HENNING – Grain farmer Paul Musick doesn't want to miss one moment of the 2003 Farm Progress Show.
The early riser left his farm in Camp Point (25 miles northeast of Quincy) at 3:30 a.m. to ensure he would be able to start touring the site as soon as the gates opened at 7:30 a.m.
Musick was not the only one. As the sun rose above the cornfields at 6:30 a.m., lines of trucks and vans rolled toward the show from Illinois 49, U.S. 136 and Henning Road.
"Traffic is moving," said Sgt. Bill Emery of the Illinois State Police, "but moving slowly. At this time we're telling people to follow the signs." Brake lights could be seen a few miles from the show site because people were driving slowly into the parking lot due to some slippery spots, he said.
Meanwhile, before the gates opened at 7:30 a.m., exhibitors washed farm machinery for one last time, brushed the dust off chairs and straightened their stacks of brochures and business cards. Off to the northeast of "Tent City," cattle were shuffling in their pens and nuzzling their noses against the gates. And hundreds of visitors gathered outside the gates.
"It's like a wish show," said Larry Sexton of Paxton.
More than 400 exhibitors have placed on display grain dryers, cotton pickers, lawn mowers, combines and more.
"I'm here to see what's new. I buy most of my equipment used, but it's good to see what the companies are coming out with," Musick said. "There's something here for everyone."
Mary Stiger of Fisher arrived at 7:30 a.m. with her husband and planned to spend the entire day at the show, including the Brad Paisley concert at 5 this evening.
"I'm here to see Captain Stubby (the comedian). My husband's here to look at the lawn mowers and tractors," Stiger said.
Over on Antique Row, volunteers started the 100-year-old Hart-Parr tractor, the oldest in the world and on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.
"That's what it's all about," said Sherry Schaefer, a volunteer on the tractor's preservation project. "This is where farming started."
The Hart-Parr tractor will run at around 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. daily.
Also at 9 a.m. the first singer took to the Beck's stage in "Star with Beck's," a singing contest similar to "American Idol."
In the John Deere tent, a group of visitors huddled around a corner of the tent that resembled a science classroom. Staff demonstrated the process of captivation, how ultrasonic vibration can corrode a piece of aluminum foil – all to show how its new antifreeze and summer coolant product Cool-Gard protects engines.
Outside the tent a member of the Deere staff started carving into a tree trunk to show off the latest John Deere chain saws.
The pizza hadn't been delivered to their food tent yet, but six volunteers with the Trinity Presbyterian Church in West London were ready to serve hungry and thirsty visitors.
"We needed a roof for our church and this is helping to pay for that," said Jodi Vanhok.
All throughout the show site, staff from various companies explained equipment to visitors milling about and chatted with prospective customers.
"Farm Progress is one of our biggest shows as far as getting prospects and having people sign up on our mailing lists," said Mark Heaver, sales consultant with FBi Buildings of Remington, Ind.
"Anytime you can get 300,000 to 400,000 people in one place, and everyone mows grass, you know it's a good thing," said Eric Lacefield, territory salesman with Dixie Chopper lawn mowers in Coatesville, Ind.
You can reach Christine des Garennes at (217) 351-5388 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.