Holding On To History: Steam tractors live on at Lakehead Harvest Reunion

Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 10:24 PM CDT
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ESKO, MN. (Northern News Now) - The air around Esko gets awfully smoky when the annual Lakehead Harvest Reunion brings out the multi-ton iron dinosaurs known as steam tractors. Nick Blotti has owned this 1903 Minneapolis machine since 1960.

“This engine originally come from Kettle River, it was used to run a sawmill and then the sawmill burned up.” said Blotti.

The first steam tractor was built in 1860 and it set fire to the covered bridge it crossed on its maiden run. Spark arrestors solved that problem by the time Minneapolis started building rigs in 1887. They were expensive so farmers pooled their money.

“A whole section had one engine and one threshing machine and they went from one farm to another.” said Blotti.

Nick is 80 years old now so his granddaughter Brandi helps run the tractor. She grew up on the behemoth.

“Yup, I rode on it the first year after I was born on one of the tool boxes on the back with my parents holding me.” said Brandi Bauer.

The monster sized Minneapolis makes 18 horsepower and can burn anything to do it.

“We use wood as our fuel source but you can use coal, straw or corn.” said Bauer.

There are at least 30 steam fairs in the United States similar to the one held in Esko since 1961. Here, the state of Minnesota, for example, still licenses the ancient boilers.

“It could essentially be a bomb on wheels if your don’t take care of it and get the inspections when you are supposed to.” said Brandi.

The era of steam tractors faded after 1929 when the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company became Minneapolis Moline and gas and diesel machines took over on farms. Nick Blotti and his tractor were among the founders of the Harvest Reunion in 1961. He’s been taking part for 62 years to preserve the ways of agriculture in the old days.

“It’s part of our heritage and it’s fun to keep that going to let the young people know what they did.” said Nick.

He and Brandi will be back next year to fire up the Minneapolis for its 124th year.

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