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Power of the Past celebrates agriculture's legacy

Mar. 23—GREENSBURG — Power of the Past, always scheduled for the third weekend in August, is one of the state's foremost antique farm machinery shows and will mark its 35th anniversary this year.

The five-day event spreads across the Decatur County Fairgrounds and features hundreds of tractors, combines, and other pieces of farm equipment, from the antique to the present. The event also features a massive flea market and draws vendors and antique machinery enthusiasts from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and beyond.

Attendance at the annual event has grown to more than 16,000 people.

The event's history

In 1988, Dale Wilson, a local farmer and machine enthusiast, wanted to start something like the antique machine shows he enjoyed attending in neighboring counties.

Feeling such an event might be of interest to other local farmers, Wilson talked it over with friends Mark Klosterkemper, Bob Anderson, Paul Vanderbur, Mark Waechter, Tom Striecker, Don Herbert and Fred Lee, and they agreed it could be a success.

After clearing it with the Decatur County Fair Board, the group jumped full force into pulling the first show together and was able to hold its first show the following August.

With everyone's hard work and effort, the first show was a success and drew more than 3,500 people.

"That first year we made enough money, so we decided to do it again," said current Power of the Past President Clark Martin.

In 1992, the tractor show, now at 300 attendants expanded from the midway to the field behind the fairgrounds.

Year by year, the festival grew — and so did the flea market!

Someone needed to take charge of the growing flea market vendor list, so in 2009 Kim Carpenter was brought into the fold.

Carpenter takes care of booking the flea market vendors and managing the fairgrounds' campsites during the event. In 2021, Carpenter booked 18 food vendors and food trucks to feed the crowds.

"She gets things done, so we leave her alone and let her do her own thing. I just don't think we'd be good at it," organizer Tom Cherry said.

A giant circular sawblade, painted by a friend of the festival, is placed outside the Decatur County Fairgrounds in August to herald the annual show.

On the blade is the festival logo (a tree growing out of an antique tractor), which was drawn by original organizer Bob Anderson on a beverage napkin.

A typical festival schedule

Every year's show is different, but a basic order of events is followed.

Each morning begins at 8:30 a.m. with the raising of the United States flag and the singing of the National Anthem.

Attending vendors usually set up on Wednesday to prepare for the customers they'll meet during the show and run from 8:30 to 8 or 9 p.m. in the evenings.

Tractor enthusiasts register for the distance pull event which usually begins at 6 p.m. on Thursdays.

Fridays feature horse and wagon rides, a tractor cruise-in, BINGO, and a music jam in the Farm and Home Building. At 6 p.m., the Memorial Stock Tractor distance pull gets underway at the Grandstand, and the adult pedal-pull takes place in the Headquarter's Building.

Also on Friday, the flea market vendors are open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., with toy show vendors operating until 8 p.m.

Saturday morning begins with a wagon train at 9 a.m., and more BINGO and tractor games in the Tractor Field.

After the noon hour whistle comes the old-time Fiddle Contest in the Farm and Home Building at 1 p.m. and the Dan Wilson Memorial Parade around the midway.

Later are the kid's pedal pull contest, kid's games, a Catholic Mass in the Farm and Home Building, and a miniature horse pull.

The evening consists of a student jam in the Farm and Home Building, a professional heavyweight horse pull at the Grandstands, and a "Spark Show" in the steam engine area.

The final day of the festival (Sunday) usually begins with a Vesper service in the Farm and Home Building and an auction at 9 a.m. Cherry organizes the auction, which is usually scheduled for the last day of the festival. In 2023, it grossed more than $250,000!

The future

Both Cherry and Martin are animated when they talk about the festival. They have been with Power of the Past (both have served as president) for most of their lives and remain excited about the annual show.

Cherry stepped out while he raised his children, but his devotion to the festival is unflagging. And with such a long history of success and growth, both men are willing to continue.

But there is a problem.

"We're in the process of trying to hand this off. If we don't, it's gonna die," Cherry said.

The unofficial theme for the future of the Power of the Past is "passing it on." Younger board members are eventually taking over the massive task of putting on the annual event, but the fear is that the love of farming and the old ways aren't as exciting to younger generations. So, the two men do their best to make it appealing to younger people.

"I don't think those original guys ever dreamed it would as big as it is now," Martin said.

Powers of the Past officers are Clark Martin, Joe Mobley, Tom Cherry and Lana Martin.

Directors are Jason Barhorst, Bryan Cathey, Casey Clark, Cory Crafton, Clay Hunger, Chaela Martin, Frank Narwold, Owen Ortman and Blaine Schroeder.

Show dates for the 2024 show are Aug. 14 to 18.

Power of the Past is a non-profit organization. To learn more, go to www.greensburgpowerofthe past.org.

Bill Rethlake: bill.rethlake@greensburgdailynews.com or 812-651-0876.