As a warmup and preview to an annual October festival the Prairie Land Heritage Institute sponsors a steam and gas engine show at the Morgan County, Illinois County Fair. All of the activities and hustle of the county fair add to the spice of the show. Slabs of oak help fire the Avery, Case or Rumley steam engines adding the aroma of burning wood to the smells and sounds of feeding cattle, squealing pigs, quacking ducks and startled chickens. This is also the day the standard breds race on the one-half mile track and well over one hundred western trained and light horses compete in their separate arena. Altogether Saturday is a very interesting day.
A center section of the 40-acre fairgrounds is set up by the members and friends of the Institute as a stage for the threshers show. Antique tractors of every vintage will be used to position the rack wagons of sheaf oats alongside the separators. High wheel wagons with grain boxes will have already been placed. As the show nears, a steam engine will rumble over to square off facing the separator, accept the power belt and start to slowly rev up. Then there is a big Aultman-Taylor lugging a mammoth separator of like vintage ready to take up position to also thresh a load of oats. Every detail will have been seen to and all is ready for the steam whistle toot to go to work about 3:00 P.M.
Another section of the grounds has also been made ready to add prestige to the fair and the steam show. A large building, designated as the Morgan County Farm Museum, has been filled to capacity with collectibles from the Rees Evergreen Farms and from private donations by C. D. 'Pat' Kenny along with many other memorabilia of Morgan County. A smaller building houses the complete Hart Blacksmith Shop as it was operated in Franklin, Illinois. It has been moved to the fairgrounds in its entirity. Waiting inside the museum itself is the old steam powered horsedrawn pumper of the Jacksonville Fire Department used about the turn of the century. Then starting with the John Deere Waterloo Boy, said to be the start of the John Deere two cylinder tractors, the grouping of tractors includes the John Deere A, B, D, and GP. A Rumely Oil Pull is shown along with many of the classics by Case, International Harvester, Minneapolis Moline and topped off by a four wheel drive Massey, the forerunner of the popular model of today. About 28 tractors are used in this exhibit. Eight or nine steam engines plus an irreplaceable miniature working model tell much in the history of farm steam power use. One of the two Ypsalanti stationary engines rumored to be in existence is housed in this collection. Scores of related equipment and items are on display which is open to the public.
This show provides a preview to the much more comprehensive festival held by the Heritage Institute at its home grounds in South Jacksonville early in October. During the festival days most of the comparable equipment owned by the Institute is put to work performing the tasks for which it was originated. In addition to a working museum, the festival offers a show of crafts, the making of apple butter, sorghum and much more. A thresher's dinner of steam cooked ham and beans is served each day. This is one festival not to be missed!