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

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

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

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

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

So, you see it’s been a long day for an old ‘Ole’
guy like me. Yep! It’s work, but fun. I’ve been doing this
since 1970. Most always, this takes place the last Saturday in

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