Plagman Barn Show Days is a celebration of history and family fun

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Plagman Barn Show Days will celebrate its 40th anniversary Sept. 17-19. The three-day event features daily demonstrations, displays, live music, children’s activities, a flea market, raffle drawings, horse pull, antique tractor pull and antique tractors.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“It’s about remembering how people used to farm, about remembering your ancestors and remembering how we got to where we are today.” 


That’s how Northeast Iowa Farm Antique Association (NEIFAA) President Larry Moser described the 40th anniversary edition of the Plagman Barn Show Days being held Sept. 17-19. The three-day event features daily demonstrations, displays, live music, children’s activities, a flea market, raffle drawings, horse pull, antique tractor pull and antique tractors featuring John Deere. 


A former dance hall turned museum in 1981, the Plagman Barn is an artifact of history—important history for Moser and the likeminded individuals who comprise the NEIFAA, which is devoted to preserving history, showing it off and sharing it with each new generation. 


This history is rich with hard work ethics, small family farming traditions and agricultural communities that still dot the local landscape. It embodies the reasons why Moser believes people should not only attend Show Days, but also visit and support the non-profit NEIFAA and the Plagman Barn. 


“If people want to know about history, about their ancestors, if they care about how the nation was created and how we existed, then this is something they should come and see,” Moser said. 


Moser, who openly admitted to holding a romanticized view of history, takes pride in the Plagman Barn and its continued existence because the spot brings people back to the roots of the nation’s founding, agriculture, hard work and rags to riches stories. 


“It shows people how we got to where we are. People should understand what it was like,” Moser said. 


Staging the event is generally hassle free, since the NEIFAA has been doing it for so many years. But there is a recurring challenge with each passing year: finding volunteers. In order to stage Show Days, more than 30 volunteers are needed for numerous tasks, including driving the tractors, selling buttons at the entrance gate, running equipment and performing demonstrations. While some volunteers return every year, some do not, and finding replacements, is difficult, according to Moser. He could only speculate as to the reasons why. 


One notable group of volunteers includes members of St. Patrick’s Church in Colesburg, who will man the kitchen inside the original white barn.


Another thing the NEIFAA had to contend with this year was the cost of hosting Show Days, which is about $20,000. According to Moser, this is slightly up from previous years due to increased prices and supply issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 


As a non-profit, the NEIFAA relies heavily on private donations and grants from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation to fund its events. It also collects money from memberships and other charitable donations that come in on a smaller scale. Moser expects this year’s Show Days to generate between $25,000 and $30,000. Once costs are covered, the remaining money is invested back into the barn and the surrounding structures, which “require constant upkeep,” he noted.   


When it comes to attendance, Show Days typically draws around 2,000 people, but Moser expects the event to be bigger than previous years, as they hope to piggyback on C.J. Moyna’s 75th anniversary and ACMOC National Show happening the same weekend. 


But the NEIFAA isn’t just resting on this; members are taking other steps to lure in more visitors, especially younger event-goers. Recognizing that those who attend the celebration are aging, they made the decision to raffle off a John Deere 318 lawn mower this year rather than a regular, small farming tractor, in hopes of luring a younger audience and generating more raffle ticket sales. 


Moser also discussed the possibility of changes to the live music in the future, such as bringing in more modern acts or acts that perform more modern country, to give the event a more updated quality. 


The group is also taking steps to improve advertising, branching out from local radio and newspaper to television ads, increasing their presence on Facebook and putting an advertisement on YouTube. Additionally, Moser mentioned the ongoing effort to redo the website, to draw in not just a younger audience, but a larger one as well. 


One thing Moser enjoys the most about Show Days is “how much the children enjoy it.” 


He likes watching them see things they’ve never seen, like burr mills, drag saws, a shingle mill, broom making, rope making, cooking apple butter, threshing oats and a grist mill steam powered two-hole corn sheller. Then there’s the excitement that erupts when the cowboys start the mock gunfight at the saloon. 


The other thing Moser enjoys is the people he works with—being around them and creating the Show Days experience. 


It’s a family friendly event, staged at a piece of history, and history, according to Moser, “should be remembered.”

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