Steam School popular attraction on Old Threshers grounds

Curt Albrecht was flipping through a copy of Farm Collector when he happened upon an article about steam schools, listed among the places to attend was Mt. Pleasant?s Old Threshers; a place that holds a special place in his heart.

?I?m having a blast,? Albrecht said standing next to a steam engine. ?I never thought I?d have the opportunity to do that.?

The steam school was held during the weekends of April 28-29 and May 5-6 on the Midwest Old Threshers grounds. ?There are a lot of people out there that want to be able to know how to run a steam engine,? said Kristen Heerdt, of Midwest Old Threshers. The steam school began in 1981 and has remained popular ever since. ?We usually have a yearlong waiting list (to attend the school),? she said. The school rotates between being held one weekend and two weekends a year and draws attendees from all over the country. This year, the steam school was held on two weekends.

The first day of school is all classroom work, Bob Gilchrist, a 18-year-old Threshers board member who retired this past fall. In the classroom steam enthusiasts learn about engine safety, how they were built and how to operate them. Day two is hands-on learning. ?They get to come out and actually lean how to run (the engine).?

Mike Stapp, of Plattsmouth, Neb., was showing Albrecht, who traveled all the way from Tiskilwa, Ill., how to operate a steam engine. Stapp has been helping out with steam engines at Old Threshers for 14 years. ?I came over to the show 14 years ago and they haven?t gotten rid of me yet,? he joked.

Albrecht attended the first weekend and said he?d never imaged there would be so much to learn. ?I?ve learned everything ? from the design to how the engine works and the (different) safety features.? Albrecht added he was impressed with how many different motor designs there were for steam engines. ?I didn?t know there were so many different possibilities.?

?We tell the students you have to have a healthy respect for the engine,? Gilchrist said as he watched the six different engines being driven by students. ?Hopefully we?re developing people who are enthusiastic about steam engines. We want them to come back during the reunion and get involved.?

Albrecht said he knows he?ll make a return trip to the reunion. ?I have a special connection to the reunion,? Albrecht said.

In 1948, when Albrecht?s grandfather passed away one of his tractors was sold during an estate sale. Albrecht tracked down the man who bought the tractor. ?He still has it. He displays it here and he lets me drive it in the grand parade,? he said.

Albrecht brought his 92-year-old mother to the region recently. ?Mom found some pictures of her and her sister on the tractor when they were young; that?s become prized memorabilia.? Albrecht also found the original bill of sale for the tractor and gave it to its new owner. But that wasn?t it, he made sure his mother received her own memento. ?She got her picture with the tractor again after all this time.?