Seven reasons to check out the Rock River Thresheree
FULTON TOWNSHIP For the past 55 years, the Rock River Thresheree has engaged visitors with its collection of working mechanical wonders.
It’s difficult pin down the best of such an event. Tractors, giant turbines, a working sawmill, threshing demonstrations and a variety of other exhibits compete for visitors’ attention.
Instead of picking one, we offer our completely subjective list of the “Seven Wonders of the Thresheree.”
1. Smart people and local history. Want to see the turbine that provided electricity for the city of Milwaukee? Or how about the massive, 60 horsepower, two-cycle, diesel engine built by Fairbanks-Morse of Beloit and restored by Jim Faith of Monroe?
Built in 1925, it was sent to power a cotton mill in Alabama in 1927. Faith says he restored the engine’s glory from what was basically, “a pile of junk.”
2. Knowledgeable guys in overalls. There are plenty of knowledgeable female exhibitors, but they don’t announce themselves with overalls, engineer hats or a variety of other paraphernalia.
On Friday, John Mullarky, of Oregon, was providing power for the sawmill with a 1912 Case coal-fired steam engine he refurbished himself.
Mullarky was accompanied by two overall-ed brethren: Paul Douglas of Brooklyn and Gary Hennig of Ridgeland.
Like most exhibitors, their devotion to their hobby makes them pleasantly garrulous and tolerant of uninformed questions.
3. The darkly ironic flea market. The flea market has booths devoted to old tools, old parts and old tractor manuals, making it useful to exhibitors. But like most flea markets, most booths are devoted to antique tins, old magazines and books, handmade signs with pithy sayings, and miscellaneous china.
Nothing wrong with all that.
But when you compare the 50-, 75- and 100-plus-year-old equipment on the grounds to the plastic, fruit bowl-shaped salt and pepper shakers that I bought … well, it feels rather embarrassing,
4. The Harry Schell Saw Mill. The sawmill features a 52-inch blade operating at 540 revolutions per minute. The blade goes through wood like a journalist through cupcakes, voraciously and without pause.
You’d think watching guys saw wood would be like watching paint dry, but there’s something mesmerizing about the saw mill, with its tangle of spinning belts, the whine of the saw and the quiet seriousness of its operators.
5. The American Hoist & Derrick pile driver. Built in 1918, the steam-powered pile driver was used to build the dams and locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The hammer weighs 14,000 pounds, and on Thresheree weekends its “whump, whump, whump” can be heard more than a mile away.
6. The Rock River Cannonball train. The beautifully restored, coal-fired steam train runs on 2-foot gauge rails.
7. The unknown and unusual. Examples in this category include: Gary and Jim Pieper’s collection of REO lawn mowers, a display of historical fuses, odd fire trucks, mysterious riding golf cart/tractor/Army jeep amalgams, Rube Goldberg-type machines that do a-half dozen things at once, and antique apple picking, potato digging and other obscure farming equipment.