The Teton Antique Steam and Gas Association is recognizing Dan Lannen at the annual Threshing Bee and Bazaar Sept. 17-19 for his hard work and dedication to the group for the past 33 years.
As the 2021 honoree, Lannen jokingly said this is the only group he knows where you can volunteer as many hours as you want for a small membership fee of only $15.
Truth be told, Lannen and fellow members of the TASGA don’t keep track of the hours they spend at the group’s grounds east of the Choteau Weatherbeater Arena. But if they did, the total would be impressive for sure. Lannen has no idea how many hours he spends at the grounds, and he is sure neither does the other members. “We just do what is needed to keep the grounds looking nice, from painting and cleaning the buildings and when funds and time allow, adding structures as they become available,” he said.
Lannen joined the group when he moved to Choteau in 1988 because of the people, and that is a big reason he is still active today. “We all grew up around this old stuff and enjoy fixing it and making sure it is here for generations in the future,” Lannen said.
The TASGA association was formed in 1983. There are an estimated 30 members with an average of 20 attending the monthly meetings. The group originally formed to actively keep the history of the agriculture of the area alive. Today, with more and more residents of the county not involved in agriculture, it is even more important to preserve this history.
Lannen said his career has blended well with volunteering with TASGA. He worked for 31 years in Choteau and more than 40 years in total as an agriculture mechanic and in implement sales.
“My dad threshed grain when I was young,” Lannen said. He was raised on a small farm and ranch north of Livingston in the Clyde Park area, and grew up with his three siblings where they raised cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, grain and hay. “You name it, and we raised it,” Lannen said.
In his younger years, he was a 4-H member and in high school was in FFA. Following high school, Lannen went to Helena Vo-Tech and earned an associate’s degree in agriculture mechanics. He worked for a few months at Dorn Equipment in Bozeman before landing a job for Gallatin Equipment, a John Deere implement dealership first in Bozeman and later in Belgrade. He started as a mechanic and worked his way up to service manager in the 10 years he spent there.
His career started much the same in Choteau, where he went to work for John Deere dealership there. He was hired as a mechanic but worked as the service manager, general manager and salesman over the years. “You name it and I probably did it at the dealership where I worked, I guess the only thing I didn’t do in Choteau was parts man,” he said.
In between his two stints at the implement dealerships, he spent a few years farming, first at a leased farm northeast of Big Timber in the Rapelje area followed by working for the O’Hara Farms north of Fort Benton.
Lannen also served six years on the Choteau Town Council and was appointed mayor filling out the term of the late Jack Conaster.
In an interview when Lannen retired from John Deere dealership in Choteau in 2019, Lannen said the best part of his job was “being out with the people.” He echoed the same comments when asked what he enjoys about being a member of TASGA. “It is the people I volunteer with and the people who come to the events we sponsor,” he said.
It seems to be a pattern for Lannen when asked what he is involved with through TASGA, “you name it and I have probably done it or help with it.”
“We all pitch in wherever we are needed, from big to small projects, mowing the grass to painting or moving a building,” he said. “There always seems to be something that can be done.”
“When we added the depot in 1991-92 things really seemed to take off from there,” Lannen said. “All of us do tasks throughout the year but we are extra busy the month or so leading up to the Threshing Bee.”
He laughed when he said many of the members are getting older and don’t seem to get as much done. In all seriousness, he would love to see some younger members join and begin to take on the traditions the group has built. “You don’t have to be retired to join or help — every little bit is appreciated,” he added. “Just come and learn, we are happy to share.”
There are several husband-and-wife teams that belong to the group if you want to find something for both of you to participate in. Dan’s wife Gloria, who retired from 20-plus years working at the bank in Choteau, is helping with the church service on Sunday at the TASGA grounds.
He enjoys seeing the younger children come to the threshing bee and seeing the wonderment as they watch the threshing of the grain or visit the blacksmith shop or sawmill. In fact, Lannen said that was the thought behind adding Friday to what was normally just a weekend event. “It was our hope that school groups might want to take a field trip and the students would share how much fun they had with their parents and return for a visit during the weekend,” he said.
Lannen said the group was pleased to help the Teton County 4-H program when the group was looking for a location to hold their summer camp. Forced to change due to fires in the area they normally go, The 4-H’ers took up TASGA’s offer of the grounds for them to camp for two nights. “It was a win-win for both groups,” he said, “and I think kind of an eye opener for the young people who hadn’t been here in the past.”
He got the impression the 4-Hers thought it was a kind of a cool place and maybe something they could help with in the future. In fact, instead of paying for the use of the grounds, the two groups agreed it would be beneficial to both groups for the 4-Hers to help with the Threshing Bee by volunteering to take tickets.
“We are fortunate to have members like Rick and Sandy Corey who bring lots of tractors to share,” he added.
Lannen said he has a few antique tractors he has worked on but only one running, his dad’s 1959 John Deere 530 tractor. “Dad bought this tractor after I left home,” he said. “I never got to run it.” He has fully restored the tractor. He recalled painting the tractor when his daughter got married in 2003. “My wife thought it would be fun to take the bride and groom in the wedding party from the Lutheran Church to the reception at the Country Club in a wagon pulled by the tractor,” he said. “I recall I was still painting at 4 a.m. the morning of the wedding.”
He couldn’t venture a guess how many miles he has logged driving the tractor up and down Main Avenue over the years participating in the Fourth of July parade and in recent years, the parade of lights.
Dan and Gloria have two grown children, both of whom are educators: Scott, a high school teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, and Kate, an elementary teacher from Manhattan. They have four grandchildren, three granddaughters in Arizona and a grandson in Manhattan. Lannen said the family hasn’t made it to Choteau for the Threshing Bee but returns for the Fourth of July celebration when they can.
He appreciates the recognition from the group in being honored this weekend. “It is a good group and it takes a team effort to keep up with the grounds and host the Threshing Bee event,” he said.
This will be a busy week for Lannen and members of the TASGA group as they put the finishing touches on the grounds in preparation for the Threshing Bee this weekend. He laughed when he said, “We used to be known for making it storm,” noting there have been a few years when the weather wasn’t very cooperative during the weekend event.
Come rain or shine, the event will go on welcoming visitors to the grounds where they can unwind and enjoy activities from years gone by.