Sunday, September 06, 2009

whirligig of time bringing those sweet revenges

Here’s an interesting phenomenon: as you get older, days spin forward like mad and then, so that you can make sense of it all, they all land in quotes that your brain has accumulated over the decades. If I continue to blog for the next five, ten, twenty years, expect to see increased reference to anything from Beatles to Shakespeare.

This post is a bonus – I already have a notation for September 6th. But I want to bring up an omitted photo from the Thresheree (see previous post). Why? Well, see if it does anything for you.


Nothing? Sure? You don’t identify with the endlessness of mechanical genius? Of collector solidarity? Of Wisconsin’s garden tractor mania?

Still no great awakening? That’s okay. Me neither. But Ed loves it. So there’s that.


I want out. It’s a long week-end and I don’t want to lose it all to days that, when I’m working, look remarkably the same. The academic year is just starting, but I’m restless. Most week-ends are slated to be work week-ends in one way or another. The dearth of unscheduled hours is making me nervous, unsettled.

I ask Ed for help with the day. An escape. I want to be dragged away somewhere. Anywhere.

We don’t go to the Saturday market. We pack up my bike and head out. To where the wild beasts (mostly chipmunks and rabbits and turkeys) roam and cranes and herons and hawks fly. Or stomp.


Ed suggests an end of summer country road biking loop. Past tobacco barns and soy fields. And goldenrod.







Not too ambitious. Twenty plus miles and we’re done. Better. Definitely better. But still…

Not done yet! Hurry up, we need to be in Edgerton by 3.

We drive south. More tobacco barns. In this part of Wisconsin, you get the sense that tobacco – that coarse one, used for wrapping cigars – was once a very very big deal.




And now we’re at a makeshift parking lot, crammed with pick up trucks, SUVs, your basic big cars, so that Ed’s little Geo looks toylike and fragile. We’re here, Ed tells me. The annual Rock River Thresheree. Just how do you spell that? With lots of e’s and r’s.

What could be more Wisconsin…

Maybe you’ve not heard of it? Until today, neither had I. As Ed explains it, it’s a time for collectors of old farm engines to get together and share their stuff. This weekend is their 53rd reunion. And if you think that it’s just going to bring out a handful of enthusiasts, you would be so wrong.


It’s a huge event: steam engines, high crop tractors, caterpillars, john deeres, combines, plows, hit or miss engines – most spiffed up and lovingly preserved. Hundreds and hundreds of painted to a shine machines – fifty, sixty, seventy years old.


The air is thick with coal burning smoke. But this isn’t a bad thing. Not here. Not among steam enthusiasts.


The men (and occasionally women) behind the machines are farmers. They’re in overalls and grease stained jeans and for once, Ed is almost urban cool in his standard shorts and tee shirt.

We watch the machine parade.



For one full hour, machines grunt and sputter past us. Each is enthusiastically introduced, like in a contestant in a pageant, except here there are no winners, no best in show. They all get their moment in the hazy sun.

We stroll through the exhibits, and sales booths (wind chimes made of tools, kiddie tractors, spark plug collections and the occasional pair of cowboy boots)…


.. past tents with lawn mowers (Ed: can I ask you – what got you started? I mean, you have dozens of these… He points to rows of Reo mowers and blowers. My dad picked up one for five bucks… no one else seemed to be interested in them, so I thought I’d jump in) and shacks with sorghum syrup.



Ed takes time to look closely at the various engines and machines. But after just a few hours, I’m lost in engine haze. They all chug and sputter. They mow, grind, grade, they’re gold, red, green, operated by burly men and burly women, or at least women who look like they could plow down a cornfield if asked.

At this reunion, one that is not my reunion, I indeed find the calm that comes when you get to stare at others and remove yourself from your own singularly pathetic concerns. We stroll and pause and ask questions until I am tired and hungry.

We head back home to Madison past barns with tobacco leaves and fields of soy.