Shirktown Threshing Day Draws Big Crowds

8/21/2010 2:00 PM
By Joyce Zimmerman, Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — Judging by the number of young people attending the annual Shirktown Threshing Day held recently at Big Spring Farm near New Holland, Pa., it is not just old-timers who are interested in recreating the sights, sounds and excitement of threshing time on the farm.
The annual event, held the first Saturday in August, was started about 18 years ago by Bob Shirk, and is a true celebration of antique agricultural technology.
“In the past, Threshing Day was held on a farm near Churchtown, but this year it moved to the Big Spring Farm,” explained Raymond Zimmerman, president of the Swiss Pioneer Preservation Associates (SPPA). The SPPA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the religious and cultural values and character of the Swiss pioneers that settled the Weaverland Valley.
Throughout the day, huge steam engines smoked, whistled and bellowed, while work horses stomped and snorted. Both were waiting their turn to demonstrate their power when harnessed to the numerous threshing machines on display. The crowd of onlookers, which included both locals and tourists, watched in awe at the amount of horsepower and manpower needed to thresh grain in the “good old days.” Even more mind-boggling is all the work that had to be completed before the threshing began — the grain was cut in the fields, tried in bundles, loaded on wagons and hauled to the threshing machine. Of course, after the threshing was complete, the grain and straw still had to be stored for the winter, another chore testing the strength and stamina of everyone involved.
Zimmerman, like many attending the event, is captivated by antique farm equipment and is a walking encyclopedia with a head full of facts, figures, dates and other information. “This machine is called a groundhog thresher,” he explained, while pointing to a smaller thresher powered by a hit-and-miss engine. “It dates to the 1840s and is actually a pre-threshing machine. It would have been run by water power or by horses — definitely not by this engine. Hit-and-miss engines did not become popular on farms until the early 1900s.”
“The big threshers took over in about 1875 and were run by horse power,” he continued. “By the early 1900s, steam engines to power threshing machines became popular and began replacing horsepower for threshing on many farms.”
Other kinds of antique tractors and farm machinery were also on display during the day’s events.
In addition, demonstrations of sawing wood, crushing stones, bread breaking, chair caning and other farm and domestic trades were ongoing. Of course, no threshing day is complete without lots of good hearty food. Everything from chili cooked in iron kettles over an open fire to ice cream made in a freezer powered by a hit-and-miss engine was on-hand.
Big Spring Farm is a work in progress for the SPPA. After receiving the property in a bequest from the Paul Martin estate, the nonprofit organization erected a pole-type building to house its collection of antique farm equipment and household items. Future plans include restoring the house, barns and other buildings. One of their most rewarding accomplishments so far is reassembling the 1786 Peter Martin log cabin.
“The Peter Martin log cabin was located about one-fourth mile from here,” said Zimmerman. “It was dismantled in 1973, and there was no place to re-erect it until Paul Martin willed Big Spring Farm to SPPA.”
Cabin reconstruction work began in 2008, and with the use of detailed pictures, measurements and drawings saved from the disassembly, reached completion in 2009.
For information about the event, contact Bob Shirk at 610-286-9626. Information about the SPPA can be obtained by contacting Raymond Zimmerman at 717-354-7139.

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