Steam Engine Day

Sometime in March, I was telling a coworker about how very, very much my Olin loves trains. She said, “Well, then you definitely have to go to Steam Engine Days in Mabel!” So, I put it on my calendar, and waited quietly.

Two weeks beforehand, I started working to afford it. (Or at least, planning how much of my paycheck it would take…)

A week beforehand, I told my husband to tell work that his real boss said he couldn’t work, today. (He laughed and said he was going to, just to see what his boss would say. I don’t think he followed through, though. hehe)

Today, I recruited my husband to help me get the kids dressed, told them we were going somewhere we’d never been before, and loaded everyone in the car. Mabel is 40-ish minutes from our house.

Our goal was to get there in time for the parade, but we shouldn’t have worried. We had time for lunch – half a barbequed chicken (seriously), baked beans, potato salad and a roll for $10 at the Lion’s Club tent. Not someplace I would normally eat, since it was also a beer garden, but my coworkers had assured me that it was the lunch to have at Steam Engine Days, and something you’d better get in line for early, because it disappeared quickly. I ordered three dinners and was able to very satisfactorily feed six people, with leftovers. We didn’t save them because we couldn’t in the hot weather, but there would probably have been enough for a seventh person to eat. And good chicken! I thought it was money well spent. We can’t take our whole family out to eat for less than $40 usually, anyway, so $30 was not unexpected.


AJ can’t help but photobomb, even when he’s supposed to be in the frame.


And poor Sera never seems to fit in the same frame, but she enjoyed the lunch nevertheless!

The Lion’s club tent happened to be smack dab in the middle of Main Street, a block from downtown, so when we heard the steam whistles blow and headed out the front, we had a pretty good view of the proceedings, and an excellent space from which to watch the parade.

(Please right-click if you want come back here easily. Embed does not, apparently, cooperate with me!) ((The preview screen for this is hilarious and YouTube’s choosing, not mine, by the way…)


The first of many, many…. many tractors.


It was the absolute longest parade I have ever witnessed in my entire life. It started at about 5 after noon (by my watch) and when we packed up and headed towards the historical society grounds at about 2:30PM, there were still three ‘floats’ that hadn’t made it to our position yet. The kids ate a cup of sugar each, we shared our haul, and still ended up coming home with a good five-pound bag of collected candy (mostly Frootsie Rolls). Enough to stock the candy jar well beyond Halloween, anyway, even after Parental Candy Tax. (An initial culling of all chocolate-based [excluding Tootsie Rolls] candies and any qualifying items of interest. Koozies, rulers and other durable items of interest are always seized by the State unless deemed worthless, and even then if determined a point of contention amongst citizens.)

The calendar for the entire weekend is packed full of events, many of which I would have liked to be able to pay more attention to, but the problem with having “family fun” is that the fun the parents get to have is watching the kids have fun, not actually having fun themselves. There were all kinds of things I would have liked to have studied, but what I got to do is herd two kindergarteners through a maze of approximately six gazillion antique tractors on display, while carrying (like a sack of squalling potatoes, not like a cute little person) a crazed toddler who was by turns screaming, “No! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! HALP! DAAAAADDDDYYYYY!!! HAAAAAAAAAALP!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and squirming like her pants were on fire, and chasing a person whose legs are approximately a foot longer than mine, who was in a single-minded hurry to reach the far end of the grounds. He was trying to find the remote-controlled airplane and helicopter demonstration – which I admit, I wanted to see as well – but we were fifteen minutes early and on the wrong end of the grounds, so what we got was a steam-powered traction engine powering an enormous belt that was driving an antique crushing machine, fed by an extremely modern mini-excavator. Fascinating to 1/3 of our party, amusing in its anachronism to me, and completely uninteresting to 1/2. I found a shiny new truck that cast shade with an acceptable view, and collapsed. Seraphine was quickly enthralled with the shiny bits in the paint on the truck. AJ crawled in to my lap, and Evie laid on the ground and complained about not having her shoes on.

Oh, I forgot about the reason Evie was screaming. For some reason, I was under the impression that there were bouncy houses on the grounds that were free for kids after the price of admission ($5 each for adults which includes a fun little commemorative button). So, our first stop was the bouncy castle area, which wasn’t cordoned off or otherwise marked. Olin and AJ pulled their shoes off and proceeded to go on the closest bouncy dump-truck slide. Evie wanted to go on a different bouncy castle, so we helped her get her shoes off, and on she went. After about a minute, the guy ‘monitoring’ Evie’s bouncy house said, “Oh, where’s her ticket?” What do you mean, ticket? The boys had gone down the dump truck slide about three times each by then and never been asked, so I was totally confused. “Yeah, you get your tickets over there,” the guy running Evie’s said. So, I went to look. Two bucks apiece or $10 for a bracelet. Holy bouncy houses! I paid for a ticket for Evie since that guy had insisted on one, and pulled the boys away. No bouncy house on the planet is worth two bucks a ticket for a climb-through-and-slide. Sorry. Thus, the heartbroken toddler as we made our way across the grounds.

