The Farmers of the Midway Village Museum

No officers, no regular meetings, just farming for fun for the Midway Village Museum in Rockford, Illinois.

| January 2018

  • Farmers (left to right) Jim Will, Doug Pripps, Hal Beitlich and Joe Sacoia pause with a wagon-load of straw from the thresher, soon to be fed into a Sandwich baler dating to about 1900. Pulling the wagon: a 1935 John Deere B owned by Leon Kitzmiller. Doug’s 1943 John Deere A is shown at right.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • Eating hot bread made in a bread machine from freshly threshed and ground winter wheat is the payoff for a hard day’s work at the Scarecrow Harvest Festival. Left to right: Chuck Bauer, Dave Lantz, Joe Sacoia and Jim Will.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • The group’s McCormick harvester/binder does a nice job on the their winter wheat patch.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • Operation of the Sandwich baler requires a lot of hand work, but the result is a nice straw bale.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • The farmers pitch bundles of wheat into their restored grain wagon pulled by a 1943 John Deere Model A.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • The farmers pitch bundles of wheat into their restored grain wagon pulled by a 1943 John Deere Model A.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • Hal Beitlich turns sod with his Farmall 340 and a McCormick-Deering Little Genius 2-bottom plow.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps

Settled between 1834 and 1835, Rockford, Illinois, is located midway between Chicago, on Lake Michigan, and Galena, Illinois, a few miles from the Mississippi River.

The city was the home of several early manufacturers of farm machinery and tools such as Thompson & Co., producer of the Manny reaper, and Emerson-Brantingham, which built a variety of farm implements.

One of the city’s prime attractions – Midway Village Museum – is a vibrant link to that heritage. Midway Village Museum consists of a 148-acre campus including a 13-acre village depicting life in northern Illinois from 1890 to the 1920s. The village is home to 26 historical buildings, including a restored timber frame barn, a school, fire and police stations, homes and offices, a mill with a waterwheel, and a blacksmith shop.

Midway Village staff and volunteers in period-appropriate dress give tours of the village, and are stationed in various buildings during special events. About a dozen volunteers, all members of the museum’s blacksmith club, work in the village blacksmith shop, putting on demonstrations for visitors. And it is there that this story begins.



Hedge trimmers and a car hauler

About 10 years ago, a handful of the Midway Village blacksmiths discovered a 1926 Case threshing machine in one of the museum’s back storage sheds. After evicting a family of raccoons, several of the smiths began a restoration project, making replacement parts and pieces in the blacksmith shop and at one member’s well-appointed woodworking shop.

One thing led to another. As the project neared completion, an arrangement was made with a local farmer for a trailer-load of standing winter wheat. Not having a grain harvester at that time, the crew cut the standing wheat by hand using a gas-powered hedge trimmer and hand-tied the cut grain into bundles. The bundles were loaded on a car-hauler trailer that was pulled to the museum grounds and parked by the restored thresher.