Steam Engine Days to commemorate 20-year anniversary of 9/11

By Jennifer Bissell

The 69th annual Mabel-Hesper Steam Engine Days will honor American heroes this weekend.

The 69th annual Mabel-Hesper Steam Engine Days will honor American heroes this weekend.
Celebrated Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 9-12, in Mabel, Minn., this year’s event will commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11. With activities ranging from parades to live music to kids’ activities, this year’s theme is “Steaming Together to Remember.”

The oldest steam engine show in Minnesota had humble beginnings back in 1953. With the increase in people using gas engines and other new technology, a few local farmers felt like the history of steam engines shouldn’t be forgotten. Held first at the Gerhard Clauson farm just east of Hesper, the event bloomed the next year at the Charlie McMillen farm west of Hesper after organizers publicized the event further. By 1960, it was moved to Mabel, with an expanded entertainment option including queen contests, sporting events and more. 
Each year, roughly 35,000 people attend the weekend events. 

Activities kick off Thursday night with the beef sandwich meal, as well as the tractor parade from Hesper to Mabel. Vertigo will play at the American Legion Hall from 8 to 11 p.m. 
Friday, the Mabel-Canton football team will take on Leroy-Ostrander at 7 p.m. DJ Stash will play at the Mabel Lions Beverage Tent while Palomino will take the stage at the American Legion Hall.
Saturday, things ramp up with the co-ed softball tournament beginning at 8 a.m. After a morning of activities like the farmers market and quilt and craft shows, the Main Street Parade of steam engines and tractors will be the highlight, beginning at noon. 
Immediately after the parade is the festival parade, with the theme of “Steaming Together to Remember – 9/11 Never Forget.” Stage activities include the Little Miss Mabel pageant and the presentation of the queen candidates and coronation of the queen. The kids’ pedal pull/tractor pull will be after the coronation. There will be kids’ activities, bean bag tournament and bingo Saturday afternoon. The Tri-State Pullers Truck/Tractor Pull begins at 6 p.m. Admission is $15 for anyone over 12 years old. 
The evening will conclude with Triple Threat playing at the American Legion Hall and Trouble Shooter at the Mabel Lions Beverage Tent.
Sunday starts with an ecumenical church service on the stage. The Main Street Parade of steam engines and tractors will begin at noon, followed by the festival parade. Afternoon highlights include the kids in the straw coin find, The Bruce Bearinger Band, The Toe Tappers, Walter Bradley, Cindy Seabright & Leonard Leutink Band and Lions Club mutton busting. Activities conclude with the raffle drawings, including the top prizes $7,500 and a 1974 Oliver 1655 Diesel Tractor. 

Honoring history
Because this year’s event falls on the anniversary of September 11, grand marshals for the Saturday parade are all the local EMS. There will be representatives from the Mabel Fire Department, Mabel Ambulance, Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department, Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Department, Decorah Fire Department and Winneshiek Medical Center. 
Sunday’s grand marshal is Linda Wilder. Wilder has been a key part of planning the parade since 1992. She retired from her duties this year. 

While admission to the grounds is free, the committee is selling 500 commemorative buttons. Raffle tickets are also available at local businesses and at the event grounds. For the complete schedule and a Steam Engine Days history, visit

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