BIRD CITY — It is an event that brings in the crowd every year.
One time a year during the three-day stretch, Bird City’s population expands. Maybe not quite as much as it once did for the farthest east town in Cheyenne County along U.S. Highway 36, but the town still swells in attendance — reaching into the thousands. Impressive for a town that registers a population less than 500 the rest of the year.
From families who grew up with the event to others interested to see what it’s all about, the Tri-State Antique Engine and Threshers Show continues to hold its own. The event hosted its 63rd birthday Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s really in my blood to come and run one,” engine operator Dean Gipe said.
“It’s an addiction.”
A Salina resident and retired for 10 years, Gipe worked for Philips Lighting for 40 years. He has been a volunteer at the show off and on for 20 years.
A show dedicated to the steam engines and threshers that date from the late 1800s into the 1910s and ’20s, volunteers such as Gipe come back year after year. It’s a love and appreciation for history like this.
“Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, I had given rides to people from England and Australia that came here for this show,” Board President Brendon Haack said. “That was back in the days when there was just like five of these shows out there. There just wasn’t a lot of this going on. We were the third largest in America as far as crowd size.”
Haack has been a part of the Engine and Thresher Show in some way most of his life. He was raised directly south of the large field on the east edge of town where the event is. He has a wealth of information about the show. As a child, Haack said he was driving the small tractor kids now do around the show grounds.
“(A total of) 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people would come through here,” Haack said. “People started doing their own thing, and so I’d be happy to get 5,000 to 7,000. That’s not bad, especially with economic times the way they are and the price of fuel and that kind of stuff.”
History lessons and speeches are given on the different engines and threshers throughout the three days of the show, with Haack giving a large number of them.
Part of the antique show for approximately 50 years is a steam calliope. The 10 key organ-type instrument is brought by Carl Bergman, Aspen, Colo., every year. Sharon Beougher, a music teacher from Louisville, Ky., has played it at the show for more than 30 years. Sharon’s husband, Tim Beougher, grew up in Bird City and is the show’s vice president.
“It only has 10 keys, so it limits the music we can play on it,” Bergman said. “Over the years, (Sharon Beougher) has written music for us. We really appreciate her.”
The show is full of events that fill a schedule from as long as 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. There is a daily parade of the engines and threshers, which in count, rounds up to approximately 13. Demonstrations on corn grinding and corn shelling, saw mill, wood planing and shingle-making are given. Steam engine races take place, and there’s a kid’s versus small steam engine tug-of-war. On Friday, more than 50 kids and adults went to war with the small engine that just seemed to have a little more to give than the line of contestants trying to win.
“This is one of the few shows left in the whole region where we have a lot of steamers,” said Mike Levin, a volunteer operator from Olathe. “Most shows are lucky to have one or two steam engines. We used to run over a dozen, now we do about seven or eight at a time. You don’t get really too many, so it’s a special deal.”