RANTOUL – If you have never been to the Half Century of Progress show in Rantoul, what are you waiting for?
This one-of-a-kind event, which is the largest working show in the United States, includes live demonstrations on the grounds of the former Rantoul Air Force base and covers around 390 acres. More than 200 acres include crops.
Matt Thien brought his 60 Gleaner E combine all the way from Indiana to harvest corn Friday morning. The machine includes a two-row corn head.
“This machine has actually been running really smooth for me,” Thien said.
Thien is amazed at the growth of the Half Century of Progress show and would not be surprised if it someday outgrows the Farm Progress Show. Thien is an International Harvester guy at heart and has a lot of red tractors at home he did not bring.
Glenn Essington of Kempton was cruising the grounds in style – with his 1971 John Deere 4020 with a cab. It is one of the few models with a cab and a front fuel tank which was made in Herscher. Essington says he could watch these old farm demonstrations any day.
“I’m 78 and I did it. There isn’t anything here I haven’t done.”
Essington owns another John Deere 4020 without a cab and uses it for mowing and other jobs.
Farm broadcaster Max Armstrong helped start the show years ago with the help of a local farmer. The show manager for the 2003 Farm Progress Show held in Henning suggested bringing in old equipment for the show’s 50th anniversary. Armstrong suggested they get Champaign County farmer Darius Harms involved and the rest is history.
“That was the most important thing that happened to this show because Darius was the mover, shaker and motivator behind everything here,” Armstrong recalled.
According to Armstrong, Harms provided the energy for the show to continue in a “grand” way, even after his passing. Show organizers are pleased with the old Air Force base, since they can use the runways and the vast area for demonstrations. In fact, the grounds have excellent drainage and are reported to be able to take in a 10-inch rain just fine.
“Because of its expansive size, you need to be able to get around somehow. A lot of folks want to bring a golf cart and that’s fine,” added Armstrong.
Chris Karr with the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club is proud of the show’s size and popularity.
“We’ve got a lot of field demonstrations and static displays going on. It’d take me a long time to tell everyone everything that’s here,” states Karr.
The Half Century of Progress Show is held every two years in Rantoul, the weekend before the Farm Progress Show comes to Decatur the following Tuesday.