Janesville33.3°

Thresheree attendees have steam in their genes

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Mike DuPre'
August 30, 2008
— They’ve got old machinery on the brain, steam in their lungs and oil in their veins.

They are the generations of families who trek every Labor Day weekend to the Rock River Thresheree at Thresherman’s Park on Highway 51 between Janesville and Edgerton.


The thresheree continues through Monday.


Danielle Beggs, 26, steered and shifted gears as she stood next to her dad, Barry Beggs, 59, when they piloted their 1929 Rumely OilPull tractor Friday afternoon in the daily Parade of Power.


Danielle explained why she and her father maintain old farm machinery and continue traditions such as the thresheree:


“I think it’s really important to pass along our agricultural heritage to the younger generation.”


Barry’s great-grandfather started farming in Lee County, Ill., in 1897.


After serving as a propulsion engineer on steam-powered U.S. Navy destroyers during the Vietnam War era, Barry moved to Beloit in 1973 to work for what was then Wisconsin Power & Light.


Barry remembered disking fields with his uncle when he was boy: “He operated the tractor and everything. I did the steering.”


Asked why he now owns nine antique tractors—out of the 15 to 18 that passed through his hands over the years—Barry replied: “You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”


And not of the young woman either.


“I plan on doing what I can to keep dad’s pieces as family heirlooms,” Danielle said, “and learn as much as I can to maintain them. … Equipment is equipment, but the stories that go along with it are what’s important.”


Nearby, Scott Somerville, 44, Mason, Mich., was sharing some of those stories with people he just met at the thresheree.


He told of how farmers at thresherees in his boyhood cooked breakfast—bacon and eggs—on oil-cleaned coal shovels in the fireboxes of their steam engines. His family still pipes steam from their engines into 55-gallon drums to cook vegetables and meat for family gatherings.


“It’s a disease that’s passed on,” Scott, a machine shop owner, joked of the steam engine hobby. “There’s no cure at all.”


Not that his 13-year-old son, Dale, wants to be cured.


“That’s what I want to do,” Dale said after his dad told how the eggs cooked quickly on the shovels.


“I like all of it, the size, the power,” Dale said. “Restoring engines is one of my favorite things.”


The Somervilles were to be joined at the thresheree today by Scott’s 69-year-old father, Lange.


Scott, his father and Scott’s brother, Tim, own 14 steam engines and spend about 3,000 combined hours over the winter to painstakingly restore and maintain them.


They no longer farm the family homestead.


“We just play with steam engines on it,” Scott said.



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