Urbana Illinois Sweet Corn Festival The Way It's Done in Illinois

| July/August 2001

  • Baker engine
    Herb Beckemeyer and his Baker engine at the Sweet Corn Festival in Urbana, Illinois.

  • Baker engine

123 County Road 900 East, Champaign, Illinois 61822-9623

I have the steam engine ready to go the day before. I start the fire about 6:30 a.m. so I have steam up by the time lowboy gets here at 8:00 a.m. to load the engine and also a pile of wood under or back of the engine. I use mostly wood and a little coal to fire with. By the time we get to uptown Urbana, 10 miles away, it's around 9:30. Then it's time to get set up and get the water hot enough in the tank by about 10:30, and we cook corn to 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. 20,000 ears, minus one dozen I put in the tool box to take home!

Just to the rear of the trailer is a large tent with four places to handout the corn. It takes one person to get the butter unwrapped and put in a large pan mounted in the tank to melt for the girls to roll the ears of corn in, and then wrap them in wax paper.

My job is rather easy, as it does not take as much steam as one would think. A inch valve is open about 1 turns or so. I could blow the water out of the tank if I turned the valve halfway open!? I instruct the young fellows how to put the containers of corn in the tank and lift them out without getting burned or scalded.

The streets of town, for about four blocks, are closed and filled on both sides with vendors. They have antique cars, trucks, farm tractors and machinery on display. Bands and other entertainment goes on most of the day and I do things like getting little ones like Matthew Johnson to blow the whistles.

The engine stays on the lowboy. I don't unload it. We have the set arranged so that when the last ear is cooked, we pull the steam hose and pipes, and we pull out. Then it's time we get home and unload. The engine is checked out at 7:00 p.m. or later.


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