Steam Festival - Part Two

We will have a long night tonight, the first night of the 25th anniversary James Valley Threshing Bee. Steam engines are being readied as we later stroll through the park where the enormous machinery of a century ago smokes in quiet preparation. The place is ghosts parked in long lines. A dozen or two ancient tractors, some with names not remembered by anyone now living. Strange machines that look like the iron ancestors of modern monster trucks idly smoke. The park is deserted except for a few kids tending boilers. We leave and head for Marske's (pronounced "Mars Keys") Lounge. The streets of Andover have rarely been so crowded. We must pass three or four other couples in the four blocks we walk to Main street. The last couple warns us that we'd better hurry, Marske's almost out of beer. We had no need to fear.

Main street this night is dominated by the smoking, steaming hulk of a genuine steam roller: steam powered and simply huge, as big as a house. Three trolleys sit parked behind. The Threshing park was empty because Kevin had pulled the entire camping population into town for a beer and a dance. We cross the street in the moon shadow of this monster.

Marske's was in no danger of running out of anything but space. It was bursting at the seams. We squeeze our way into the front door, a narrow aisle between those hanging off the bar and a circle of musicians. The circle appeared as follows: an old farmer in seed cap with an ancient and enviable big box Gibson, a younger man in a battered cowboy hat with an equally battered Ovation lyre-back six string, an ancient farmer with a suitcase full of harmonicas, a blue-haired grandma with a silver flute, another silver-haired grandma with an accordion, and a nearly smothered, small, unwashed gentleman in the back, behind the grandmas, plucking a beat-up old electric bass. They intermesh polkas with ballads with near perfect transitions, the accordion or the harp player inevitably taking the lead. "She's too fat, much too fat, she's too fat for me..."

Amy and I order beers from a tall, slouch-backed man in stained blue work pants and a forgettable shirt: Marske. Bob Marske was a member of the Andover SD state championship HS basketball team of 1953. He retired a few years ago and bought this half-horse powered beer hall in this half-horse town. It is the sole watering hole in this burg and is clearly the most popular place this evening, which is easy because no other business is evident and this is the only place ever open after seven. The walls swell with humanity and noise. A buck and a half is the standard price for a drink here- be it beer, whiskey, or something fancy, like rootbeer schnapps. Most drink beer- again, an array of clear ones available, many in cans and served table-side by another shelf-butted woman. I work through the crowd to a hollow corner against the trophy case. On the way, Amy bumps into the steam roller owner and driver, a red-faced, class-clown of a guy named Kevin. (Amy's dad refers to him as "That Kevin," as in "That Kevin sure seems to have a lot of money," and "That Kevin always seemed to know how to get what he wanted.") Kevin was in Amy's class in school- he kissed her in first grade, which doesn't set Amy apart because it's no surprise to me to learn that Kevin kissed all the girls in first grade. He's still at it. A blue plastic something-and-Coke in one hand and an antique car horn in the other, Kevin is goosing everyone with this wonderful old farty horn. He's loved as a benefactor and as someone who gooses the world as it passes by. Hoonk! Hoooonk!

Kevin started the James Valley Threshing Bee twenty five years ago. He had a steam tractor and an antique machine or two and started the show. Now it's a destination, swelling this little narrow spot in US highway twelve to the status of a place each September. He's delightful! He embraces Amy and begins announcing, "My drummer's here, my drummer's here!" (Amy played drums in a band with Kevin the summer she was seventeen. She became pregnant and dropped the gig.) He began pushing her to toward the circle of musicians, who had a crude drum set, but no sticks. I egged him on from my safe corner.

The banquette next to me was dark tan naugahyde, patched with snagging duct tape. Three rough-looking women were smoking there, nursing long necks. Three well worn men approached, clearly the men-folk of these women. The largest of these guys was huge- easily a fifty inch waist, in a sleeveless sweat shirt and sporting a large Harley-Davidson logo as a tattoo on his right bicep. He had unshorn and unkempt hair and a beard that completely dominated his features. No eyes, no nose, no mouth, just gray fuzz and more gray fuzz. The next largest is probably the big guy's younger brother. Shoulder-length greasy hair, a strange sculpted, close cropped beard with strips carved out of it, as if more or less deliberately. Round and squirrel-like, Smee, I think. The third was the weasel of the trio, completely dominated by the other two, they were pushing him into the banquette while one of the "ladies" tried to excuse herself to go to the "setter's" room. (The men's room is labeled "pointers," the ladies', "setters.") I tried for a time to watch the band through the girth of the Harley guy, who was apparently the genuine article. I suspected that he had a huge motorcycle parked outside, but I later learned they were more modestly motorized. As we later boarded the trolley cars for the midnight ride to the Threshing Park, the huge Harley guy, his brother, and one of the "ladies" were racing up and down Main street- Harley at the wheel of a golf cart, "lady" riding shotgun, and squirrel lounging in the back, Coors Light can protected in one hand while the other was held high in the universal "hang loose" sign. I hope I never lose the memory of those three toughs so deported.

... to be continued ...


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