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63rd annual Sycamore Steam Show and Threshing Bee kicks off

SYCAMORE – In 1957, Les Petersen of Hampshire and his father, Maynard, brought their 1917 Minneapolis steam traction engine to the Northern Illinois Steam Power Club’s inaugural Steam Show and Threshing Bee.

Their engine was one of two brought to the event.

Sixty-three years later, Petersen still is attending with his family – and still bringing their 1917 Minneapolis. Three generations of the Petersen family were on hand Thursday as this year’s show kicked off. They also brought along their family’s 1925 Baker and 1916 Frick steam traction engines.

“The show has gotten a lot bigger over the years, but it’s still the same; the steam is still there,” Petersen said. “My grandfather, Fritz, farmed with steam, and my father, Maynard, was always interested in steam from a young age. I guess you can say I’ve got it in my blood.”

The 63rd annual Sycamore Steam Show and Threshing Bee, sponsored by the Northern Illinois Steam Power Club, runs through Sunday at the Taylor Marshall Farm, 27707 Lukens Road, outside Sycamore.

In addition to about 25 steam traction engines, the event features gas engines, a steam shovel, antique cars and more than 200 gas tractors. Other attractions include a 1920 Vilter Tandem-Compound Corliss stationary steam engine in operation, a 1918 Joe Dain tractor, an early experimental tractor built by John Deere, a bake sale, a white elephant sale, a flea market, a World War II display, vendors, a petting zoo hosted by the Sycamore FFA and live music.

From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, various demonstrations on the grounds include an operating sawmill, a shingle mill, straw baling, silo filling, wheat grinding, field plowing, a Pony Brake to test horsepower and a Flink Fan to test operation at load. There also will be free model steam engine railroad rides by Prairie State Railroad and barrel train rides for children of all ages.

At noon, all of the steam engines toot their whistles to mark lunchtime. The parade of steam engines, tractors, cars and other antique machines begins at 1:30 p.m.

“You don’t even have to be interested in steam power; you just have to be curious,” Petersen said. “There is a lot to see and do that interests a lot of people. You can have lunch, visit vendors and the flea market and listen to music.”

Dan Kocher, secretary of the NISPC, said the event is a celebration of northern Illinois’ agricultural heritage.

“Steam power was used from around 1900 to 1960, which was a time of great change in agriculture,” Kocher said. “The advent of the revolution in agriculture began with the invention of steam engines and threshing machines. Before, it took a day to harvest an acre, either by hand with a scythe or with horse-drawn plows. With the advent of steam, farmers could harvest a whole field in a day.”

Kocher said that harvesting with steam power was different from modern-day farming techniques.

“It was neighbor helping neighbor, farmers formed threshing rings and threshing became a community event,” Kocher said. “The wives helped feed the farmers, competing to offer the best spreads. Everyone gathered for a big meal with hams and roasts and pies. It became a social joint working event that we try to capture here: steam, food, family and fun together in one event, celebrating our agricultural history.”

Milan Duchaj, president of the NISPC, attended the first steam show 63 years ago when it was held in Hampshire.

“I remember the first day of the show, it was rained out,” Duchaj said. “But I think everyone was surprised at how many people came out.”

For 10 years, the show was held in different locations, including Rockford and Davis Junction. In 1967, it moved to the Taylor Marshall Farm, where it has been held since. The event has grown to draw about 10,000 people over four days, Duchaj said.

“It’s really unlike any other event; there’s history and family, and people talk to you and are sociable,” he said. “Everyone is happy to answer questions and talk about steam power. They’re here because this is what they love. For many, it’s more than a hobby.”

Steve Dobberfuhl of St. Charles brought his two grandsons, 9-year-old Brayden Bruce and 6-year-old Colton Bruce of Plymouth, Wisconsin.

“I’ve been here numerous times, but it’s their first time here,” Dobberfuhl said. “I wanted them to come so they can experience what America was like 100 years ago. Our family came from Germany and farmed in Wisconsin with steam power. I’ve always loved steam tractors and trains, and I hope they’ll love it, too. It’s part of our heritage and history.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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