North Central Illinois Steam Power Show, Box 111, Davis Junction, Ill. 61020
Reprinted from the Case Mark September 1975, Gabriella S. Birkholtz, Editor
Steam engine whistles blare through the country air. Steam and Smoke pour from late 19th and early 20th century machines. Horses plow the ground. Oats are fed into an 1889 Case Agitator Thresher. You are carried back into the agricultural history as you visit one of the numerous old time thresherees held throughout the nation in late summer.
The North Central Illinois Steam Power Show in Ogle County, south of Rockford, is just such an event. It's a lesson in agricultural and J.I. Case Company history. It's an opportunity for old timers, who remember the days of community thresherees to get the grain harvested, to reminisce and to operate some of the equipment their fathers and grandfathers used back in the days of farm homesteading. It's an opportunity for city folks to get out in the country and learn something about farming years ago. And it is an opportunity for machinery buffs to see some of the old-time equipment in actual use.
The man behind the North Central Illinois Steam Power Show, which runs for four days each August and attracts an estimated 20,000 visitors, is 52 year-old George W. Hedtke, an electrician by vocation and a steam engine authority by avocation.
Hedtke has owned the 45-acre show site, Hickory-Oaks, since 1971. The show, which has nearly 20-year history, was held there for the first time last year. On the land are several old buildings which Hedtke has moved from other locations for a small frontier village. The only modern structure is a large 60'x144' metal barn, in which Hedtke houses his numerous antique machines, and which is converted to an area for various displays, as well as a dining room, during the yearly Steam Power Show. Hedtke and his collie, Casey, will move to Hickory-Oaks as soon as a well is drilled.
Hedtke is devoted to Case equipment. He owns four Case steam engines, the largest one the 110-horsepower 22 ton machine built in 1911. His other steam engines were built in 1916 and 1923. He also owns a 40-horse-power Case road roller, built in 1923. This just scratches the surface. He also has five Case tractors built between 1915 and 1931, eleven threshing machines of various sizes, some made of wood, the rest of steel. Those made of wood were built prior to 1904. He has several small Case equipment, such as water tank wagons, which carries the water to supply the steam engines, grain binders, corn binders, silo fillers, hay-balers, hay-loaders, mowers, and several plows. These are contrasted with the two Case agricultural tractors, the 1070 Agri-King, and the 2670 Traction King, which were on display at Hickory-Oaks during the 1975 show. These new units were not featured attraction and seemed somewhat out of place.
Hedtke also owns pre-steam farm equipment, like the one bottom and three bottom plows pulled by horses, and wooden Case Agitator Thresher, built in 1889 and powered by a sweep horsepower and teams of twelve horses. While Hedtke definitely favors Case equipment, 'because it's darned good machinery', he also has several other units - manufactured by Avery, Aultman-Taylor, John Deere, and several others. But he's an excellent advertisement for Case Company and its long history.
The Steam Power Show features a daily parade of equipment, during which all the units are paraded through the central area of Hickory-Oaks, Hedtke moderates the parade and friends of his, primarily older men, operate his machinery. Hedtke carries on a running commentary about each unit, explaining what the machine does, when and where it was built, and what its various features are. During the parade the steam engines chug up the slight incline, puffing coal-generated smoke, occasionally blasting excess steam, and always sounding their whistles. Each Case steam engine pulls a Case thresher. Smaller units bring up the end of the parade, which lasts nearly an hour.
One of the amazing factors about Hedtke's equipment is that all of it works. Admittedly, when he purchased the various units they were in varying stages of disrepair. However, with much labor, time and patience, he has restored all of them to operating condition, and all look like they did after they were manufactured by Case in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
Demonstrations also are the order of the day at the Steam Power Show. There s oat threshing - by horsepower and by steampower. There's plowing - by horsepower and by steam power, plus other demonstrations. There's candle making, soap making, rug weaving, and spinning wool to yarn.
And there's the old fashioned typical threshermen's meals - with one modern note: the meat served on Thursday was bratwurst, which was not on the food scene 100 years ago.
As a child, Hedtke always was fascinated with the machinery which worked the farm his parents rented, just a few miles from Hickory-Oaks. This fascination has became an all-consuming hobby. Hedtke is quick to comment on the fact that he has lots of help from his friends. For example, replacement parts are not always available for machines which Hedtke owns, 'So friends make castings for me, and help me with things I can't do alone,' Hedtke said.
Each year something different is added to the daily activities at North Central Illinois Steam Power Show. Here are two steam engines chained together, double heading pulling a 14 bottom John Deere plow at Hickory Oaks Farm. Hundreds of spectators enjoyed this spectacular field demonstration of turning over the ground. The 20 HP Advance Rumely in the lead is owned and operated by Ron Pieper and Mike Althoff of Free port, Illinois. The 65 HP Case is owned by George Hedtke, and is operated by Harry Woodmansee of Dowling, Michigan, and John Schrock of Rives Junction, Michigan.
This rusty skeleton of an 80 HP Case steam engine has found a new home at Hedtke's Hickory-Oaks Farm. Its delivery was made only a few days ahead of the 1975 show, and is being unloaded in this picture from a low-boy with the help of a modern tractor. Hedtke plans to have this engine restored and in operation by show time 1976.
Less than 20 people work with Hedtke in preparing for the setting up the yearly show. More help during the four days the show is in operation. All pitch in and help. Like opening day this year 1975. A team of horses which was used to pull one of the Case water tank wagons in the parade, was still hitched to the wagon after the parade, standing and unattended. One of the steam engines released built-up steam, the horses got frightened and bolted in a u-turn, then stopped. They turned over the water wagon and broke the hitch. Fortunately no one, including the horses, was injured. Five-hundred gallons of water was spilled, however. It was less than 15 minutes later that one of the workers involved in the show said he would make a new hitch, 'And hell probably have it ready for tomorrow', Hedtke said. That's real help and cooperation. Apparently Hedtke's friends are just about devoted to Case and the show as he is.
Hedtke prides himself on his patriotism, as well as on the work he has done with the Case machinery he owns. A flagpole topped with the American flag sits proudly in one of the open areas at Hickory-Oaks Farm. And this year, as well as past years, the parade began with a float, sponsored by the Ogle County Taxpayers Association, on which was mounted a large Church Bell, which was rung during the parade. The float was backed by American flags.
Hedtke shudders when he talks about old equipment people have discarded through the years. As far as he is concerned, all should be restored to its original condition and kept for future generations to marvel over and learn from, so as not to remove agricultural history from the American scene in years to come. The 1976 Steam and Horse Power Show will be held at Hickory-Oaks Farm, August 5, 6, 7 and 8.