It was just about this time three years ago Amsey and Eileen Metzger hosted the last-ever Waterloo County Steam Threshers’ Reunion on their Wallenstein farm.
The event was both a showcase of the steam threshing technology of ages past, vintage tractors and farm equipment, as well as a gathering place for many people to come out and have fun. The pair faithfully hosted the event for 11 of its 25 year-run, beginning in 2008.
At the event’s largest, they saw 700 or 800 people come out to their farm, the couple noted.
Amsey says, he felt it important to, “show people how things were done years ago, and how the old steam engine was used, the stooks and a lot of hard manual labour that was involved. To show the young generation how things were done.”
The men would take shifts working on the threshing, putting the steam thresher in place, fixing the belt and other pieces of the equipment, stoking the fire, adding more material to the fire, gathering the grain and feeding the thresher. At least one year they had two threshers, said Amsey.
“We used (them) for a slow race, the two of them. To see which one could go the slowest, instead of the fastest. And we did the same thing with tractors too,” he said.
Meanwhile the ladies would prepare and serve the food. A corner of the big tent was set aside for ladies to quilt as well.
A tractor tour usually went out on Thursday mornings. This was a parade of vintage tractors, chugging one-by-one on a route that Amsey would plan out ahead of time through the countryside, fields and across the Conestogo River. Afterwards, participants would come back for brunch.
Friday night featured a gospel sing, an auction and a corn roast. Included every year was a toy tractor-trailer truck the group had specially made with vintage tractors on the side. The corn was actually cooked using the steam from the steam engine. The steam would be directed with a hose into a barrel, which would be packed full of corn, said Eileen.
“Oh, people always made a big fuss how good it tasted,” Amsey said. People could dip the corn in warm butter, and salt was also provided.
Other events included a tractor pull for the kids, and an “antique tractor pull for the adult boys,” he said with a laugh. There was usually a spot for barbeque and homemade ice cream as well.
People came from as far as Toronto, Bowmanville, and Barrie, Amsey said.
They remember the event fondly, but it took a lot of work to host.
For weeks ahead of the event, the Metzgers would be getting everything ready on the farm. This included preparing the grounds, getting the grass off the fields in time, marking out where the big tent would go, navigating permissions with the township, helping those who would come weeks ahead of time to set up the old tractors.
“There were just 100 other things to get ready,” said Amsey. “And they had to get the tent up a couple days before,” added Eileen, though Amsey only needed to mark where the tent company should set up.
Were there times they didn’t want to do it anymore? Eileen laughs. “There were times when you kind of wondered, ‘Why do we have to have it again?’”
But it was a community effort to put the event on, they both said. They relied on other invested families to help run the event, and of course they relied on family as well.
“That is one thing we certainly should mention, if it wouldn’t have been for our family, if it wouldn’t have been for them, it would have been a lot harder,” Amsey said.
Amsey became interested in steam threshing when he heard about the runion event. The first one took place east of Heidelberg on Amos Hoffman’s farm. Amsey heard about it, and decided to show his 1956 two-cylinder John Deere tractor. From then, he was hooked.
He became involved in the committee, helping to organize the event and even served as president for a few years when no one else wanted to do it, he said.
Amsey says that when steam threshers were commonly used, farmers would be less isolated, and work together in groups. About four or five neighbours would work together with one threshing machine, going from field to field helping each other out. They wouldn’t finish one person’s whole property before moving to the next, but instead, worked pieces of each other’s land at a time, completing the work amongst each others’ properties. He says they would probably each own shares in one machine.
The Waterloo County Steam Threshers’ Reunion was originally started in 1994 by a group who wanted to fundraise for an organization called World Missionary Press.
Eventually the steam threshers formed a committee and the funds raised each year went to various charities. The last charity to receive funds was the Woolwich Thrashers, sledge hockey organization.
Amsey says the committee’s treasurer calculated the organization had raised upwards of $100,000 for charity over the 25 years it ran, averaging between $3,000 and $6,000 raised each year.
“That’s what really gave me a great feeling, kept me going, that there would be some left to give to people,” he said.