An old tractor can pull more than a load of hay or manure. Sometimes it can pull at the heartstrings. Just ask Bruce Nelson.
Nelson grew up on a farm of about 180 acres on land west of Sunrise Elementary School in North Branch. His family made a regular trek to the annual Almelund Threshing Show between home and Taylors Falls.
“We used to go there as kids back in the ’60s and ’70s,” Nelson said. “My dad loved it.”
And his dad loved fixing up old tractors. In 1992 he’d been refurbishing an old Case to show off at the Almelund show that year alongside the ancient-but-still-working threshers, corn choppers, shellers, binders and bailers.
“But he didn’t make it by one month,” Nelson said.
His dad died that June with the tractor unfinished.
“My mom asked me if I could get the tractor done and delivered to Almelund because that’s what my dad wanted,” Nelson said. “So I did.”
That was his first time taking an active role in the event, but not his last.
Hundreds of tractors
Nelson, who now lives northeast of St. Croix Falls, Wis., is currently president of the board of directors of the Almelund Threshing Company, the nonprofit organization that owns and oversees the 105-acre property where the annual show will swing open its doors this year on Aug. 9-11.
He’s been president or vice president of the organization for about 13 out of its 26 years in existence.
His presidential duties will keep him too busy to bring in and display any of his restored Case tractors this time around.
“My three nice tractors are not going to go anywhere without being supervised,” Nelson said. “When I go to a show I am ready to tell my story to whoever walks by. There’s a lot of interesting stories and past experiences that you learn about by exhibiting there.”
History buffs from around the country show off hundreds of models from all eras during the tractor parades daily at 1 p.m., which are then on display around the grounds.
Nelson believes the parades are one of the most popular features of the three-day event.
“Everybody gets out there with their tractor – a lot of them have stories similar to mine,” he said. “They feel a connection to these things, and they’re just grinning ear-to-ear when the announcer reads their name.”
Pulls are a big draw
Nelson himself will be in the announcer’s booth running the show at the daily tractor pulls, which he thinks might edge out the parades in popularity.
“The parade lasts an hour and a half,” he said, “and the tractor pulls last for eight, so I don’t know which is bigger.”
Nelson has been a professional announcer at threshing and antique tractor shows all over the state – from Carlton County south to Zumbrota.
“I tell the people what they’re going to see; I tell them what they’re seeing, and when they’re done, I tell them what they saw,” Nelson said.
A section of the Almelund show’s website is devoted solely to regulations for the three days of tractor pulls where women can enter the powder puff divisions and kids as young as 12 can test their mettle.
And to make sure competitors know the most important rule of all – amid the jargon on the page about turbos, wheelie bars, rear kill switches and clutch scatter blankets – one sentence is highlighted: “We are here to have fun.”
More than just tractors
And for anyone who isn’t sure their definition of fun includes farm implement Olympics, there are other strange and wonderful activities for all ages.
The grounds boast a former Chisago County courthouse packed with museum-quality goods – “an absolute gem,” according to Nelson.
Visitors can also explore an 1870s log house, dairy barn, smokehouse, train depot, barber shop and Pioneer Building where artisans demonstrate skills like yarn spinning, sock knitting, rug making and butter churning.
In the old Clover Blossom schoolhouse, Gammelgarden Museum offers the free reenactment of a pioneer school day from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. where kids can test their knowledge in a spelling bee, enjoy a pioneer lunch, play games, make a craft and close out the day with songs.
In the blacksmith shop, guests can watch horseshoes, nails and hardware being created.
Workers at the sawmill cut logs into lumber and mill them into siding for buildings on the grounds or create souvenir shingles for guests that are wood-burned with the current year.
“I always get a souvenir shingle,” Nelson said. “I’ve got those all nailed to my garage wall.”
The popular flea market with over 150 vendors is limited to historically authentic agricultural items.
“You’re not going to find glow sticks and stuff like that,” he said.
Children can enjoy a new playground, farm animal petting zoo, and on Sunday an old-timey sawdust pit coin toss.
Almelund Fire and Rescue is the sole food vendor offering its Main Food Shack and Malt Shop. The Almelund Lions Club oversees the beer garden.
Entertainment includes morning and evening bands, cloggers and a “Creature Encounters” show. Sunday morning offers a worship service with hymn sing.
Future strong with volunteers
With all the emphasis on history at the Almelund Threshing Show, one would think the event is losing patrons as the older generations aren’t able to continue on. Not so, says Nelson.
“Somehow we have this magic potion where our show is still growing,” he noted. “I believe we’ve had growth years for many, many years in a row.”
Organizers expect around 15,000 people to attend this year.
It takes quite a mechanic to keep all the wheels turning in a machine that big.
“It takes an immense amount of volunteers,” Nelson, a retired mechanic, said. “We have hundreds of people who work hard and go with little sleep during the show.”
Some are year-round volunteers and others help out for just a day.
“I need the one-day volunteers to come and help just as much as the all-year volunteers,” he said, adding that if anyone wants to lend a hand during the show, stop at the information building at the base of the windmill and offer. “They’ll put you to work right there.”
For those who just want to step back in time and experience the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of forgotten days, buy a ticket and let the tractors pull you in.
“I guarantee once you come to one and see all that we got going on,” Nelson said, “you’ll come back every year.”
Almelund Threshing Show
17760 St. Croix Trail, Taylors Falls, MN 55084
Open 7 a.m. to midnight
Admission: $10/day or $20/3 days
Children under 12 free with adult
Schedule at: www.almelundthreshingco.org