NORTHERN ILLINOIS STEAM POWER SHOW

Jumbo Jet

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Daily Chronicle, Box 397, DeKalb, Illinois 60115

SYCAMORE: It was probably a large jumbo jet enroute to Chicago's O'Hare Field Thursday afternoon that passed high above the Taylor Marshall farm northeast of Sycamore.

Though invisible behind a thick layer of blue-gray clouds, the plane made its approach known with a low, painful groan that gradually faded into the distance.

That groan the one some of us hear 25 or more times a day has become a commonplace audio ingredient of modern American life.

'Did you hear the jet go by?'

'Jet? We isn't got time for jets,' responded the elderly man dressed in bib overalls and a straw hat.

It was hardly a surprise that few of the people gathered in a hickory grove for the annual Sycamore Steam Show and Threshing Bee noticed the plane. Perhaps, they just didn't hear it. More likely, they were interested in the sights, sounds and smells of a different era.

After all, Thursday wasn't a day for noticing today's technology. It was a day dedicated to the technology of yesterday.

The yesterdays of steam and gasoline power were saluted, celebrated and relived by some 96 steam and gasoline engine enthusiasts, plus hundreds of curious visitors during the 20th annual steam show.

Really, how could one notice the groan of another passing jumbo jet when he was immersed in the mechanical music of this old-time orchestra?

There was the cynical 'putt-putting' of a 1940 John Deere B tractor, the steady 'clank-clanking' of a 1934 gasoline engine and the 'chug-chugging' of a hard-working Nichols and Shepard steam engine.

Extra sound effects in the form of steam powered buzzers, bells, horns, whistles and sirens rounded out the afternoon concert.

As larger machines huffed away at a threshing machine or sawmill, others parked under surrounding trees were oiled, polished and prepared by operators for a later performance.

The cast-iron wheels of the larger rigs, some of them weighing up to seven tons, pressed an unusual pattern of tracks into the rain-dampened show grounds just as they did on the moist Illinois prairies years ago.

The faces seen at the show were as colorful as the brightly painted machines.

Francis Long, of Oregon, Illinois pushed back his red and white, polka-dotted engineer's capa souvenir of his 27 years of service with the Chicago-Burlington-Quincy Railroad.

His tanned face and Jimmy Carter teeth were speckled with tiny black dots of soot emitted earlier by a coal burning 1924 Minneapolis traction engine. Long had assisted a crew to hook up the big rig for its turn at the threshing machine.

'I guess you'll just have to call me a fiend for steam,' he said with a bright smile. 'I worked with steam as a kid, hauling water for a threshing company that traveled across the wheat and oat fields of northern Illinois.'

When they quit using steam on the farms, Long said he went to work for the railroad until he retired in 1971. As part owner of the Nichols and Shepard engine, Long says he has satisfied his yearning to just 'be around steam.'

Ernest Stinebring's loosely-fitting overalls rippled in the breeze as he carried a bucket of split wood from the woodpile to his small steam engine.

'Whenever you've grown up around these engines, it's just hard to get away from the smell of that smoke,' he said.

Asked what he liked most about steam engines, Stine-bring said, 'I really like the smell just can't get away from it.'

In addition to the male-dominated steam power hobby, wives of engine-lovers were involved in the show. They provide visitors a glimpse of the past with a wide display of antiques and handcrafted items.

The museum-like arrangement of a circa 1920 living room, complete with furniture, dishware, dolls and clothes adds another dimension to the show. Many of the kitchen utensils were those used by wives and cousins to prepare large meals for the hungry members of the bygone threshing team.

The husband-wife weaving team of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Baumgartner, Walnut, Illinois, were on hand to show how the loom works and answer questions.

Mrs. Baumgartner said she was able to talk her husband into weaving a few years ago when he retired after 50 years of milking cows.

'Last year,' Baumgartner said, 'I completed 250 rugs and I don't intend to equal that figure this year.'

Weaving rugs is not only an enjoyable and profitable pastime, 'it's also great therapy for my arthritis,' Baumgartner said.

The Sycamore Steam and Power Show is an antique show, museum, circus and county fair all rolled into one.