POWER SHOW AND TELL
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Many who attend the Menno Pioneer Power Show are dazzled by the scope and scale of the power on display, which is most evident in the impressive live demonstrations that help highlight the two-day event held every September. Those live demonstrations — a living museum, really — include a sawmill, corn shelling, hay grinding and plowing, all exhibited by volunteers who understand what it takes to get the most out of the star of the show: Steam.
But there’s so much more to the Power Show, which was held for the 37th year in a row on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23 and 24 on Pioneer Acres, the site just north of Menno dedicated to the preservation of the history of the greater Menno area.
And it’s not all mighty in stature.
Look no further than Glenn Sorlien, who last weekend could been seen puttering around on a 1½ horsepower tractor with a Ford Model A transmission fit for a small child made generations ago in by the grandfather of a good friend.
“The little boy (his friend’s dad) always wanted to ride along on the tractor, but his dad thought that wasn’t safe, so he went to work and built him a little tractor of his own,” explains Sorlien, who is a 1979 graduate of Menno High School, has lived in Watertown for 40 years, is part of the Lonetree Creek Race Park family and hopes to soon move back to Menno in retirement.
“There’s really nothing to it,” Sorlien said of the small machine built in 1934. “It’s got forward and reverse, clutch, brake, both wheels drive, it steers easy and it’s just cuter than a pin.”
The tractor ended up in Virginia before finding its way back to the family, and that’s when Sorlien suggested to his friend that he take it down to the Power Show.
“He said, ‘That would be awesome; I want to see people enjoy it because it’s really unique,’” said Sorlien. “I get a lot of people talking to me and taking pictures; that fun and why I enjoy it.”
It’s the unique nature of the Power Show in general that keeps folks like Sorlien coming back year after year. Established in the Menno City Park in 1987, the show has grown into one of the area’s premiere annual events that continues to expand on the Pioneer Acres grounds from where it has operated since moving there in 1996.
“It’s really unique,” Sorlien said. “You see new stuff every year so it’s always worth coming. Everybody has a good time — as long as the weather’s good.”
There were certainly questions about that in the days leading up to this year’s Power Show. With a good chance of rain in the forecast on Saturday and a lesser chance on Sunday, many wondered what kind of impact the pending weather would have on the planned activities. But with the exception of showers Saturday morning that forced the cancelation of the tractor pull that afternoon, everything went according to plan.
“Not as wet as we thought,” said Daniel Harnisch, president of the Menno Heritage Pioneer Association that organizes and hosts the show.
Still, he said, “it was a little slow on Saturday because I think a lot of people were afraid of the weather.”
But Sunday’s crowd was on par with what is typical, which left folks like Sorlien delighting in the family-friendly, folksy atmosphere on Sunday.
Walter Goossen was, too, especially when leaning in for a closer look at some of the distinctive orange Allis-Chalmers tractors lined up for perusal — just like the one his dad, Wilhelm, bought in 1939 on the family farm near Monroe, and like two that Walter’s son, Steve, had on display at this year’s Power Show.
“I grew up with a tractor like this,” said Walter, who on Sunday afternoon was studying a 1936 WC with steel wheels owned by Del Mutschelknaus of Freeman. “Did a lot of cultivating with a two-row plow, and when I got bigger, he put rubber tires on and a starter.”
That marked a change in farming that has only continued exponentially.
“I don’t think I could farm they like do now,” surmised Walter, who still lives 2 miles north of Monroe with his wife, Janett. “It’s all automatic.”
For Gregg Peters, who grew up in Lennox and remembers going to Prairie Village “back in the day,” last weekend’s Power Show was his first.
“I think it’s great — I love it,” he said. “My dad always talked about this kind of stuff and this year my nephew said, ‘We’re going,’ and I said, ‘We’ll be there.’
Peters has lived in Alaska since 1978 and spent 32 years there as a mail carrier after retiring from the Air Force. He still has a 1919 Model T one-ton truck that his dad, Alfred, rebuilt, as well a 1926 auto that his mom will buy from him and give to her grandkids “so it stays in the family.”
Family — that’s what it’s all about for Gregg, who attended last weekend’s Power Show with six other family members and his wife, Donna.
“We take my tractor and my truck through parades and stuff, but we don’t have anything like this in Alaska,” he said. “My wife has never seen anything like this and she said, ‘Let’s go,’ and here we are.”
While it was cooler and damper than other years, the 2023 Power Show looked and felt familiar. Live demonstrations dotted the schedule both Saturday and Sunday, a antique car and tractor parade went off without a hitch both days, a sprawling toy show drew interest from casual passers-by and food stands were available — including the longstanding Sunday pancake and sausage feed put on by the Menno Community Club from inside the Big Red Barn.
There was a flea market to take in, historic outbuildings to observe and countless conversations shared — many of which no doubt revolved around the farming practices of yesteryear.
And there was plenty of action for the children to enjoy, from the barrel train to the kid-sized ferris wheel to the mini golf course and still-new carousel that opened three years ago.
And all of it was made possible thanks to an army of volunteers focused on the mission of the Power Show — to teach future generations about the past. That most certainly happened over the course of two days in Menno last weekend, and it most assuredly will again.
See Page 5A for more from the show.