Legacy of the Eastern Shore Threshermen Show continues

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Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Three sisters who have played major roles in the success of the event include (from left) Shirley Jackson, Patricia “Trish” Todd, and Brenda Stant. The registration/membership table had a constant stream of visitors as the organization continues to thrive.

FEDERALSBURG — “Threshing was not a novelty” in the early 1900s. “Threshing was a way of life” and the long, hard job was hot, dusty, dirty, and sweaty. In 1961 when farmer Jim Layton had to thresh his crop he fired up his newly-restored steam engine tractor.

In the old days the farm wives organized “big threshing dinners” where stories were shared about when “steam was king.” Those days are gone. But a remnant remains; started in 1961 by farmer Jim Layton and kept alive by his three daughters who remember the stories and are dedicated to keeping them alive for generations that will never know what “threshing days” were about.

The Layton girls, Shirley Jackson, Brenda Stant, and Patricia Todd are the backbone of the Eastern Shore Threshermen & Collectors Association, Inc. Shirley grew up in the house that still sits on the property between Federalsburg and Denton. “I lived here until I was in 6th grade,” she says. “We bought the farm next door and moved across the field but the first time we had a show we lived here. Well, it wasn’t exactly a show,” she laughs. “We just threshed wheat. My father decided he was going to thresh wheat with a steam engine and he invited the neighbors to come. I guess about 100 people came to watch.”

Shirley’s father Jim found the steam engine in a saw mill near Greensboro. His father, Herman Layton, had sold their 8 ½ x 10 Frick steam engine in 1931 and Jim vowed that someday he would get it back. “It was the same engine his father, my grandfather, had owned at one time. So he bought the engine and restored it to its original factory condition. It took quite a while. It had like an inch of thick, green softballs in the engine, really thick stuff. It had to be scraped and painted and then it was striped. We had somebody come who could stripe it like it was in the factory when it came out of the Frick Company in Waynesboro, Pa. in the 1920s.”

“After the first one a lot of people said to my father, ‘you ought to do this again.’” In 1962 another threshing demonstration included a second restored Frick engine, the last traction engine Frick Co. built, plus a restored 1880 Harrisburg Care Mfg. portable engine. About 500 people visited Layton’s farm to reminisce about the good old days and show their grandchildren how hard it was to work at farming. Local church members sold homemade pies and a steam enthusiast brought another little engine. The annual event was launched.

“By the third year people were bringing stuff in and selling food and it just grew from that,” Shirley explains. Attendance was approximately 1,500 people.

The event now hosts 10-12,000 visitors and the 55th annual show last weekend was jam packed with the largest crowd ever. Both parking lots were filled to the brim and cars were parked for a mile in both directions along the road. Shirley says, “We had perfect weather and a perfect crowd.”

By 1966 increasing interest was the impetus to found the Eastern Shore Threshermen & Collectors Association, Inc. Attendance that year increased to 6,500. Where did the name come from? Shirley says her dad first thought about calling it the Delmarva Threshermen & Collectors Association, but “Delmarva” conjures up images of the well-known chicken festival. So Eastern Shore it was. But visitors are not confined to the Eastern Shore – they come from all over the Mid-Atlantic region.

The man who started it all with his steam engines restorations, Herman Layton, would be proud of his granddaughters. Shirley is past president, Patricia is current president, and Brenda is secretary. Volunteer-run, funds are raised from raffles, kitchen sales, ice cream, and memberships. She says, “We have no state or federal grants of any kind. We’re 100 percent self supporting. That’s important and something to be proud of.”

“Some days,” she says, “you’re out here working and you feel like you’re the only one, but somehow it all comes together. Some days you don’t know how.”

The Layton sisters’ roots are as firmly planted in the Eastern Shore soil as their father’s crops were. With no brothers, the girls maintained all the vehicles. “Whatever had to be worked on, the combine or the tractor, or whatever, we helped,” Shirley and Patricia say. “We were in the shop in the winter helping restore a tractor, handing him (their father) tools, and learning what they were for. We did whatever needed to be done.” They still do, and the legacy continues.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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