North Central Illinois Steam Power Show Creates Nostalgia

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Stillman Valley, III. 61084

DAVIS JUNCTION, ILL.:- 1830 style farmers guided the horse-drawn walking plow through resisting soil. The plowing demonstration was only one of numerous field activities, that carried visitors back to another era.

As the United States Bicentennial Celebration approaches and nostalgia has become the current fad, the North Central Illinois Steam Power Show held at Hedtke's Hickory-Oaks Farm, Davis Junction on August 7-10 had a great appeal to the hundreds of visitors who attended the 1975 show from various states and from foreign countries.

The idea of a Steam Power Show began 19 years ago when George Hedtke, President of the North Central Illinois Steam Power Show, bought his first steam engine, a threshing machine, and a 500 gallon water wagon. The complete outfit was first used by Hedtke to thresh grain in August 1957 on a farm quarter mile west of the present site of the show.

Hedtke plans to turn about 7 acres of the wooded area of his 45 acre farm into an agricultural museum in order to preserve a piece of our American Heritage for future posterity. In addition to the various steam equipment of yesterday, Hedtke is developing a Frontier Village of old time buildings at the Hickory-Oaks site.

A harness shop, town hall, blacksmith shop, barber shop, and a wood carving building, have already been donated for the Village site and are awaiting to be moved. The 105 year old harness shop has been moved and put on a foundation at the show site, and was open to the public during this year's show.

The officers of the North Central Illinois Steam Power Show are George Hedtke, president; Thomas Draus, vice-president; Emil Svanda, secretary-treasurer; and Jon Schwartz, assistant-secretary. About 20 people work with Hedtke in preparing and setting up the annual steam power threshing show. Lots of help pitch in during the four day event.

A carnival atmosphere prevailed as visitors to the show found there was something to appeal to everyone. Youngsters of all ages enjoyed hayrides, pony rides, and buggy rides, and the numerous concession stands of pop-corn, cotton candy, and sno-cones.

The various steam and horse power machinery was seen by everyone in action, and during the parade each day which began at 2 p.m. One of the featured attractions leading the parade daily was the Liberty Bell Float. The 810 pound bronze bell, cast in 1884, in Cincinnati, Ohio, originally came from the Leaf River Methodist Church.

The bell was bought at auction in November 1973 by Emil Svanda and later was resold to Leonard Appel for a good cause. Leonard Appel, president of the Ogle County Taxpayers Association, made a new float and mounted the bronze bell on the float to signify the theme, 'Let Freedom Ring'. The bell was rung each day during the parade.

Mrs. Ethel Hardesty of Oregon was honored as the 'Queen' of the 1975 Threshing Bee. Dressed in a costume such as that worn in the early part of the century, she rode in the parade Sunday in a horse-drawn surrey. Miss Dawn Hayenga of Kings, the 1975 Ogle County Beef Queen, rode in the parade Sunday in a Dune buggy, driven by her brother.

Throughout each day demonstrations were held in plowing using steam engines and old gas tractors. Horse plowing was also demonstrated using a team of horses on a walking plow, 3 horses on a riding plow, and 5 horses and mules on a larger riding gang plow.

Other daily demonstrations included threshing with the power of 12 horses, steam power threshing, and the power of old gas tractors. Also straw baling with a wire-tie stationary baler was demonstrated, plus saw-milling, shingle-milling, buzz saw, baker fan, mule tread-mill, corn grinding using horses, fence and rope making by hand, and many other demonstrations were held.

Of particular interest at the show was a model train engine built by Ted Young of East Peoria. The engine is a 1- scale, a copy of a Chicago-Western-Indiana Mogul locomotive, the original dating back to 1918. Young noted that he first saw a picture of the engine in a railroad magazine, drew up his plans, and built the model from scratch. He completed the model, the fourth one he has built, in 1974.

Another model, which actually was in operation, was built by Clarence Mirk of Wauwatosa, Wise. His model of a 1910 Reeves & Company engine, powered by a belt the pulleys of a model Avery Mfg., yellow fellow threshing machine which he also built.

Francis Johnson from Darwin, Minn., displayed a large log into which he had carved 27 pair of pliers. The intricately carved, smoothly sanded log remained in one piece about 5 foot in height, with the appendage pliers, each folding into their position in the log.

A 1919 model 'T' one-ton truck with a hand dump box, caught the fancy of many, as did the many steam engines whistles, sounding something like the train whistles, of the smoke belching steam engines.

Also featured at the show was a 1919 model Indiana gas tractor bought from 'Grampa' Jones of Hee-Haw fame. The tractor was restored and is owned by Eldon Coates of Zwingle, Iowa.

And, of course, there were the engines themselves, numerous owned by the president of the show. Visitors marveled at the huge iron monsters, some with wheels 6 feet tall. Steam and soot filtered through the air, as coal and gas was burned to heat water which produced steam to power the tractors and engines which were a common sight on farms several generations ago.

The largest machine in the show was a Case Company steam engine built in 1911 weighing over 22 tons. A total of 18,000 gallons of water had to be hauled into the show site from Monroe Center to operate the engines.

In addition to the large engines there was a display of large and smaller gas engines of numerous makes, and various horse drawn wagons, plows, and other old time farm machinery. Among the oldest pieces at the show, owned by Hedtke, was a horse-powered threshing outfit dating back to 1889. An upright Westinghouse portable steam engine threshing outfit also was among the oldest machinery at the show in operation, owned by Paul Hardesty of Oregon and Jon Schwartz of Rockford.

The steam show grounds had complete facilities with picnic tables, seating area, and numerous concession stands which provided cold drinks, pop-corn, cotton candy, sno-cones, sandwiches, etc. for the visitors.

Various groups had set up a variety of displays on the grounds for the enjoyment of many visitors. The Monroe Center Union Church served breakfast, dinner and supper, in the huge main building which houses Hedtke's machinery during the winter months. The dining room area in this building can accommodate 300 people. The east half of the huge building is used annually by the ladies of hobby interest and their demonstrations.

The many people who attended the exhibits and demonstrations of agricultural methods of by-gone days, at North Central Illinois Steam Power Show, came away with a better sense, perhaps of what America is all about.