By John Busbee
A pilgrimage to one of the greatest power events in the world should be on everyone’s Iowa cultural bucket list: The Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.
A few years after World War II ended, a group of four men — Clark Everts, W.E. (Ted) Detrick, Ray H. Ernst and Herman E. Elgar — were returning from the new Zehr Threshing Reunion in Pontiac, Ill. They conceived the idea of establishing a Midwest Old Threshers Association. After all, Henry County seemed to have an abundance of these old machines. In 1950, their vision became a reality when they formed the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association (MOSTA), a nonprofit organization.
During the 1950 Labor Day Weekend, Mount Pleasant’s inaugural two-day celebration of steam engines and separators was held. That initial exhibition displayed 15 steam engines and eight separators. An estimated 10,000 people attended the free-will offering event, with “Lunch … served on the grounds.”
That modest seed grew into the Old Threshers Reunion, southeast Iowa’s signature, five-day Labor Day celebration, attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually. During these five days, antique agricultural equipment takes center stage. These pieces are not just sedate anchored icons, but working examples of the equipment which drove America’s farm economy. This is about antique machines chewing up tons of wood and coal, steaming into ground-shaking life so those attending the festival can marvel at these bygone wonders. Visitors travel from around the world to immerse themselves into the smoky, steamy, noisy haven of America’s agrarian roots. Although the legion who operate these mechanical marvels has evolved from the original men who actually used this machinery in their farm operations to next-generation practitioners, the aroma, clamor and nostalgic appeal of the Old Threshers Reunion is attracting new generations into a multi-faceted, hands-on world of their ancestors.
The organization now produces, supports and presents an ever-expanding slate of year-round exhibitions, museums and events on their historic campus. Sharing top billing after the Old Threshers Reunion are the Heritage Museum, filled with a variety of exhibits that celebrate the rural heritage of the Midwest, and the Theatre Museum of Repertoire Americana. Through a diversified strategy of dovetailing additional historical facets into this destination-worthy ground, the MOSTA — familiarly known as the Association, has a broad spectrum appeal to historical adventurers.