The steam-powered crusher, thresher, chopper and whatever-else-machine-thingy were pretty cool, but I knew that with the flying corn, hay and wood dust in the vicinity, I would be completely incapacitated by allergies if I stuck around. Olin was having a flap-attack from sheer excitement, Tim was very interested and Evie seriously wanted some Daddy time, so I took Sera and AJ and wandered over towards the Heritage club barn, which I thought might house crafts or something.

Nope. Just another beer garden.


Although, one with a nice view of the antique demonstrations and truck pull area. (This is, by the way, only about a quarter of the grounds.)

So, we had a Razber-rita (8oz for $2.50, good grief!){Yeah, ok, I had a Razber-rita and didn’t share.} and headed back towards the busy area.

We went past some beautifully maintained and/or restored steam traction engines doing relatively impressive, hideously dangerous things with very, very long rubber belts.


AJ and Sera were not impressed.

So, we went to the ‘fair’ side. There, I was too busy or too sticky to actually take pictures. Our first stop was to seek out a funnel cake. AJ was convinced that he’d never tried one, so we bought a ‘mini’ one for $5(cripes!) and shared it very, very quickly. He was not as impressed as he is with cotton candy, but Seraphine appreciated it and so did I. Next, we went to the building marked “Steam Engine Museum”, which ended up having nothing whatsoever to do with steam engines, but was instead full of vendors of various expensive and unlikely things that AJ needed to touch. We managed to make it all the way around the ‘circle’ without anyone getting permanently lost or any merchandise being permanently broken, so we stopped at the very last(first) vendor to get AJ a toy car for $1. He chose a yellow one, and I also got Evie a green racing truck and Olin a sparkly, weird blue car because I knew there would be a revolution later when they noticed that AJ HAS SOMETHING.

In retrospect, I should have given the other two their vehicles as soon as I laid eyes on them. Or rather, as soon as they laid eyes on AJ’S THING. But, let’s be chronological here.

AJ, Sera and I decided that if we wanted to have supper (or revisit the merchants’ building, which was Mama’s secret plan) we needed more cash. I had pretty seriously underestimated how much the day would cost, and was out of available monies. I sent Tim a text to tell him where we were going, and AJ, Sera and I headed back in to Mabel proper to locate an ATM (a known location about sixteen blocks from the entrance, round trip). My original plan was to get the van, drive out to the main highway and stop at the gas station ATM. When I was a block away from the site, though, Tim texted to tell me he had the van keys. Someone happened to be walking by, so I flagged them down and asked if there was an ATM closer than the gas station. They directed me to the local bank, which thankfully had an open foyer with a highway-robbery ATM. At that point, I was willing to pay a $3 withdrawal fee (plus the $1 my bank charges) to not have to walk all the way out to BP.

Of course, there was someone already in there, and AJ had to check out what was on the screen, so he ducked under the guy’s arm and watched him do his thing. I scolded AJ and told him poking his head in to someone’s ATM withdrawal was a good way to get shot. He came out and proceeded to ask me a series of questions about why he can’t watch and how he can learn to get money out of machines when he was big that culminated in him being annoyed that he has to do his chores to be able to eat, and the guy at the ATM snickering under his arm as he left. Good thing we live in a friendly area, or AJ would have gotten himself in to real trouble. Although, maybe if we lived in a less friendly area, he’d be less willing to invade strangers’ spaces. I’m not sure on that one, and not willing to test it quite yet.

The bank was immediately adjacent to the intersection that had been designated the “Firemen’s Waterball”, and just as we crossed the intersection to head back towards the fairgrounds, they started a new round of the tournament. I don’t know how common a ‘thing’ this is, so I’ll explain: They take two cherry pickers, string a taut cable between, and hang a barrel from the cable. Two opposing teams of firemen (usually divided by township hereabouts) use their hoses to try to push the barrel far enough on to the other team’s side to win. It’s a municipally expensive and showy version of tug-o-war. It also provides a lot of collateral damage in the form of wet tourists.

In any case, we walked through about five yards of incredibly refreshing spray. I thought it was glorious, AJ was initially cautious and then excited, and Seraphine. Was. Not. Amused. What followed was about three blocks of me giggling and pushing the stroller while she wailed and various passersby either sympathized or laughed at her discomfiture. Nothing funnier than an unhappily-refreshed baby on a hot day!

As we re-entered the fairgrounds, we took an immediate right to the building that was the “real” reason I brought Olin and the family to this event: the model train display. I gave AJ the rules; “Don’t touch ANYTHING, don’t go where I can’t see you” and let him go. He regularly disobeys rule two, but not in an unrecoverable way, and knows #1 is sacred. After spending some time (and wasting a lot of time) on Olin’s train table downstairs, I have a certain amount of interest in how these things are actually built. I found a part of a display that I was impressed by, and asked the guy standing there how it was made. He said he had no idea because it was made more than 30 years previously, but suggested that the more impressive bluff-style parts of the layout were done using ceiling tiles. He didn’t have any more useful information than that and I was being pulled away by an AJ-centric desperate need to go potty and the arrival of the other half of our party (We did not get attacked by orcs while they were gone! Just, uh, brokeness and water spray…) so I didn’t ask any more at the time.

