Thousands expected in Rantoul for farm show

Thousands expected in Rantoul for farm show

RANTOUL — It was 10 years ago that a group from the I & I Antique Tractor and Small Engine Club decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Farm Progress Show by staging a show of their own.

They called it the Half Century of Progress farm show.

"That first one, we had just intended to get a few tractors together and celebrate," said Darius Harms, show chairman. "A lot more turned out (than expected), and people were just ecstatic about the field demonstrations."

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. (This year's Farm Progress Show starts Aug. 30.)

Harms said there were people walking barefoot in the cornstalks. What struck him and other organizers was that people with no connection to farming came out and still do.

Many wanted to show their children how their grandparents or great-grandparents used to farm.

The fifth Half Century of Progress show (it is held every two years on the grounds of the Rantoul airport) will run Thursday through Sunday.

The event draws tens of thousands of people, some coming from overseas.

"We just had a call from Norway. A gentleman wanted to come," Harms said. "He didn't have a driver's license to drive in this country. We had to make arrangements" to get him to the show.

Harms said organizers have also heard from residents of South Africa and England planning to attend and, in some cases, volunteer to help.

"By the telephone calls, it's going to be enormous," Harms said.

Two of the big attractions at Half Century of Progress V are just that, big. Big Blue and Big Four will be on site.

Big Blue is Jon Kinzenbaw's Double Trouble tractor — a twin-engine 640-horsepower machine. Harms said it will be the first time the tractor has been seen in public since 1988.

"It was designed with a 640-horsepower engine, and the major manufacturers still have not built anything quite that big," Harms said. "At this point Case IH is building a 600-horsepower tractor."

Big Blue is a one-of-a-kind custom-built tractor that consists of two John Deere 5020 chassis. The machine was built by Kinzenbaw, of Williamsburg, Iowa, who is CEO of Kinze Manufacturing, to demonstrate the new DMI Hydra-Wide plow at the 1974 Farm Progress Show in Iowa.

Big Blue weighs 20 tons.

The Big Four, owned by Steve Bauer of Minnesota, was one of the early spark-ignition power tractors and is 100 years old.

It ran on kerosene in an era when tractors were steam-powered.

The tractor pulls a 14-bottom plow, which is being brought to the show.

The Gas Traction Co. of Minneapolis produced Big Four tractors. Starting as the Transit Trasher Co. in 1906, it changed its name in 1908 to reflect a growing interest in tractor production.

The most successful of the Big Four tractors was a huge 30- to 60-horsepower tractor. It had rear wheels 8 feet in diameter and 2 feet wide.

Some of the smaller machinery will also be featured. Cub Cadet Corp. will be celebrating its 50th year at the show.

The Half Century of Progress is primarily a demonstration show, where visitors can see how farming used to be done.

All manners of farm equipment will be on hand from tractors and corn pickers to manure spreaders.

Manure spreaders, in fact, will be featured.

"The Manure Spreaders of America are coming in, and we just got done building a hitch so we can hitch seven spreaders together," Harms said. "They'll run them all at once."

But instead of manure, which might make the air around the grounds rather malodorous, the machines will be using either corn stalks or corn shucks.

"We may move that on east (to Washington, D.C.) when we're done with it," Harms said with a laugh.

A large number of corn pickers are also expected at the show.

Organizers are calling for 234 corn pickers for a special display. The display will show various pickers with different options installed. Call Andrew Tucker at 812-878-7226 for more information.

The show leases 300 acres from the village of Rantoul to grow 180 acres of corn, 80 acres of soybeans and several acres of hay. Wheat planted on site has already been harvested.

"We know that we can't farm it as if we're farming it for crop," Harms said. "We have to put on a show," and the crops have to be ready to harvest in late August, which is earlier than normal for corn and soybeans.

While this year's hot, dry summer has matured crops faster than normal, they still wouldn't have been ready for the show, so chemical was sprayed on the corn and soybeans so they would be ready. The acreage is also plowed during the show.

The Monsanto Mobile Experience Tour — a 53-foot trailer that expands into 1,000 square feet of exhibit space — will also be on hand. The tour is designed to give people the opportunity to learn more about every aspect of the farmer's life from food production to the challenges they face.

The tour will be set up from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 27 and 28.

The Half Century show gates open at 7 a.m., and kicks off an hour later with the tractor ride led by Max Armstrong that goes to Gibson City and back. Lunch will be at North Park in Gibson City.