The persistent patter of steam engines could be heard thumping away in western Jordan all weekend, as the Scott-Carver Threshers hosted the 56th annual Old-Time Harvest Festival near the county fairgrounds.

The annual show brings out old fashioned machinery, restored tractors, skill demonstrations, fresh food and cold beer every year. While tractor pulls and the antique tractor parade are big draws every year, there are sights and sounds to behold at many of the festival's standard exhibits. 

Here are three industrial marvels that were exhibited at the festival this year:

1. A printing revolution

Dave Zadra and linotype machine

Dave Zadra stands beside a 1931 Linotype. These machines revolutionized printing in the 19th century and were used to design the New York Times until 1978.

The print shop building is home to multiple typesetting and printing machines, but none of them changed the course of history like the Linotype.

"This revolutionized printing — period. Up until this point everything was hand-set. Every single letter, punctuation, spacing was all done by hand," said Dave Zadra, a Shakopee resident who volunteered his help at the print shop this year.

The Linotype is a line casting machine invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884. The machine cast molds of metal type using molten lead. Those molds would be used to form paragraphs and pages for newspapers, books and all kinds of other published works.

"A seasoned operator could produce up to 20 lines a minute," Zadra said.

The 1931 Linotype on display at the festival may be a later model, but it was built long before the machine reached obsolescence. Zadra said the New York Times was designed on Linotype until 1978.

"They had about 160 of them and these guys were all clicking away," he said.

Zadra developed an interest in printing machinery several years ago. He was originally interested in locomotives and built a train track in his backyard for his kids, but over the past few years he's seen himself collect more and more antique printing machinery. The hobby, he said, started out simple enough.

"The original reason I wanted this stuff was because I wanted to make train tickets for the kids," Zadra said. "I've been printing now for three years and I still haven't done that. I became fascinated with the workings of everything and all the mechanical stuff."

Line casting machines like the Linotype have become increasingly rare in the digital age, as many machines were dismantled and scrapped when print shops went out of business or upgraded to phototypesetting and lithography. That said, the complex machines are still appreciated by history buffs like Zadra.

"They're gorgeous, they're works of art,"  he said.

2. Last Garrett standing

Skelton with his Garrett road roller

Patrick Skelton stands beside his 1924 Garrett road roller — the last machine of its size in existence.

To the untrained eye, a 1924 Garrett road roller may look like any other antique tractor at the festival, but in reality it has two unique things going for it: it was manufactured across the pond and it's the last of it's kind.

"This is a rare one. It's the only Garrett of this size in existence," owner Patrick Skelton said.

The steam-powered tractor was built in England but spent its life in Ireland building roads. Skelton said smaller ones are still in existence, but the larger tractors were disassembled for the war effort in the 1930s and 40s.

"Everything in England went for scrap during the war," Skelton said.

Like the tractor, Skelton is from Ireland too. He resides in Bloomington and stores the tractor in Le Sueur. Skelton inherited his interest in steam engines from his father at an early age.

"He gave me my first steam engine when I was 2 years old. I still have it," Skelton said. "We've been with steam engines all our life, grew up with them. Most people had Tonka Trucks, we had steam engines."

Skelton said the large road rollers are highly sought after machines, and as such, are very expensive.

"Some of these will go for a million — just silly prices," Skelton said.

3. A permanent fixture

Vilter compressor engine

One half of the massive Vilter compressor engine that was once used to power the refrigeration system at the Armour Meat Packing Plant in South St. Paul.

Perhaps the most impressive display, in terms of sheer power, is the 1917 Vilter compressor engine. Unlike Skelton's road roller, the massive steam engine had a much shorter trip to the festival grounds, where it permanently resides. The engine was one of three ordered by Armour & Company in 1917 to be placed in their new meat packing plant in South St. Paul.

"The whole purpose of this engine was to refrigerate the meat packing plant," operator Al Gale said. "It's a steam-driven compressor engine. They used ammonia gas at the time to do the cooling."

The meat packing plant and the three steam engines were in operation from 1919 to 1979.

"Refrigerant was run through lines in the wall and that's what kept the meat locker cold," Gale said.

When the plant was demolished in 1989, the Scott-Carver Threshers were awarded one of the engines. The engines were disassembled and transported to the festival site over the following years as a permanent shelter was built. In 1996, the engine was installed and has since been a fixture and source of awe at the festival every year.


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