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One tip that we have discovered for large families is that there is wisdom in getting a year’s family membership for a museum or art gallery. The whole family gets in free for the whole year and it doesn’t matter how big the family is.

This year we got a membership in the Minnesota Historical Society, which gets you into a fairly large number of historical sites and we have learned quite a bit of history this year.  Our membership ends today however, so yesterday we decided to use it one last time.

So we went to the Oliver H Kelley Farm for their yearly wheat threshing demonstration.

When we got there, we just missed the horse drawn carriage ride that they were running all day, so we went directly to watch the threshing machine. It was pretty interesting to watch. It was effectively two machines. The first machine was basically a treadmill for two horses, the second did the actual threshing and they were attached by a fairly large belt that connected the big flywheel on the treadmill to the smaller wheel on the threshing machine. 

We had been watching this machine process wheat for about a minute when three things happened in about fifteen seconds. First, the belt broke and flapped down on the ground. This (secondly) released the horses to run faster, and they did. This (thirdly) destabilized the treadmill machine in some way which caused the heavy four-foot-in-diameter fly wheel to explode.

The parts of this flywheel flew in several pieces and in several directions.  I watched one as it went fairly high and then came down and made a hole in the ground next to the machine.  Later, one of the kid volunteers pick up another piece a hundred feet away. There were many people nearby, so it was a blessing from God that no one was hurt.

But these horses were now running on the treadmill with nothing to stop them. I was impressed with how the workers (dressed up in historical clothes), didn’t panic, but calmly solved the problem. One of them fairly quickly realized (or already knew) they needed to create some kind of brake. So he jammed a large wooden pole into the system to create friction. This, it turned out, wasn’t enough to stop the horses – it wasn’t until three other men had jammed wooden beams into the treadmill that they finally forced the halt.

But had someone been in a slightly different spot when the wheel flew apart, we would have been reading about it in the papers today.

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August 2008