Rollag, Minn.

The whirring, clacking and rattling of old-time machines returned to Rollag on Friday.

That's why Jim Hokenson and his son Collin returned, too.

Collin loves anything that looks like a train, makes noise or whistles, his father said.

At the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, with antique tractors, trains, cars and engines of all sorts on display, 2-year-old Collin was in the right place.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"He just didn't know which way to look or what to do with himself," said Hokenson, who was also joined by his wife, Jane, and 5-year-old son Matthew. "There's so much of it. At times, it's almost overwhelming."

The 52nd annual reunion kicked off its four-day run on Friday. About 28,000 people, many staying through Monday, were expected to attend over Labor Day weekend, said Jerry Swedberg.

About 1,500 volunteers will be on hand to keep the reunion running on all cylinders, he said.

Swedberg is co-chairman of the Otto Engine expo, one of the featured displays at the reunion this year.

Nikolaus August Otto was the co-inventor of the first internal combustion engine in 1876. He designed the four-stroke Otto cycle nine years later, which was used in automobiles and airplanes.

Swedberg said the reunion features 50 Otto Engines, about half of those believed to exist in the United States.

"The average show like this doesn't even have one" Otto Engine, he said.

Twenty of those Ottos are owned by Jim Withers, a 71-year-old retired machinist from Osakis, Minn.

Withers said he has the largest collection of Otto Engines in the world. He said there are about 300 of them worldwide.

"There's not enough for everybody, especially when one guy's got 20," he said.

Withers began collecting Ottos shortly after he began collecting other engines five decades ago.

Swedberg said a typical Otto Engine is worth about $15,000, and some are valued as high as $250,000.

Withers, who said he loves his engines so much he can sleep near them as they run, didn't want to speculate on the value of his collection.

"They're not for sale, so we don't talk about that," he said.

Ottos are not the only engine Withers collects. He also owns the giant engine built by John De La Vergne that was on display at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis and has had a home in Rollag for nearly 30 years.

The engine's glow plug must be heated for at least 20 minutes with a propane torch to ignite the 400-ton behemoth every morning.

"It takes a little doing," said Tom Mickelson, a turkey producer from Frazee, Minn., who was manning the booth Friday where the engine is displayed.

The Hokenson family was checking out the La Vergne engine after a ride on the carousel, where Matthew was all smiles.

Collin preferred watching the churning of the massive engine.

Not everybody came to Rollag for the machines.

Marv and Lois Olson of Sisseton, S.D., came with another couple from Watertown, S.D., to square dance.

In the first of three square-dancing sessions Friday, the retirees were shuffling and twirling their way around the floor, Lois' red, white and blue skirt sporting the same pattern as Marv's tie.

The Olsons hadn't been to the thresher's reunion in several years. They were glad to be back.

"We like to look and we like to do our square dancing," Marv Olson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535