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What Are Steam Engine Shows?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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Popular in farming areas as well as metropolitan regions, steam engine shows offer a detailed look into the past when steam ruled the mechanized world. Often referred to as threshing shows due to the type of working demonstrations offered for viewing, steam engine shows commonly feature working, full-size equipment such as grain threshers, locomotives and heavy earth-moving equipment. Also featured in most steam engine shows are the smaller steam engines used to power home sawmills, water pumps and automobiles. Whether they are fired with coal, wood or kerosene, steam engines are a powerful draw for people wanting to see the way some jobs were done by their forefathers.

Many steam engine shows include a fan favorite, "Parade of Power." This involves lining up all of the self-propelled steam engines and equipment and driving them, parade-style, around an area of the show grounds. Billowing black smoke, the antique-steam engines lumber across the grounds of many steam engine shows sending tremors and vibrations through the feet of the onlookers. The operators of the steam engines typically toot steam whistles and horns. This parade is commonly followed by demonstrations of threshing grain from crop plants, cutting lumber in a makeshift lumber mill and occasionally processing sorghum plants to begin the sugar-making process.

For most people, steam engine shows provide the only means of witnessing the antique behemoths either sitting still or actually operating. Many of the once plentiful steam engine models are the sole survivors of a bygone era, and the steam engine shows give the owners an opportunity to showcase not only their restorative skills, but the steam engine itself. Occasionally, one of the steam engine shows will be held adjacent to a railroad line, allowing owners — typically clubs — to bring a steam-powered locomotive and other steam-powered track maintenance equipment out for the public to see.

Due to the sheer size of much of the steam-powered machinery, some of the larger pieces are owned by clubs and are left at the show grounds year round. While not actually steam-powered, small hit-and-miss fuel engines are often part of the steam engine shows. This is partly due to the fact that many steam equipment owners also own the small fuel-powered hit-and-miss engines and partly because the sound of the little engines popping off all day long adds to the ambiance of the by-gone era replicated at the show.

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