Threshing Days provides glimpse of Goessel heritage

GOESSEL—Everywhere you went on the museum grounds in Goessel on Saturday, you were bound to hear the humming of engines.

Brendon Nafziger, President of the Wheat Heritage Engine and Threshing Company, said mid-day Saturday that the 48th annual Threshing Days was going “so far, so good.”

“It’s really to celebrate everything about agricultural heritage,” Nafziger said about the event. “Especially with the Mennonite Museum working in conjunction, there’s a focus on Mennonite heritage.”

The busy three-day festival included a variety of demonstrations on farm equipment and techniques from the past century or two, as well as a parade through downtown Goessel Saturday morning, a tractor show featuring 80-100 pieces of equipment, a low-German meal served by the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum, and children’s activities at Uncle Milt’s Shed.

A good-sized crowd braved the warm, breezy weather Saturday to check out the events. Nafziger noted he’d met people there from as far as Missouri and Oklahoma.

“It’s not as big as it used to be,” he said. “There used to be not as many other agricultural shows, so we have a lot more competition these days.”

One of the highlights of this year’s Threshing Days was the opportunity to show off recent upgrades to the big engine building at the museum. Concrete was added to replace the old dirt floor, and work is also being done to restore several of the large engines there.

Jim Wiens, who said he’s attended Threshing Days every year since its inception, has been a driving force behind the restoration of these engines.

One of the largest of those engines is a 200 horsepower De La Vergne engine that Wiens believes dates back to before 1920.

“We found a maintenance tag dated 1920, so I’d say it was built around 1910 or 1915,” he said.

Wiens and a crew of other volunteers brought the engine to Goessel in the 1980s. He’s unsure of its original use. This massive machine weighs roughly 60,000 pounds, and Wiens believes it’s the only one of its kind still operational.

“As far as we know, it’s the only one of its make and model left,” he said.

Wiens determined this by looking at manufacturer records and finding that only three of the engines still had records. The other two are said to be located in South America but haven’t had parts order for them since the ’70s.

“If others exist, they’re just blocks of rust,” Wiens said.

He and a couple other volunteers have been working to restore all of the engines housed in the big engine building, but it’s slow going since they only meet once a week. Among the other engines there are a Busch-Sulzer engine that once generated power for Perry, Oklahoma, and a Fairbanks Morse engine that came from Canton. Both of these weigh approximately 34,000 pounds.

Several of these big engines were fired up for demonstrations on Saturday so spectators could watch the behemoths at work.

The day was filled with other demonstrations of old-time equipment, like tractors and threshing machines. Winston Sommerfeld and other members of the Kansas Draft Horse Association gave a field demonstration riding on plows drawn by mules. These plows date back over a hundred years.

“They were born before I was,” Sommerfeld said. “Probably 1910, somewhere in there.”

The plow he was using that day, he said he had owned for 20-some years. He bought it from his dad, who in turn had bought it at some farm sale.

“On this hard ground, it will shake you up,” Sommerfeld said.

Sommerfeld, who lives east of Newton, said the Kansas Draft Horse Association tries to do several clinics like this every year to interest young people in the ways things used to be done. They’ve been to Threshing Days the past several years.

“We started three or four years ago, and they keep inviting us back for a demonstration,” Sommerfeld said.

Another demonstration at Threshing Days was blacksmithing, as shown by recent Buhler High School graduate Colton Lohrentz. He said he was inspired to take up the craft by the TV show “Forged in Fire.”

“It started out with a campfire in the driveway and went from there,” he said. “I got a coal forge after that, and now I’ve got a propane forge.”

Lohrentz has turned his unusual hobby into a small business, CFL Knives, that he said he’d like to see grow. Knives are one of his favorite things to make, but he’s interested in eventually branching out to other projects.

Lohrentz also does custom leatherwork and makes wooden handles for his knives. He likes to recycle scrap metal from farm sales to make the blades.

“It adds a little more to it, I think,” he said.

He added that he can make a nice knife in about a day, except he usually doesn’t get a full day at a time to work on it.

Lohrentz said Threshing Days is the only festival he’s done demonstrations at so far, but if he gets more into the hobby, he may increase that.

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