History of the Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion
Denton FarmPark, Denton, NC
The story of Denton FarmPark and the Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion must begin with the introduction of Brown Loflin and Howard Latham.
Loflin is a lifelong resident of Davidson County’s Handy community, the home of this museum park. Farmer, entrepreneur and consummate hobbyist, he has done everything from driving race cars, flying and restoring old machinery to building the park. He is the organizer and director of the Threshers’ Reunion.
Latham lives a few miles east in Randolph County.
One of their early associations was as co-owners of an airplane based at Loflin’s Denton Airport, a grassed runway with an open-sided shelter as a hangar. Both piloted the airplane, and the airport was a frequent gathering place for other aviation hobbyists and their flying machines.
Latham may have been harboring a desire to be a railroad engineer. Taking vacation during the Reunion, with traditional striped cap and red bandana, he drives the steam locomotive on the park’s standard gauge Handy Dandy Railroad.
“It’s hard work and hot,” he said, “but it’s also fun when I see how much it’s enjoyed by kids from 2 to 92.”
The park’s egg was laid in 1970 when flying buddies joined them in July 4 “Fly-In,” selling airplane rides and donating the money to establishment of a volunteer rescue squad for the area.
The project was so successful that long waiting lines resulted in lost revenue. The next year, local collectors demonstrated antique farm machines to ease the impatience, and the name was changed to “Fly-In and Threshers’ Reunion.
We didn’t know what we were getting into,” Loflin recalled. “We found out there were a lot of antique machinery collectors looking for a place to gather, and a lot of people who were interested in looking at it, and we sure did get caught up in it.”
They traveled to various parts of the nation, visiting other antique farm machinery shows and gathering ideas for what was to become Denton’s biggest happening.
The event expanded over the years–to two days, then three, and four, and now five. Construction has turned what once was Denton Airport into virtually a small town with a 15,000-square-foot-exhibit building; a covered pavilion Music hall; a restoration shop with equipment for reviving antique machines of all sizes; a second exhibit building called Display Hall; a variety of restored old buildings; bath and restroom facilities; and structures for dispensing food and refreshment.
In the 1980’s, Loflin and Latham parked their airplane (the tires had been flat for years when they sold it in 1987) and concentrated on their newest enthusiasm. Attendance swelled until the “Fly-In” became unsafe. Airplanes were banned and the event became the “Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion”.
In 1988, Denton Airport became Denton FarmPark. The name was changed with mixed emotions, Loflin said, “because it had been Denton Airport for so many years. Local people, and others, who came every year, knew what was here. But we were hearing more and more about people who didn’t come because the name ‘airport’ gave them the wrong idea about what was here, and it really wasn’t an airport any more.”
The former runway site is a grassed area adjacent to parking lots and fields on the West Side of the park.
Recent Reunions have brought 55,000-plus to Denton FarmPark, from more than 30 states and several foreign countries. The event has become significant in the Denton area’s economy and spread to hotel and restaurant accommodations and other business in nearby towns.
Civic, religious and charity organizations benefit from the sale of food and refreshments and other activities, and from contributions by the park for services of volunteers.
In 1979, they recovered the locomotive from dereliction near Burnsville in the mountains of western North Carolina. Restoration of the engine, passenger cars and caboose, and building of the track, was a three-year project before the railroad’s operation began in 1982.
The steam shovel was acquired in 1976 from a stone quarry near Harrisonburg, VA, where it had become a signboard.
In 1989, Loflin could resist no longer his ambition to rescue the deteriorating buildings of a plantation which pioneer Richmond Reid built in the 1840’s on land along the banks of the Yadkin River, a few miles from the park in southern Davidson County. He obtained the buildings from Reid’s descendants, who welcomed preservation, and he and park employees worked months on preparation and moving.
A “slave kitchen” where slaves slept upstairs and prepared food downstairs for the plantation’s virtually self-sustaining community, is the latest restoration of those buildings. Restored earlier: a “tramping barn,” where Reunion visitors see horses thresh wheat with their hooves; a granary; and blacksmith shop where you can watch a smith pump his bellows and shape iron.
The plantation’s four bedroom “main house” remains to be restored. A country store and post office building, and an old country church, built in the early 20th century, were moved here from the nearby Jackson Hill community and restored in the 1970s.
The derelict George E. Sperling Mill at Shelby, NC, was brought here in 1991 and restored to operation in 1992. Its good old-fashioned, stone-ground corn meal is available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day of the Reunion.
The Elliott Brothers gas station was moved to the Park in 1993 and was opened to the public in 1997. The gas station was originally owned and operated by Claude and Dewey Elliott, uncles of Park owner, Brown Loflin. Inside the gas station are antiques for sale and the old-fashioned 6 oz. Bottled Coca-Colas.
The radio museum, machine shop, & doll museum are the newest additions to the park.
Recent land acquisition has expanded the park past 170 acres, providing space of additional parking and camping areas and a second entrance, which has improved traffic flow.
The future: “Bigger and better,” said Loflin. It seems like we couldn’t stop now if we wanted to, and we don’t want to.”
Many events call Denton FarmPark their home: Military Vehicle and Collector Show in April, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Bluegrass Festival – 3 days preceding Mother’s Day in May, Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s Spring National – 3rd weekend in May, Tour De Kale – 3rd Saturday in June, Dailey Vincent Land Fest – 3rd weekend in September, and Country Christmas Train held weekends up to Dec. 23rd.
The park is also available for weddings, company picnics, community events, and group campouts.
The Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion has certainly made an impact on the town of Denton and the surrounding towns and cities. If you tell someone you are from Denton, most of the time they will say, yes, that is where the Threshers’ Reunion is…