The Cowlitz Prairie Grange Threshing Bee has been an annual staple of summertime in Toledo since 1964. How many more years it stays that way remains to be seen.
A 10-year lease for the event to be held at 155 Buckley Road, about three miles north of town, expired at the conclusion of the most recent Threshing Bee on Aug. 25. The property owner, Ruth Herron, recently turned 100, but remains in good health, according to friends.
Lewis Zion, former master of the Cowlitz Prairie Grange, said the event will remain on Herron’s property for as long as she lives, but that the family will look to sell the property after she passes on. Members of the Herron family did not return calls seeking comment prior to press time.
The Grange plans to seek a year-to-year lease and expects to hold a Threshing Bee next summer, but isn’t planning further ahead than that.
“If we couldn’t do it there, we could see about having it somewhere else,” said Tom Boone, an officer with the Cowlitz Grange. Boone has not missed a Threshing Bee since the inaugural one in 1964, save for the two years he spent stationed off the coast of Vietnam with the U.S. Navy.
“Ruth’s son and daughter were there this year and want to have it again next year, so it sounds pretty good on that front,” Boone said. “We’re going to keep holding it for as long as we can, that’s for sure.”
The Threshing Bee centers around tractors and other old farming equipment such as separators and threshers. Central to the two-day event are tractor pulls that often feature more than 100 entries and as many as 110 vendors selling crafts, antiques and food.
Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund bemoaned the potential loss of the threshing bee earlier this week. She is a regular attendee and feels particularly drawn to the old machinery due to her own upbringing on a farm.
“I have always enjoyed going out there to check out all the tractors and see all the vendors while enjoying some corn on the cob,” Fund said. “I hope it’s something that continues to go on for a long time.”
Aside from the issue of where to hold the Threshing Bee, Boone said the grange is also dealing with a population of members that skews older and isn’t as capable of putting on the event as it was 20 years ago. He was lucky, he said, to have members of the Lewis County Rocks and Gems Club helping him this year at the gate.
“A lot of the older members are, well, getting older,” said Sonja Mickelsen, who lives near the Herron property. “They’re the ones who have done all the work, so it may depend on whether they get some young blood in there that enjoys it, too. It looked like a pretty good year when I went over there, but I went to see Ruth, not the tractors.”
There has been some discussion about whether moving the Threshing Bee away from its traditional time slot would boost attendance, but the vendors prefer to it remain on the third weekend of August. That way, they can go straight from Toledo out to Packwood for the supersized flea market that takes place Labor Day Weekend.
“Our problem that we have is that last weekend, you had the Washington State Garlic Festival, a gun show and a car show all going on nearby,” Boone said. “People can only go so many places in a single day. Some years are bigger than others down here, but this year it was down.”