not even 60 years ago, though, farm equipment was being developed that made just as big of an impact on how farmers went about their work.
The 35th annual Valmy Thresheree this weekend brings these old dinos of farming back to life. This year’s old iron festival features Massey-Harris tractors through time, which will represent about a third of the 200-some fleet of tractors that are expected.
The Thresheree has become well-known as not only an antique tractor show, but also as a festival celebrating life on the farm. A performance from The Bittorf Brothers starts the festival Friday night, with food and refreshments available all weekend long. The days will be packed with various competitions to show what kind of stuff you’re made of, including a chainsaw competition, antique tractor pull, garden tractor pull, and perhaps what they are best known for – pig wrestling in a big pit of mud.
Many of the antiques will be put to work on the small working farm on site, giving attendees a glimpse into how much has changed with a sawmill, blacksmith’s shop, shingle mill, hay press, and many others operating for the entire weekend. Ralph Bochek of the Northeastern Wisconsin Antique Power Association, which puts on the event, describes the grounds as a living museum.
Farm history is, in many ways, tractor history. Though there were motorized farm implements by the late 19th century and gasoline engines came shortly after, tractors didn’t start looking familiar until the 1940s. All of the money poured into the portable engine industry during World War II spurred development forward. When the U.S. joined the fight, many farming equipment companies made tanks, self propelled artillery, and military tractors.
From then on, things started moving really fast.
“In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, that’s when [modern farm equipment] really took off,” said Ken Vanderloo, a tractor collector from Kaukauna who is bringing four Massey tractors to the Thresheree. “The older tractor got parked back in the shed and they bought something new and now all of a sudden they’re digging them out and saying, ‘Hey, this would be nice to fix up.’”
Massey Manufacturing Co., founded in Ontario, Canada, was part of this charge into modernity, putting out the first self-propelled combine thresher in 1941. These models were rare at first, with some farmers taking their combines south to Texas and following the harvest season north back to their homes in Canada. Massey-Harris thus made its mark on North American farming, and continued from there as one of the leading international farm equipment manufacturers.
Within a human lifespan, tractors went from around 30 horsepower to having upwards of 700 horsepower with crop yield-mapping software and the ability to tow and mechanize a wide range of implements. That’s a lot of change, and it’s made a huge difference in not only farmers’ livelihoods but also a massive change in the amount of product produced. So while you and your pig-wrestling team wait patiently for Sunday afternoon, enjoy the well-kept grounds of the Valmy Thresheree to get an idea of what that change looks like.
The 35th annual Valmy Thresheree runs Aug 18 – 20. The grounds are located at 5005 Country View Road, Sturgeon Bay. Admission is $8; children 12 and under may join in the fun for free. For more information and for the schedule of events visit valmythresheree.org.
35th Annual Valmy Thresheree Schedule
Friday, Aug. 18
Gate opens at 6 pm
7 pm – 11 pm –– Bittorf Brothers
Saturday, Aug. 19
9:30 am –– Competition Chain Saw
8:30 am – 9 – Registration
11:30 am –– Antique Tractor Pull
1955 & below – pullers welcome!
9 am – 11:15 am – Weigh-in
2 pm – 5 pm –– Afternoon “Barn Dance”
with Jerry Voelker Orchestra (Old Time Music)
5:30 pm –– Saturday Evening Polka Mass
Celebrated with Rev. Tony Birdsall
and Jerry Voelker Orchestra
8:30 pm – 12 am –– Modern Day Drifters
Sunday, Aug. 20
8:30 am –– Lutheran Church Service
Pastor Ben Enstad
10 am –– Kid’s Pedal Tractor Pull
Followed by Little Farmer Contest
Straw stack hunt – sand pile
10 am –– Champion Garden Tractor Pull
12 pm – 3 pm –– Thumbs-up Pony Rides
12 pm –– Cavalcade of Power
(Following Tractor Pull)
Parade of Antique Machines
in front of the grandstand
12 pm – 3 pm –– Open Jam Session
3:30 pm –– Mud Pig Wrestling
Please pre-register with
Ralph Bocheck 920.743.8007