Volunteers Brandon Inman (foreground) and Colby Ryan (background) load the thresher during the 50th annual Cowlitz Prairie Grange Threshing and Gas Show in Toledo last Sunday. Wheat fed into the thresher was provided by grange member Lewis Zion, while much of the leftover straw will be used by thresher organizer Dan Lewis for the animal rescue shelter at Lewis' house.
What started 50 years ago as a simple social gathering among grange members has turned into a major fundraiser and agricultural exhibition for the Toledo community.
The Cowlitz Prairie Grange celebrated the diamond anniversary of its annual Threshing and Gas Show over the weekend, as the event continues to pick up more vendors and volunteers.
"We get larger every year," said grange member Sam Zion, stating the event has grown since its inception but has really taken off in the last decade or so.
Zion said the bee has served as the grange's primary fundraiser during the year and is able to help them contribute to programs such as scholarships for local students, the Toledo Senior Center, 4-H, FFA, Boy Scouts and the Toledo Food Bank.
Zion was quick to mention many volunteers who have "put their shoulder to the wheel" to sustain the threshing bee, including Pauline Pierce, who has had the distinction of being involved with all 50 threshing bees since 1964. Typically found helping to serve food during the bee and at the grange Saturday evening, Pierce said she is pleased to help in any capacity organizers need her to.
"We've tried to improve it throughout the years," she said, stating the early years of the bee were held at the field of Francis Borte before moving briefly to the farm of Bill Raupp and finally to its present location at property owned by Bob and Ruth Herren.
According to Pierce, the bee once featured horse-pulling contests, similar to modern tractor pulls, as well as buggy rides, which have found themselves replaced by small carts pulled with tractors. There were even times when volunteers brought threshing machines they had designed and built themselves, she said.
While the bee is populated by many volunteers who have dedicated some of the last several decades to the event, it is also finding new community members becoming involved, some of whom had little or no exposure to agricultural work beforehand.
Resident Dan Lewis said, when he was contacted by bee organizers to oversee operation of the threshing machine, his lack of experience, growing up as a surfer rather than a farmer, did not stop him from wanting to help.
"They're all my neighbors, so I had to help them out, you know," he said. "This is a community, man, you got to keep it a community."
And while community efforts are growing to keep the bee a regular local event, Zion said current grange members are finding themselves becoming too old to keep up with the needs of bee leadership and are encouraging area residents, including youths, to become involved.
"They need members," he said, stating not only the Cowlitz Prairie Grange is in need of new participants but granges all over the area.
Many granges are now overseeing junior grange programs for students 5 to 14 years old, and those interested in participating in the Cowlitz Prairie Grange's program can call Julie Broussard at (360) 864-8740, Jan Baker at (360) 785-0443, or Helaine Gallanger at (360) 262-9106.
With the 51st annual threshing bee on the horizon, community members needed to help with food, set-up, vendors and, of course, threshing, and those interested in lending a hand, or in grange activities in general, can call Louis Rohrig at (360) 864-2744.
John Deere tractors were displayed in proud formation to represent the area's agricultural heritage, many of which are still put to work today.
A tractor owned by Francis Borte was on display to commemorate Borte's contributions to getting the bee started 50 years ago, as his farm was the original location for the event.
The official Threshing Bee Band took the stage again this year, with its membership continuing to grow.