Show gives future generations a living history of steam power

Columbia Daily Tribune
Published Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In 1964, a group of 34 Central Missourians gathered to form the Missouri River Valley Steam Association, taking a huge step toward the preservation of our past and leaving future generations a living history of the days when steam powered our nation.

Seven of the original members are still with us, and they and members of the families of those no longer with us will be honored at 3 p.m. Friday with placement of a commemorative stone monument at the entrance to the Brady Showgrounds at the junction of Interstate 70 and Missouri Highway 179 - exit 111, just west of the Missouri River bridge.

The unveiling of the commemorative stone is a featured part of the annual steam extravaganza which opens at 8 a.m. tomorrow and continues through Sunday afternoon.

The seven living members of the original 34 all plan to be on hand for the unveiling. They are Frank Warmbrodt, Jr., Dean Schrader, Stanley Perry, Dub Leach, Milford Haller, Adolph Hilden and "Oil" Bill Clark, not to be confused with "Music" Bill Clark or the author of this column.

They can take pride in being responsible for giving us the living history that had been their original goal.

More than 10,000 steam aficionados, history fans and interested folks will join a small army of competitors and those exhibiting the skills of yesteryear to bring to centuries of steam back to life.

For $7.00, a four-day pass will give you a chance to watch threshing, rock crushing, lumber sawing, blacksmithing, straw bailing with a stationary bailer all with steam poser. You'll see field demonstrations with both horses and tractors, molasses making, and an antique car show highlighted by the 100-year anniversary of the Ford Model T. Many old towns will be on hand.

At 3 p.m. each day, the Parade of Power will wind through the grounds. Included will be 300 old tractors, eight huge steam engines and half a dozen model steamers.There will be an Altman-Taylor 30/60 with eight foot drive wheels and the Twin city 40-65 which weighs 13.5 tons.

There will be horse-pulling contest, heavy and garden tractor pulls and even a pedal pull. For the kids, there is a barrel train and a train operating on two-foot gauge tracks. And no old-time steam show is complete without a fiddlers' contest. You get the idea about living history.

One of the most popular events is a tour of a 1920s farm house. The farmhouse, which is the centerpiece of the 80-acre Brady Showgrounds, was owned by Arnold Brady. Built in 1879, it is maintained by the steam club ladies.

When the steam society formed in 1964, it was a part of the Youth Fairgrounds southwest of Boonville. Brady had maintained the family farm until the mid 1990's. He did not want the family place to be sub-divided upon his death, so he worked out a deal to sell the farm to the steam society, primarily because Dennis Ficken, the society president at the time, was the owner of the Missouri River Tire Company located across Highway 179 from the farm. The purchase was finalized in 1997 and since 2000, the steam society has a permanent home the Brady Showgrounds. Talk about a win-win deal!

The society today has more than 220 members mostly Missourians but also from such distant places as Florida and Texas. The current president is Roy Koirtyohann, a retired chemistry professor from the University of Missouri, who has lived the past week in his trailer home on the showgrounds, supervising its readiness for tomorrow's opening.

Roy has been a society member since 1987. His dad had run a country sawmill near Washington when Roy was young. When Roy first came to the steam show, the old sawyer in him complained about the sawing exhibition. The reaction from the president at the time? "If you can do it better, then you're in charge." And he has been for two decades. He's now known as "the Sawing Professor."

Dennis Ficken joined the association in 1983. He had started his tire business in 1973 in the flood plain near Snoddy's Store just across the Missouri River from Boonville. When the flood of 1993 wiped him out, he opened across the highway from the Brady farm on a ridge top, far from the river, and it is in his air-conditioned office that Roy and the staff do their planning.

Roy's evaluation: "We're not the biggest steam show around we're just the best."

You have the next four days to evaluate his judgment.

Reprinted with permission from Columbia Daily Tribune.