No P.V. Steam Threshing Jamboree

A THRESHING CREW performs small-grain harvest work during the 2019 Prairie Village Steam Threshing Jamboree. The crew used a 100-year-old J.I. Case steam tractor (at left) owned by the Klinkner family of Artesian to power the threshing equipment. The board has made the decision to cancel this year's annual jamboree.

Within hours after the announcement went up on the Prairie Village website and Facebook page, an outpouring of support, disappointment and understanding were expressed.

"We regret to announce that our 2020 Steam Threshing Jamboree at Prairie Village, scheduled for August 27-30, has been canceled," the announcement began and went on to explain the factors taken into consideration in making the decision. In the end, it boiled down to two -- the event would have scaled back to such an extent that visitors would not have had a true Jamboree experience; and the logistics of keeping staff, volunteers and visitors safe would have been a nightmare.

"Sad to hear, but understand completely; see you next year," one follower commented on Facebook.

"So sad, but probably a good decision," another wrote.

"This is heartbreaking; however, I do understand," a third individual indicated.

In less than 24 hours, more than 100 comments were posted. While there were some naysayers, the vast majority clearly felt the decision was a wise one.

The decision was not entered into lightly, according Faron Wahl, Prairie Village manager. At the weekend board meeting, members heard from staff and members in addition to deliberating at length before taking the matter to a vote.

"Our board had before them one of the most consequential decisions in decades," Wahl said.

This decision comes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has had a sweeping impact across the country, resulting in nearly 110,000 deaths -- 65 in South Dakota -- shutdowns across the nation and massive unemployment.

To provide board members with the information they would need to make a decision, Wahl said he has been compiling data for weeks. He spoke with the state Department of Health to learn more about CDC guidelines and the precautions that would be needed. He spoke with individuals who play key roles in the annual event. He talked with staff and volunteers.

"I presented a long and tight package to our board that expressed where we are now," he indicated. The report included information regarding what was possible and what was not possible.

"It's a terrible spot to be in to vote on something that is so important and so dear to so many people," Wahl said.

One of the first considerations was the health and well-being of the staff, volunteers and people who would be attending the event. Wahl explained that while there is personal responsibility associated with the public health crisis, board members could not simply wash their hands of the organization's responsibility.

"Holding an event that 15,000 to 20,000 people are attending comes with some very real responsibilities," he said.

Measures would have had to be put in place to protect the public, which would have involved more costs and the need for more volunteers at a time when there were actually fewer volunteers stepping up to help.

In considering the event itself, several factors contributed to the decision. Among them was the simple fact that two primary attractions would be unavailable -- the carousel rides and the train rides. The carousel is open for viewing this year, but no rides are being offered.

"We'd need to -- after every ride -- do a complete disinfecting," Wahl explained.

Repeatedly using bleach or another disinfectant on the newly-restored historic ride could damage the surfaces after more than $200,000 had been invested in ensuring it would be available to visitors for years to come.

Similarly, the train is not being run this year, in part to protect the health of aging volunteers.

"Some of them have concerns about their own risk factors," Wahl said.

Those two attractions are only part of what makes the Jamboree a success each year. Entertainment at the Lawrence Welk Opera House is also popular. Wahl reported that some of the scheduled entertainment had already canceled.

He said he was also hearing from exhibitors and vendors.

"They indicated they wouldn't be coming or might not be coming," Wahl said.

That trend continued when he looked at volunteers.

"A number of them reported they would not be able to play that role this year," Wahl said.

Some of them were in the high-risk categories; some cared for family members in high-risk categories; some worked in a health-care profession and felt they would pose a risk to others.

In making a decision about the Jamboree, board members had to weigh those factors and balance the risks with the benefits of hosting a scaled-back event, according to Wahl.

"You put all that together and at the end, it's a very dire-looking project," he said.

Wahl did offer some consolation to those who were looking forward to viewing and exhibiting John Deere tractors and farm equipment this year. Prairie Village has no intention of just skipping the ubiquitous product line in the rotation.

Although Prairie Village has already entered into a contract with International Harvester for the 2021 Jamboree, an announcement will be forthcoming regarding the year in which John Deere will be the featured tractor at the Jamboree, Wahl said.

He said the nonprofit is also working with vendors and campers who had prepaid for the 2020 Jamboree. They will be offered the option of receiving a refund or having their payment carried over to 2021.

Although the Jamboree and other events this year have been canceled, Prairie Village does remain open for visitors and campers. Wahl said that while record numbers are not coming, attendance has been solid and they are expecting a good turnout for the Fourth of July weekend.