2015 Half Century of Progress Show

Mammoth Half Century of Progress Show puts old iron to work across more than 600 acres.

| January 2016

  • Bill Jennings’ custom-built 8-bottom plow.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Bill Jennings’ custom-built 8-bottom plow – and its one-of-a-kind serial no. tag.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Field demonstrations at the Half Century show are not limited to mechanized rigs. Here, a handsome team of six Belgian workhorses pulls a 2-bottom John Deere sulky plow.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • This Minneapolis-Moline sheller is part of a corn shelling demonstration featuring a John Deere elevator, a MM elevator and a John Deere round-tube elevator.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Frank Fahl’s 1937 Allis-Chalmers WC, pulling two AC 1-bottom plows dating to the 1930s. The WC has been modified with a wide front end. “You’ll probably never see another one like it,” says Frank, who lives in Columbia City, Ind. The tractor was sold new on steel wheels. When the second owner bought it in the 1940s, he drove it home 7 miles over a frozen gravel road. “Afterward he said he swore to himself 500 times during that drive that he’d put that tractor on rubber if it was the last thing he did,” Frank says.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Bill Jansen’s 1911 Case 110 hp pulls a 12-bottom John Deere gangplow in field demonstrations.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Lifelong farmer Louie Weishaupt demonstrates his International 2-MH picker at the Half Century of Progress show. “It’s fun to pick a load a day,” he says, “but if you had to do the whole crop with this, it wouldn’t be so much fun.”
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • The rumble of engines accompanied field tillage demonstrations. “You’ll see everything in the demonstrations here,” Darius Harms says, “from lawn and garden tractors to the 750 hp Earthquake.”
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Recreating a famous promotional stunt of the late 1920s, this John Deere Model B tractor was mounted on four glass Coke bottles at the Half Century show. In the original demonstration, the tractor was mounted on bottles and put in operation with the rear wheels turning. The tractor sat soundly on the four bottles, proving that the tractor’s 2-cylinder engine did not produce excessive vibration.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Paul Harms marvels at the pace of change since 1956, when his dad used a Model 45 combine like the one Paul operates at the Half Century show. “It’s just overwhelming to me to think that my dad sat in the open air and ate all that dust,” he says. “Now we have air-conditioned cabs. You just hit a button and go.”
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Jim Russell’s Aultman & Taylor 30-60 pulls a 5-bottom Minneapolis-Moline trip plow during field demonstrations.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • The Half Century of Progress parade is a magnet for unusual entries like this one.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Built by Rite Mfg., Great Falls, Mont., this 750 hp tractor – the “Earthquake” – pulls two connected 10-bottom International Harvester plows in the Half Century parade.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • Detail of a hand-painted logo on Karl and Kent Jansens’ Big Bull tractor.
    Photo by Teri McManus
  • The 1915 Big Bull owned by the Jansens.
    Photo by Teri McManus

It only took half an hour to find the golf cart. As I roamed through what felt like an acre of randomly parked golf carts, all of which looked more or less identical to the one I had parked an hour earlier, I had plenty of time to ponder the enormity of the Half Century of Progress show held in late August at the Rantoul, Illinois, National Aviation Center Airport.

Held every other year on the site of a decommissioned U.S. Air Force base, the show sprawls over 600 acres. Runways serve as super-highways for golf carts and all-terrain vehicles. Crops and demonstration areas cover nearly 500 acres. “Lots of shows have 40 or 50 acres,” says Vice Chairman John Fredrickson, “but there’s nothing else on this magnitude.”

The 2015 show was the seventh Half Century show. Launched in 2003 as a salute to the 50th anniversary of the Farm Progress Show, the Half Century event has evolved into one of the biggest working shows of antique farm equipment in the world. With almost 200 acres of hay ground, 230 acres in corn and 80 in beans, the site offers an unusual opportunity to put old iron through its paces. “It’s nice for people to get a chance to do some actual farming with antique equipment,” says Chairman Darius Harms.

Wheels make it work

The four-day show features a packed schedule of field demonstrations: field tillage (powered by everything from horses to steam engines to prairie tractors), corn shelling, and combining beans and corn. Smaller demonstrations (hand-cornhusking, broom making and shingle mill operation) are scattered throughout. The daily parade is held on a runway lined with spectators. In the evening, a steam engine spark show and horse and tractor pulls draw big crowds.



If you can run the mile in 4 minutes, you won’t need a golf cart or ATV to view this show. Otherwise, you’d better line up some wheels. Even if you’re not averse to walking your feet off, the distance between events is significant. Pedestrians have to hustle to get from one demonstration to the next without missing some of the action.

Show officials estimate that at least 2,000 motorized vehicles were on the move at any point during the 2015 show. That mobile mass of humanity nearly becomes an event unto itself. When a demonstration ends, an enormous tide of vehicles floods toward the next event. The herd mentality is actually quite useful. You don’t have to maintain a schedule and plot coordinates on the map: You can just follow the pack – unless, of course, you lose your cart.



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