Updated: October 1, 2012 5:03PM
Regardless of the weather, it will be steamy over the long holiday weekend as the Hesston Steam Museum hosts its biggest event of the year, the 56th annual Hesston Steam and Power Show, Friday through Labor Day.
“Visitors will see a lot of machines when walking onto the grounds, and a fun, action-packed museum campus with great food, a flea market with antiques, and a festival-like atmosphere,” said Ted Rita, museum general manager.
Locomotive rides are among the museum highlights any weekend it is open, from spring up to the Christmas season.
“We’ll have three scales of steam locomotives running, including the big Shay logging locomotive, a 67-ton (engine) that was built in 1929 and was used to haul logs from the woods to the logging camps,” Rita said. “Kids really like the one-eighth scale railroad which has rails that are only 71/2 inches apart. You sit outside on the small cars and go for a mile-long ride through the woods.
“Like the larger ones, these are also steam locomotives powered by shoveling coal into the boiler. We’ll also have one-quarter size locomotives running, the kind that were built for amusement parks from the 1930s.”
But trains are just one of the many types of steam-powered equipment that will operate this weekend at Hesston. Others include a popcorn popper from the early 1900s, tractors, threshers and the 1909 power plant that originally generated electricity for the LaPorte Courthouse.
“We invite collectors to bring out their items to display for the public,” Rita said. “We expect to have about 200 old tractors, but we’re never sure exactly what we’ll get, only that there will be a lot of variety ... . Another nice thing is that our volunteers are very knowledgeable and always make time to talk to the guests and answer questions.”
One thing he said many visitors find interesting is the steam sawmill that was built in 1900.
“We load logs into the mill with a 92-ton steam crane,” Rita said. “The mill has a huge 60-inch-diameter saw blade that cuts the tree trunks into boards for our customers and for our use here on the grounds. ...
“I hope one thing that comes across at the museum campus this weekend is that steam powered practically every aspect of life until it was phased out in the 1940s. We’ll have a steam crane and a diesel crane operating side by side, so you can see how much easier it is to operate the diesel. That steam crane takes about two hours to get going, where the diesel, you just get it lubed, fired and it’s going.”
The Hesston Steam and Power Show will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday. There will be a daily all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Admission to the grounds is $5 for adults, with children ages 12 and younger admitted free. Look for the $1 off admission coupon in the paper. Train-ride tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children. On Friday, train fares are half-price for senior citizens.
The Hesston Steam Museum is at 1201 E. County Road 1000N, northeast of LaPorte. To get there, take Interstate 94 to Michigan Exit 1 and go south to County Road 1000 North. From there, follow signs east to the museum grounds. Find more information online at www.hesston.org.