RANTOUL, Ill. — As harvest nears, thousands of farmers got together with a sense of nostalgia to mingle with more 1,000 tractors, steam engines, moldboard plows and implements of the past the Half Century of Progress Show in Rantoul Aug. 24-27.
John Smiley, who farms near Cincinnati, Ohio, looks forward to getting together with farmers who share a similar interest in equipment of days gone by.
He learned the first year he attended the event that it was so big, if he wanted to see everything he needed to be prepared.
So, before he set out on the 400-mile trip from home to central Illinois, he loaded up his John Deere Gator to be able to see all the corn pickers picking, soybean cutters cutting and a working steam engine loading a grain bin.
“This is one of the biggest shows,” said Smiley.
He owns a 1936 John Deere A and says it is a natural for him to be interested in history.
“We live on the oldest family farm in the state,” he explained. The family farm started in 1772, when George III was the king of England and the new North American colonies.
“We’re all interested in the same thing,” Franklin Gaisler, a retired corn and soybean farmer from Mount Pulaski, Ill., said of what brings everyone together.
He still has the Oliver Super 88 his dad bought new in 1956, along with more than 30 Oliver tractors and other collectibles at his farm.
This year, he and his wife, Margie, displayed the 1968 “1950” T, he just finished restoring. Gaisler was behind the wheel of an Oliver 55 during the field demonstrations. He isn’t about to miss the event, held every second year at the Rantoul airfield and surrounding land.
Neither would Chuck Stelter, president of the I & I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club, which founded the show. He co-chairs the event with John Fredrickson and Russell Buhr, who share his enthusiasm for the older equipment and the people who care for it.
Stelter shuttled attendees past a giant 120x65-foot U.S. flag, out to field demonstrations.
The event started in 2003 before the 50th Farm Progress show near Armstrong, Ill., Stelter said. That year, to celebrate the half century of the event, a tractor from every year the show had been held was on display at the Earl Bass farm in Vermillion County.
The Half Century show gained its own life and is held every other year in Rantoul, Stelter said. Often more than 10,000 people attend.
As part of the event, about 100 tractors drive a 33-mile route through the countryside; this year included a tribute to a founder and supporter of the show, Darius Harms, who died in July last year.
Other highlights include corn and soybean harvest with all kinds of pickers and cutters. Some of the corn goes directly to waiting volunteers for husking or moves by steam-operated engines up an elevator into a corn bin.
As Dick Westerhouse, of Buffalo, Ind., shoveled fresh cobs into the elevator, he explained that’s how it was done after harvest before today’s combines shelled the corn in the machine in the field. The corn would be stored in a corn crib.
“Whenever you wanted to make some money, you’d shell it out,” he said.
Max Klise of Kokomo, Ind., remembers when he was young helping shovel the corn into cribs by hand.
“Everything was hard back then,” he said.