Passing on the steam gene

Messenger photos by Kristy Zurbrick
Kim Besecker (foreground) runs a log through his quarter-scale sawmill, while Alan Petitjean stokes his third-scale steam engine to power the belt that turns the saw blade. The demonstration was one of many set up at Pastime Park July 12-15 for the annual Miami Valley Steam Threshers Show and Reunion.

(Posted July 19, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Steam runs through Kim Besecker’s veins.

His grandfather made a living threshing and sawing with steam engines, then in retirement turned to making steam engine models.

“He got me involved with shows, and I’ve been going to them since I was 3 years old,” said the Arcanum, Ohio, man, now 67.

Like many who take part in the annual Miami Valley Steam Threshers Show and Reunion in Plain City, Besecker has made a living and a hobby of all things mechanical. He holds a first class steam engineer’s license, has operated steam locomotives, is a former power plant operator, and knows his way around welding and maintenance equipment.

Besecker carries on his grandfather’s passion for old-style steam engines, going to seven or eight steam-themed shows each year in Ohio and Indiana. His son and grandson often accompany him, proof that he has passed along the steam gene. He owns four antique steam engines, as well as a quarter-scale, steam-powered sawmill his grandfather built in 1957.

He took the sawmill and one of his full-size engines to this year’s show in Plain City, held July 12-15 at Pastime Park. There, he connected with fellow enthusiast Alan Petitjean of Burkettsville, Ohio, who at 24 years old is one of the younger show participants.

Petitjean hooked up his third-scale 50hp Case engine to Besecker’s sawmill. While Petitjean stoked the engine with wood and coal, Besecker pushed small logs through the saw blade. Both happily answered questions posed by anyone curious about their set-up.

“We’re all here to accomplish the same thing: to preserve the past and educate others,” said Petitjean, who has attended the Plain City show for the past three years.

Mike Brown of St. Paris, Ohio, checks on his 15hp Reid oil pumping engine. He has displayed the machine at the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Show for the past four years. The engine dates back to the early 1900s.

“We’re just one big family,” Besecker said of the people who make a hobby of steam engines. “Everybody knows everybody.”

Mike Brown, a St. Paris, Ohio, resident is another Plain City show regular. This year, he displayed a 15hp Reid oil pumping engine that came from an oil well in West Virginia and dates back to the early 1900s. He owns other engines, including a small hit-and-skip, and travels to several shows each summer.

As for what he likes about steam engines, Brown quipped, “I can keep them in my barn, and I don’t have to feed or clean up after them.”

On a more serious note, about the Reid oil pump engine, he said, “I like to listen to it run. I like the idea that it worked hard in its day.”

This year marked the 69th anniversary of the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Show and Reunion. The show is held every July. For details, go to


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