Threshermen’s Reunion thrives on volunteers

Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s annual event is a gathering place for like-minded people preserving prairie heritage

AUSTIN, Man. — There are a lot more people volunteering at this week’s Threshermen’s Reunion than live in the nearby village of Austin.

And the thousands who will throng to the event this week vastly outnumber the population of farmers and rural people living hereabouts.

That’s the mystery of the reunion: how does it find the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of participants that yearly make it a major event in rural Western Canada?

“I never knew this existed,” said Larry Desaulniers of St. Anne’s, Man., who was working with the wood he and fellow St. Anne’s resident Pierre Grimard were using as they reconstructed a century-old grain wagon in the days before the reunion began. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the event, which starts tomorrow and runs till Sunday.

“I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades all my life,” said Grimard, who only started volunteering at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum eight years ago and recently conscripted Desaulniers to help him with woodworking.

The story is similar across the sprawling grounds of the museum, which houses hundreds of pieces of late 19th and early 20th century farm equipment, from threshing machines to tractors to the odds and sods of the early mechanized farming days.

Individuals and small groups of volunteers are working on ancient equipment that the museum needs cleaned up, fixed up, rebuilt or restored. On this sunny, hot day, few of the volunteers are locals.

“We don’t call it the Threshermen’s Reunion. We call it a family reunion,” said Jim Down, who was working on a pre-1928 tractor his family donated to the museum.

Jim Down works on the Case tractor his family donated to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. | Ed White photo

His nephew, Ryan, was working with him to ensure the old steam machines would be ready for duty. Jim lives in Portage La Prairie, while Ryan lives in Brandon.

Most of the family might have moved away and weren’t born near the old family farm at Holland, Man., but the reunion brings them back together each year.

Museum president Angie Klym is another recent recruit to the reunion, also drawn here by deep family connections.

“This is part of my holidays,” Klym, a commercial banker from Winnipeg, said as she checked out the mostly completed, new serving bar that will improve this year’s hospitality features.

Angie Klym is a Winnipeg banker, but she spends her summer holidays volunteering at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. | Ed White photo

“My parents were coming here 12 years before I was even interested.”

However, after they convinced her to attend the 2005 reunion, things quickly escalated. She met her husband at the event in 2006 and got deeper involved.

Like most of the volunteers who work on the old machinery, distance and hard work seem like relaxation to her.

“A lot of our volunteers drive a minimum of one hour to get here,” said Klym.

“This is an alternative to going to the lake.”

Dave Jordan and Dennis Pohl don’t spend a lot of time at the lake in the summer. Pohl and his wife live on-site as the official “Resident Volunteer,” overseeing the progress of the efforts.

Jordan spends his week at a Winnipeg auto dealership, working on Chryslers.

“This is a nice change from working on computers and electronic ignition and all that,” said Jordan.

“If (one of these ancient machines) doesn’t start it can be only two things: spark or fuel.”

He and Pohl were just finishing building a “field demonstration carrier,” which will be able to seat 32 spectators and carry them along as some of the old machinery is demonstrated during the Reunion.

“It kind of grows on you,” said Pohl, a millwright who has been volunteering with the event for 30 years.

Dennis Pohl, lef, and Dave Jordan in front of the “field demonstration carrier” they were finishing. | Ed White photo

Working with metal, wood, rubber and paint in the hot July sun isn’t everybody’s idea of fun, but for those drawn to the Threshermen’s by farming roots, an interest in early industrial machinery, a desire to harness the power of steam engines, or just a focused way to get together with family, the Reunion is like Disneyland.

“It’s a place to get away and relax,” said Jordan.

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