The whirring, puttering and occasional hissing sounds from tractors filled the air. Mixed with blacksmith hammers striking iron and gas engines emitting smoke, those sounds and smells provided the backdrop Friday during the 56th annual Pioneer Days.
The Chippewa Valley Antique Engine & Model Club is hosting the three-day event that aims to highlight antique equipment and ways of life. People traveled to Pioneer Park for different reasons. Some wandered through rows of renovated vehicles and vendor tents showcasing flowers, clothing, jewelry and knickknacks.
Others, like Al Wedlund, brought equipment to view. Wedlund displayed four tractors originally built in the 1930s that each took about a year to restore. He grew up in the area and first attended the event in the late 1960s with his father.
Wedlund appreciates that the event showcases equipment that previously served an essential purpose for local residents. He believes it is important to continue the event, particularly so people in younger generations have a better sense of history.
Dan Winrich agreed. He has worked in the Pioneer Days blacksmith shop for about the past 30 years and called it a neat show detailing how people used to live.
Like most of the participants and attendees, Wedlund and Winrich both live in the area, but some people traveled across the country to showcase items.
Dierre Smith hails from Fredericksburg, Texas. He is friends with an Eau Claire resident and became involved in the event seven years ago. Under a tent emblazoned with a design similar to the flag of Texas, Smith displayed several pieces of equipment, including a sewing machine built in Germany in the 1860s.
Smith has enjoyed the friendly interactions over the years during Pioneer Days and plans to attend similar events in Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana in the coming weeks.
Sara Potter-Melsness shared a fondness for the camaraderie of Pioneer Days. This year marked her fourth straight time working as a flea market vendor, and she enjoys talking with people and seeing various small treasures for sale in different tents.
Potter-Melsness had many items for sale that she sewed, an activity in which her 6-year-old daughter recently became interested. Similarly, Potter-Melsness appreciated the family atmosphere surrounding the event that appeals to all ages.
Indeed, this year will feature the first Sunday fun day event targeted for children. A parade and a few different games and races will take place.
Connie Odegard, the flea market chairwoman for Pioneer Days, helped create the event specifically for a younger audience. She likes viewing the amazement on children’s faces when they see a particularly impressive piece of equipment.
Ideally, Odegard said, the additional interest will help ensure that Pioneer Days continues.
“I think the young people need to see how things were done years ago compared to how they are now,” Odegard said.
For visitors near and far, Friday kicked off the event that serves as a tribute to and reminder of a bygone era. It continues Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 7 a.m., at Pioneer Park just south of Eau Claire on Highway 37.