**This is a later addition, my apologies, but I had to clarify a facebook link post! When Tim, Olin and Evie were coming up the walk towards the model train building, there was a relatively short-statured man following close behind them with a tan cap on his head, wearing a burgundy/eggshell/cadet blue vertical-striped shirt, a pair of belted blue jeans slung below his belly, a black webbing strap across his chest and an overly-full breast pocket that looked so much like my father that I actually sought him out inside the model train building to see who he was. I would have approached him and told him how much nostalgic joy seeing his silhouette along with my family’s gave me, but I was sidetracked by more immediate concerns.**

After the potty break, we went back and Evangeline (who is, even at her most terrible, seemingly attractive to a certain type of woman) was enticed to “help” someone run their (G scale) train set and make it go ‘choo-choo!’ AJ had to try it out, as well, while Olin enthusiastically ran around and looked at everything but studied nothing. I eventually, in passing, learned that they used acoustic ceiling tiles for the bluff effect on the HO scale layout, but used wire mesh and plaster for most everything on the Z scale layout. Nothing helpful for me personally except to feel as though I should start again from scratch on the business downstairs at home.

Tim was starting to feel lightheaded from the wandering around and the kids were, of course, starving, so we went searching for lunch. Between here and lunch, though, was a train ride. The only ‘free after admission’ ride of the fair, of course, and one that AJ, Sera and I had taken earlier in the day as a sort of random side note.


All three kids had to take that ride, and it was the sign of a full plate for all, in retrospect.

In real time, AJ wanted a corn dog, but Tim wanted real food, so we ended up at the *** Lutheran tent. (There are, apparently, two competing Lutheran food tents in the immediate vicinity, so we went to the one closest to where we were at the time. I don’t recall the name after trying to wrangle the horde.) They had macaroni and cheese, so we had three (3) “mac-a-na-cheese”s, a barbecue for me, and a full dinner for Tim. $17.50. I shared my barbecue and part of Tim’s dinner with Sera, Evie swallowed hers whole, AJ ate his, and Olin completely spilled his in a desperate bid to steal AJ’s stupid toy car. I gave Olin and Evie their cars along with a lecture to Olin about how he was going to be hungry because he was too busy being jealous of AJ’s toy, and then left AJ, filling his truck’s bed with pepper from the communal shaker, in Tim’s care while I went looking for the rest of supper.

I had some graham crackers secreted in the bottom of the stroller, so I passed those out to interested parties, and then Olin, Evie, Sera and I ventured out to find AJ his corn dog without getting cotton candy for anyone else, since they had eaten a cup each of free candy during the parade. We did manage that particular accomplishment, re-communed and recombined with Daddy, and then he headed for the van with both girls and the stroller while I took both boys back through the vendors’ building, and then back to the model train barn.

Except that when we got there, it was 20 minutes after the place had closed (something I didn’t realize and really should have, because it was the ULTIMATE ANGUISH for one very tired and hopeful little boy). The doors were shut and locked, and we were out of luck. From there until bedtime, Olin’s number was up. He cried for five minutes while we waited for Daddy at the entrance (after texts to meet there, but probably before he was done changing diapers back at the van, and despite explaining that train-layout people need supper, too///) and then for a three-block walk while he wailed half a block behind us about how unfair life really was. I was specifically overtly ignoring him until we got back to the van. At that point, I realized that Olin had amassed a following of a half a block of slow-moving vehicles including a Sheriff’s car and two or three trucks with trailers. Either they understood the situation or were just glad he was out of the way, but no one even gave us a dirty look as we loaded up. Overtired and over-dramatic child is overtired and over-dramatic child, whatever the circumstance… At least in the Midwest.)

Time to load up, time to go home. Tim and I would have loved (him more than I, but they’re kind of fun) to see the truck pull, but we knew the kids were too fried for that much action, and I was pretty much too fried myself. Tim works hard during the week and likes to make the most of his weekends when he can, so I invited him to take my ‘button’ and go watch the pull with his friend, Heath, but of course Heath (a single farmer) was busy chopping, today. Make hay while the sun shines, right? Urgh.

All things considered, we had a pretty satisfactory day. Every single one of those Kelley children went to bed fed, entertained, loved and satisfied (if not overly-so) and that makes me happy.


And now, it’s time for bed for me, as well.

**Also added later: On the drive home, I told my husband about the man walking behind them who looked so much like my father. We had mentioned him and how much he would enjoy the display several times throughout the day, and Tim said, “I thought the same thing, “Greg would love this,” and I felt the Holy Spirit said, “Where he is is so much better…” RIP, Daddy. We definitely remember.**

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