Drivers, some wearing bib overalls, drove tractors down gravel roads inside the Stearns County Pioneer Club grounds north of Albany Sept. 16. Some were on their way to the display of International related equipment featured during this 47th annual Albany Pioneer Days.

It was the first day of the four-day show that took people back in time, whether watching an old-time farm machinery demonstration like threshing or the Wild West Show by the Wild Creek entertainers, attending Mass in the Arban church, purchasing items in the general store or hoisting refreshments while listening to music in the saloon. The west end of the grounds was filled with flea market vendors. 

“The people and the show,” was Victor Kotten’s answer when asked what keeps him coming back year after year. 

Kotten, driving his John Deere tractor pulling a trailer, has been shuttling people around the grounds for 18 years. 

“I got the next generation interested,” Kotten, of Farming, said. “My grandson, Travis Pundsack, is coming from Sioux Falls Saturday and Sunday,” to help out.

Kotten and Ron Keller, of Belgrade, were shuttling people around on this sunny and warm September morning. 

“They even let me bring my John Deere to an International feature,” Kotten said, smiling. 

The people is what has kept LeRoy Cronin, of Finlayson, and Chad Brannan, of Nowthen, part of the safety patrol, coming back for the past four years. Both credit friend, Gary Pilgrim, a Pioneer Club member, with their continued involvement. 

For the past five years, Leonard Wozniak, of Cokato, has been crafting items in the woodshop. He talks about the miniature Norwegian wood stove, that burns wood, sitting on the floor.

“People have asked me what I would do if it burns up,” he said. “I tell them I’d just sweep it up and make another one.” 

He also displayed crosses he makes, that people put up in their homes “to receive more blessings.”

“A few I’ve given to people going through hard times,” he said. 

Bernadine Sauer, of Pierz, sat behind fancywork she made in one of the old-time buildings. She has been selling her wares at Pioneer Days for 19 years.

“I always liked Albany,” she said when asked what drew her to Pioneer Days so many years ago. “My mother (last name Thelen) lived here when she was a kid, and my dad, Chris Pick, was from Spring Hill.” 

Deb Oswald, of Forest Lake, worked behind a 1924 sock-knitting machine, making a wool sock, in the parlor building where the sewing circle included quilting, rug weaving, crocheting and tatting. She pulled out a container of socks she made with an old-time machine. 

“It takes me about an hour to make a pair of socks,” she said. 

Near the Miniature Land section, Jason Lange, of Hector, Kyle Jaster, of Detroit Lakes, and Wesley Jaster, of Montrose, display a half-scale of a 40-horse Case steam engine. 

“It was built by my grandfather in 1958,” Lange said.  

Brennen Shay, of Albany; Marie Vouk, of St. Stephen; Greg Fuchs, of Eden Valley; Tim Piper, of Burtrum; and Tom Skudlarek, of Holdingford, sat around a tall table eating breakfast inside the café/saloon. Skudlarek, Stearns County Pioneer Club president, is quick to point out Shay is the Pioneer Club vice president, Fuchs is a director and Vouk and Piper are members, before he runs off to talk with Joe Gill on KASM Radio. Before that, he explained this year’s event was changed to four days instead of three days because there was no show last year due to the pandemic “and it was my first year as president.”

As the morning led into the afternoon, the grounds filled up with people and the demonstrations heated up, some, literally, as smoke could be seen rising from working machinery.  

Paul Gawrelak, of Roseau, sat on a bench in front of the saloon/café, taking in all the sights and sounds of Pioneer Days. He drove eight hours the day before to get to Albany. 

“It’s the best show I’ve been to,” he said.