Half Century of Progress show brings in farming enthusiasts
Editor's note: WDWS agriculture director Dave Gentry will broadcast live reports Thursday and Friday from the Half Century of Progress show during the DWS News Hour, which airs from 4 to 5 p.m. He will also host a live program from the Rantoul Aviation Center from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday.
At least 100 tractors were expected to open this year's Half Century of Progress Show by making the traditional 33-mile round trip Thursday morning.
But those participants will have nothing on Dean Ruedon, who will drive his 1950 John Deere B tractor the 336 miles from Seymour, Wis., to the show at the Rantoul Airport.
Ruedon feels an attachment to the tractor, said Darius Harms, show chairman. His father bought it new from a dealership in the Wisconsin town in the early 1950s.
He planned to start out for Rantoul on Saturday to arrive in time for the show.
An estimated 100,000 visitors — most coming the more convenient way, by car and truck — are expected when the I&I Antique Tractor and Small Engine Club holds the show Aug. 22-25. The show is held every two years.
It takes hundreds of volunteers to hold the show, which provides a financial benefit to the area.
"Overall I think it's going to be a real economic boon to Rantoul," Mayor Chuck Smith said. "Four days of intense spending by 100,000 people.
"I've been told that in the past it's been really noticeable."
Harms said a number of people who are not club members and are not from this area will stay in Rantoul and area towns for at least a week to help at the show.
In addition to Ruedon, countless people will haul in farm equipment from long distances, including some from Maryland, who will bring several truck loads in, and others out of Kansas.
Harms, who might be a little prejudiced on the matter, calls the Half Century "The No. 1 antique farm show in the United States.
"There's a lot of people who think it's the biggest in the world," Harms said.
They might be right.
What sets apart Half Century from the rest is that people can see the old equipment in action — not sitting on the show grounds.
People "want to see the equipment working," Harms said. "Most shows, they just see it sitting there. We're really fortunate to be able to demonstrate this equipment."
All farmers, active and retired, enjoy demonstrating plowing and picking corn, he said. Show officials are planning something a little different: demonstrations on seeding — planting corn, soybeans and wheat for some of the younger people who haven't seen how much work it took years ago to get the seed in the field.
Things have changed so much in the farm industry. With GPS systems that guide tractors and help determine how much chemicals should be applied on areas of a field, things are vastly different than they were just a few decades ago.
"The chemical they've got now that will take care of the worms and the weeds is bred into that little kernel," Harms said. "Years ago we had to put a little kerosene on the corn to keep worms from eating them."
Harms remembers using an oil can to spray the kerosene on the seed corn. But not too much — or it would clog up the planter.
He also remembers putting molasses or tar in a furrow to draw the army worms so they wouldn't go after the planted seed.
One of the show's featured attractions will be the appearance of one of the more unusual tractors in the world: The Earthquake, a mammoth piece of machinery that is the only one of its kind in the United States.
"When it came out it was 3 horsepower bigger than Big Bud" — another huge tractor, Harms said. "It's an amazing piece of equipment."
The Detroit diesel 12V engine on The Earthquake was built with 750 horsepower, but the machine got a boost and now has 850 horsepower. The tractors were built in the 1980s.
Harms said one of the tractor's engineers, David Curtis, will come to Rantoul to see it.
"He's excited to see it working again," Harms said.
The tractor will also be used in the field.
Not all the farm "equipment" will be mechanical. The show also caters to the even older days of farming when horses were used.
A horse pull is set for 6 to 8 p.m. today.
"We have numerous people who really enjoy watching the Belgian draft horses working and seeing how far they can pull the sled," Harms said.
The teams competing will come from three or four states. Horses will also do some of the planting and field work.
Friday and Saturday evenings will include the sanctioned tractor pull and the plow classes.
The world's largest U.S. flag, brought in from North Carolina, will fly over the show grounds. It spans 7,410 square feet, is 65 by 114 feet and weighs 180 pounds.
"It will give you a wakeup call when it's raised (every morning at 8)," Harms said.
The first Half Century show was held 12 years ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the Farm Progress Show. It grew to something far bigger than anyone could have imagined, he said.
Rantoul had been one of the finalists to become the permanent site of The Farm Progress Show. When it wasn't awarded to Rantoul, I&I officials opted to have the Half Century show the weekend before.
Each Half Century show highlights equipment lines that came out 50 years before. Equipment from 1963 will be featured this year in a parade of power Saturday morning.
Among the other highlights will be live music, hand corn-husking demonstrations, hot air tethered balloon rides, Jansen Farms steam tractor sparks show and a gospel hour Sunday morning.
"We are also fortunate to have Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong, some of the leading farm broadcasters," Harms said. Samuelson will sign his memoir, "You Can't Dream Big Enough."