One could say Jeff Pewitt has a fondness for the Boonville Steam Engine Show. He’s attended the event for 35 years. “I love it here,” he said.
Jeff and the 1920 Russell 25-75 steam tractor that he purchased 21 years ago have returned for the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association’s Back to the Farm Reunion and 55th Annual Steam Engine Association event that began Thursday and will run through Sunday. The show will include 300 tractors, 100 hit-and-miss gas engines, and a four-stroke internal combustion engine. About 7,000 people are expected to attend the four-day event.
Through Sunday, there will be threshing, blacksmith and field demonstrations with horses and trailers, straw baling with stationary balers and antique engines featuring Iowa built gas engines. Other activities include a tour of the Brady Farmhouse, horse powered sweep and threshing, quilting demonstrations, historical life skills demonstrations, flea markets, a petting zoo, gravel production and shingle making.
John Fortman, a deputy Emergency Management Agency director for Cooper County, said there is something for everyone at the event. “I like the whole thing,” he said. “I come out every year to (experience) this event. Every year I see something that is new.”
Dennis Fickin, one of the organizers, said the event keeps growing. “This is the biggest event we have in Boonville,” he said.
Jeff and his wife, Shelly, like to tell people about the past, when steam engine tractors were the norm, before the transition to more efficient gasoline-powered models.
The Pewitts, who live in Baxter, Minnesota, keep their steam engine tractor in central Missouri, because transporting it long distances would be difficult. Shelly Pewitt said, while the Russell Steam Engine is tough to transport, they also own a steam engine that is kept in Minnesota. Their steam engine tractor has a thresher, which separates grain from a plant, typically with a flail or by a revolving mechanism.
The Pewitts and their young son were constantly working Wednesday to keep their engine running well. Steam engines are fueled by burning combustible material — usually coal, wood or oil. Shelly cleaned the flues while Jeff threw in wood into the compartment to bring steam by fire.
Jeff has been hooked on steam since he worked on restoring a Russell steam engine, but he also enjoys the camaraderie this show has to offer. “It’s like having a reunion,” he said.
Pewitt said taking care of a steam engine requires a lot of work, time and money. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he said. “With it being a 100-year-old machinery it always needs something.”
In past years, teachers took their students to the steam engine show, and the Pewitts want to meet them again. “It’s a physics lesson on wheels,” Jeff said.